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.

Postscript

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 fire.in 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.     

Thursday, May 16, 2019

New England Travels One: Setting the Scene

This book grew out of a sense of frustration. I had been writing a history of Australia’s New England, the Northern or New England Tablelands and the surrounding rivers valleys to the north, south, east and west. The writing of history imposes its own rigours. Evidence must be analysed, ideas developed and tested, by-ways excluded no matter how fascinating because they distract from the main story. The whole work needs to be properly footnoted so that others can check, challenge and build from the story and arguments presented.

As I wrote, I became frustrated with all the fascinating things I had to put aside. Finally, I decided to write a different type of book as a break, one that would allow me freedom to wander down the many byways that interested me. The book that follows is about New England and its peoples, but is not limited to that. It is part travelogue, part history, part culture, part personal stories and reflections. Some of the chapters center on locations, others on themes, all loosely linked around the idea of journeys through space and time. There are no footnotes, but I have added some source material in an appendix at the end for those who want to follow up.

I am not an unbiased observer. It will be clear from the book that I love New England. This is where I grew up, where I studied and played, where my own children were born. For many of us, to be born in New England is to be condemned to leave it. We don’t have the jobs to hold our people. For every person living in New England now, there are perhaps three people born or educated there who now live elsewhere. Add their children, and you can see the size of the population loss. It will not surprise that the fight for Northern development forms a recurrent theme in New England’s history. This includes the 150 plus year fight for self-government, for our own state within the Federation.

For my part, I have spent more than half my life outside New England, although I have stubbornly retained my links. My New England born daughters who left Armidale at a young age to live in Sydney are different, absorbed in the lives they have built. I am happy with their choices, but feel a certain sense of loss that we have come to a generational break, a cut in our family traditions of commitment to and involvement with the North. That loss is part of a greater sense of loss at New England’s relative decline.

As a rough measure of that decline, in 1900 New England’s population was greater than Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia and not far behind Queensland. By 1960, South Australia had overtaken New England. Today, only Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory lag behind New England. As another measure of relative decline, in 1900 New England’s population was around 67 per cent of that of Sydney. By 2018, the proportion had dropped to 31 per cent and was still falling.

I have long complained about the way that metro domination affects Australian perceptions of history, culture and life. I am not alone in this view. The Armidale poets such as Anthony (AJ) Bennett, Julian Croft and Michael Sharkey saw their poetry in part as a challenge to city dominance. “We seek”, Michael Sharkey explained to me many years ago, “to challenge the dominance of the Sydney push. They listen to each other’s readings, recommend each other’s work and control publication and grant applications. We want to change that”

This type of change is not so easy. Australia is a large and varied country: “a nation for a continent”, Edmund Barton famously declared at a Federation rally in 1897. Barton would later become Australia’s first prime minister. Each part of Australia has its own stories. This applies to the big cities themselves, where growing population and geographic spread has created a constantly changing regional patchwork within each city.

The difficulty is that the combination of formal political boundaries with metro dominance tends to blur this, to impose uniformity, more precisely sets of uniformities, upon local and regional variation. This becomes a greater problem as we move away from the centres of metropolitan power. Sometimes, this can bite back. Australians are often surprised and even shocked when they find that people in other parts of Australia do not agree with them, do not accept what seems so self-evident, just right.

I have made my own biases clear. This book is a celebration of difference. My assertion is that New England has its own history and culture, its own life styles, which deserve celebration. It is now up to me to prove my point, to show you some of the special features of the area I love. So come with me as we journey through space and time, tasting some of the special features of the area that I call home.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Saturday morning musings - why the survival of the ABC is important

Michael O'Rourke (Twitter handle) and I have been friendly for a long time:. he comes from Gunnedah, me from Armidale; I went to TAS, he to De La; we share many common interests. In all, I regard him as a thoroughly good thing. Still, sometimes  I do shudder. The ABC(Australian Broadcasting Corporation) is a case in point.

On Twitter, Michael describes his views in this way: "Right-Libertarian. Mere facts tell us nothing: I want the argument. Poetry; politics; history esp. Byzantine; doowop/soul/Motown". Reflecting these views, Michael has has argued for the privatisation or the closure of the ABC. partly on the grounds that the state has no role in this area, partly on the grounds of the ABC's left bias. When I protested, he allowed me a limited service of crop reports and weather forecasts!

As I said, I regard Michael as a thoroughly good thing. I am repeating his views not so much to attack them, although they do, but as an entry point for a defence of public broadcasting, the  ABC and SBS.

Before going on, have you heard of the Powerful Owl? . I hadn't until I listened to this ABC Radio National program Powerful owls have settled down in Melbourne's suburbs, but it might not be for long.I listened on the radio and then read the story on-line.

I was quite fascinated.These are powerful predators who pair for life. Their survival depends on food, roosting trees and nesting trees. Food is around, so are roosting trees, but the number of nesting trees is in decline. Without that, they cannot breed.

To try to check and track the birds in the urbanising environment of outer Melbourne, researchers need to attach GPS trackers. But capturing them is a fascinating challenge involving large nets and beanies. The tracking results provide clues to habitat design, the location specific ways that might harmonise urbanisation with the protection of wild-life.

This brings me to my first defence of public broadcasting, the way in which stories like the Powerful Owls  enrich my life.

 Woodford Folk Festival is one of Australia's  best known festivals.

In 1994, the growing folk festival moved from its original home in Maleny to newly purchased land at Woodford.

The land was so degraded it was hard to find a shady spot to camp over the hot Christmas-New Year festival period.

This ABC story will tell you how the site was transformed over the next 24 years.

Australia is a large and disparate country with many sub-stories. Woodford is only one of a large number of good stories about the way life is being transformed across the Australian continent.I try to report on those changes. 

The first effect of the internet was to increase access to information,to make my life easier. But since the paywalls went up, access to information across the land has become more limited. Michael regularly links to the Australian stories, but that's not much use to me. I can't read them.

With the exception of the times I buy the paper, the views of the Australian and indeed all the Newscorp papers are a black box. I know that there are certain outputs, I could hardly not be aware of that, but generally those papers live in an echo chamber of their own making.

At local level, I read and value the Southern Courier, although working away from home again means that my copy just gets chucked somewhere on the roadway.But should I want to quote stories they are on the Daily Telegraph site and are behind fire walls. This strikes me as commercially dumb.

In Northern NSW I had largely given up reading such papers as the Grafton Daily Examiner owned first by APN and then Newscorp because of firewalls. Recently, . the  Fairfax Papers have introduced their own fire walls frustrating the bejesus out of me. I can't even read my own columns. I think that approach is commercially stupid, although it may now change following the sale of the Fairfax regional newspapers.

I am straying a little,  With all the changes, the ABC with its regional networks is the only media source in Australia that one can access broader Australia regardless of where you live.

I suppose that I should address the question of bias since that seems to be one of the two main arguments against the ABC.

Let me be quite clear on this. Individual ABC programs and people do have have biases, slants.

I switch off Stop Everything on ABC Radio National because I think that popular culture is more than LGBTI issues and minority representation. I have started switching off  Awaye!, the Arboriginal program presented by  Daniel Browning, a fellow New Englander,  because it is now too insular  and message ridden from my viewpoint and no longer interests me.

I do still listen avidly to  Phillip Adams and Late Night Live when I can. I know his biases, I have listened or read about him for more years than I care to remember, but he actually has some interesting stuff. I am quite capable of adjusting for his known biases. 

I could go on, but I do not wish to become too boring. There is bias on the ABC. How could there not be? Do we expect even political reporters to give up their particular perspectives to influences their questions? We can, I think, expect them to not allow those perspectives to distort their judgement. Sometimes they fail. Broadly, I think that they do a pretty good job here.

As a large organisations, the ABC is a broad church that reflects the diversity in the Australian community. As a national organisation with genuine regional outreach, they reach into multiple regional homes. Their people become our friends even when we have never met. I still follow Tawar Razaghi even though she has moved to Domain. The loss of Kelly Fuller to the Illawarra is a genuine loss.

I do not expect the ABC to be abolished, although I do recognise threats to its funding and independence. That decision of the Liberal Party conference to privatise the ABC was ideological posturing by a particular group remote from Australian views! (Sorry, Michael).. That was why I  did not take it seriously.

The ABC has been part of my life since I was born. I will not give it up no matter how much I disagree with particular programs or views. I think that I am not alone. I think that country people in particular would go to the barricades if there was a real threat to close or privatise the ABC.

As I said,  I don't think that there is a real threat.  I just wanted to establish a clear position on something that I believe strongly.   

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Eggs, egging and to egg somebody on - a note

The failed attempt to egg Prime Minister Morrison at the CWA (Country Women's Association) conference in Albury was not a good look.   The satirical publication, the Shovel, reported it this way on Twitter:
"A young woman failing to hit the PM with an egg from 20cm away tells you everything you need to know about the skills shortage in this country. The Shovel on Twitter
I know that I shouldn't, but I had to laugh. The incident followed an earlier and more successful egg attack on Senator Fraser Anning.

Eggs have a certain tradition in Australian politics. In 1917, an egg was thrown at then Prime Minister Billy Hughes at Warwick in Queensland. One outcome was the establishment of the Australian Federal Police.

Writing on Ten Daily (These Witless Eggers Could Scramble Our Democracy) Hugh Riminton suggested that the Albury incident could have the effect of limiting political activity and our access to politicians by requiring greater security. I agree with him. Billy Hughes is a case in point in that the incident had long term effects.

Still, I think that there is a certain humour in the case. It was the CWA who are famous for their baking and the alleged offender, not a CWA member, had an entire carton of eggs with her.

Jumping sideways, I was surprised to learn that the phrase to egg someone on, to encourage them to do something unwise, actually had nothing to with eggs. It apparently comes from“eddja” which in Old Norse  means to incite or push someone to do something. I must admit to a certain sense of disappointment.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Responding to Sami Shah

I hadn't hear of Sami Shah until I read What the fear of 'getting Yassmin-ed' says about free speech and racism in Australia. I suppose I should have, but then I am out of touch, I am, after all, an older white male, a member of what seems to be becoming an increasingly reviled species under multiple attacks.

I do not want to attack Mr Shah or his views, at least not directly. I know where he is coming from. I certainly do not wish to encourage attacks of the type I detest and have complained about whether applied to people like me or to others. But I cannot stand back in expressing an alternative view.

As an older white male, I have been though multiple cultural and economic changes over my life time. I have tried to respond as best I can.

I was born at the end of a huge war when the Empire and Commonwealth still formed a core structure of Australian life, I went through the late 1940s and the 1950s with decolonisation, the horrors of partition, the Colombo Plan, mass migration and the end of White Australia.

Then came the 1960s and early 1970s with its promise of liberation, sexual and otherwise, Women's Liberation and the Vietnam War. Then we had the oils shocks and the collapse of the welfare state. Yes, I  know we (and especially my right wing colleagues) still talk as though the welfare state exists, but it's really gone.

The 1980s saw restructuring as Australia opened to the world. This was followed by the 1990s, the start of managerialism, the rise of measurement, process engineering and the age of restructuring. The 2000s followed with their emphasis on isms. Then came identity politics.

I am tired, Mr Shah. Seriously, I am tired of constant change, of having to adjust to other's views. I am, to use Toffler's phrase, suffering from future shock.

Over the many changes of my life I have tried to adjust and have, I think, done an ok job. Let me take an example. I was twenty one.. I was standing on the steps of the union at the University of New England. with a male Pakistani friend.

The year is 1966. I was embarrassed because people were looking at us. In Australia. males did not hold hands. But by then, I knew that this was a gesture of friendship, that the problem lay in my mind. So I stood there and talked, holding hands. From him, I learned much about Pakistan and indeed India. Some of it was plain strange. Why should women stay in doors to avoid tans?

 I am tired, Mr Shah. There are some battles I do not want to fight anymore.

There is racial prejudice in Australia. There is also bigotry of various types.

Working in the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office and going to community meetings, I learned about the prejudices against Aboriginal people that stopped them getting private rental housing. I heard of some absurd cases.

Travelling on Sydney buses and trains, I have heard racial or religious bigotry. I did not like it, nor did other people on the bus or train. The problem was to know how to respond in ways that would not make things worse.

I am not a supporter of hate speech legislation. But I do think that it has its place.

I am tired Mr Shah, tired of censoring what I say. Let me tell you that as an older white male who operates in the public space, I have to censor all the time. I have spoken a little of this here. It's bloody hard because bigotry goes both way, indeed multiple ways. I don't want to get into a fire fight, I want to shift views at the margin, not build a following with one view.

Recognising that bigotry exists, I think that Australia has done remarkably well. We can do better, but that requires a focus on our values and the cool exposure of those who breach our values. It also requires a recognition and respect of difference.

I guess that this brings me to my charge against you. You are dealing in stereotypes with an approach that will not help us deal with the problems we have,   

Monday, May 06, 2019

Monday Forum - what are your favourite idioms?


The phrase the curate's egg dates back to England in the 1890s. Today it means not bad in patches, but also dreadful! 

Do you know what phrases, idioms, like the curate's egg, double dutch, jump a rattler, hump a bluey, whistling in the wind, browned off, life's not all beer and skittles, windy or queer the pitch mean? Or indeed, where they come from?

 It will not come as a surprise that I was a bookish child. I suppose that I still am. Well, bookish anyway. I sometimes think that the child part still applies at times! My books came from different times and indeed different countries. I absorbed idioms from those books, but also from life.

I really first became aware of this part of a my language many years ago when a work colleague, a Canadian, asked me what I meant, In this case, I wrote him a one page story using Australian slang, Needless to say, he barely understood a word, so I thin explained!

Years later,  I was standing in the reception area at work when my friend on the desk asked me what something I said meant. She commented on the number of words or phrases that I used that she did not understand. Since I am a writer writing in the present, this was actually a useful corrective! Still, I have many terms that I am not going to give up.

So here is your challenge for this Monday Forum. What phrases do you love and use that may have dropped out of current usage, Feel free, of course,  to go off topic! And for those in other countries, do add in and confuse your Australian readers!

To get you thinking, this site might help - The Phrase Finder. .  . 

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Saturday Morning Musings - reflections on the end of a writing contract

On Thursday I finished a part time contract rewriting policies for a community housing organisation. I still have some tidying up to do, but my task is basically over.

Reflecting on the experience,  I realised that this was actually the first contract work where my role was writing. In other cases, its been policy analysis with writing. Does this mean that I have made the jump to writing as a professional? Perhaps it does.

People underestimate,  I underestimate, just how long it takes to write simple. clear English. This is especially true when writing under the pressure of deadlines where the expectation (me included) is that a core part of the task is editing what is. It doesn't quite work like that and for several reasons.

The translation of a piece into a new structure and style takes time. There is a confidence issue - how much can you vary the text and get away with it? There is also a content issue.

Technical writing requires an understanding of the policy and processes that the writing is meant to encapsulate, so a multi-stage approach is required.What are the policy principles and processes? What gaps have to be filled? How should this be expressed in simple terms? Note that where there are gaps, the writer is effectively writing new policy and that requires research and commits the organisation. .

Words count. In writing, I was always conscious that what I was saying would have real effects on the organisation and the lives of people. In asking the question how might this work, I was going beyond the ambit of writer into new policy. Here I was reliant on the client to check what I had developed, to ensure that it was consistent with the organisation's ethos on one side, what had to be done on the other.

I was working for a rather good organisation. Later, when time has passed, I might write something here. To do so now would be a breach of confidence. I would like to write something because there were some fascinating cultural issues that I could compare to other organisations.

During this assignment, I realised how much confidence I had lost in previous contracts within the NSW Government sector.. I do not wish to be rude, but 33 re-writes of a Cabinet minute, 20 rewrites of a single policy statement, is not conducive to confidence, efficiency or, indeed, enthusiasm.

My immediate boss was a delight to work with. Committed to the project and mindful of deadlines, she was kind and also focused on what she could do to help. As an aside, I have noticed this generally in the housing sector, government and community. People are nice, committed.

Our boss was bright, sharp, impressive. This is where the confidence issue came in.

In technical writing, there is always a learning curve involved in learning the style of the particular organisation. Ten years' ago I would just have written what I thought was required, pointing to gaps and problems as I went along.

Now I started by taking what had been written and attempted to turn it into a new style that I was still learning. I thought that there were gaps, things that I didn't understand and also a sometimes authoritarian tone in the old policies that I did not like, but I was taking what was as my core base while I felt my way.

As we went along. my writing focus sharpened. I found that I did not need to rewrite, that my bosses' amendments improved my English, that the more authoritarian elements that I had retained were removed, that her comments on process gaps reflected my own feelings. I became more confident and the process speeded up. I was still running behind schedule because of the time taken in initial writing, some things just take time to write, but the turn-around time was excellent.

I'm not sure how best to capture this for you. Perhaps I could put it this way. Previously. for every week of writing, it might take ten weeks of redrafting to get to final. By the end of this contact, three days' drafting took two hours of re-drafting to get to final.

Initially I was working from home with one day in the office. We realised that this wasn't working and went to three and then four days in the office. Initially I was hot desking, but then I found a home in the legal section of the bigger organisation.

I really liked this. I had to bite my tongue sometimes. With my background, I was able to interpret far more of conversations than people realised. Once I left to go outside for a smoke because I suddenly realised that this was a conversation I should not hear. This is a general problem with open plan offices, even when people are keeping their voices down.

Given my background, it was fun sitting there. in the beginning, we joked about being sent to the naughty corner! By the end. legal had adopted me.  I was very touched when I was included in the legal Easter celebrations. Then I gave them a clue about a possible topic for their legal snippets series - the Anzac biscuit. And right at the end, I gave my neighbour a clue on a legal problem she faced that helped form the base of her advice to housing.

  As I left on Thursday, I made a point of thanking our legal team.

I learned a lot on this assignment.  I think that it has improved my writing. I may or may not work for them again. I did get very stressed at certain points. I did not deliver some things. But my work there will remain a high point. My thanks to them all..

 And I will get back to writing here! 
.   . 

      

Friday, April 26, 2019

Personal reflections on Australia's 2019 elections 1 - a macro view

Australia goes to the polls on 18 May for a House of Representatives plus half Senate election. The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has now released full candidate details. William Bow has a useful summary of total numbers by party. Interestingly, the AEC reports that a record 96.8% of eligible Australians had enrolled for the 2019 federal election. This is the most complete electoral roll in history with youth  (18-24 YOs) enrolment  also an all-time high of 88.8%.

I haven't really commented on the election, although I have been following it in a mild sort of way. The public opinion polls continue to suggest a significant Labor Party win, although the coalition position has strengthened a little in some marginal seats. Pre-poll voting is just opening. With so many people now voting before polling day, the significance of last minute changes in trend has reduced.

I won't cry tears of blood if Labor wins. I don't personally like Mr Shorten, that's just an emotional reaction for I have never met the man. But I am not worried about Mr Shorten becoming PM. We don't live in a presidential system, although .some would like to present in that. way.

I disagree with some of the Labor policies, some very much, but they are within the general ball park. Further, the fact that I see some of the Labor team as very  credible tempers my concerns about Mr Shorten. It might not if he were president!

On the other side of the ledger, I won't cry tears of blood if the Coalition is returned. In fact, that might be better for certain things I support. However, any general support I may have had for the Coalition Government has eroded and for a number of reasons.

I don't like the hard men and women of the Liberal Party. To my mind, they put ideology in front of practical pragmatic action that might benefit the country.

The 2014 Hockey/Abbott budget was a disaster because it was seen as, and indeed was, unfair. That budget lay the base for a Labor response that, to my mind, has gone too far on the other side. But it's hard to blame Labor. They played the hand they were dealt quite well.

I think that the decision to drop a carbon price was silly, that Mr Abbott's campaign on the issue was downright dishonest. I support market mechanisms. I also support coal mining and indeed the use of coal in power generation so long as there is a carbon price on Australian emissions. Without that, my arguments are weakened.

Australia's electricity system has become a mess. That mess dates back to decisions taken in the first half of the 1990s, something that I wrote about at local level here, where certain ideological principles determined policy. We were promised benefits through lower prices that did not eventuate. Governments, state and federal, compounded problems through their subsequent actions. .

The NBN is another sore point. I did not want Mr Turnbull replaced by Mr Morrison because I could see no gain in it. That does not mean that I was a strong Turnbull supporter.  Rightly or wrongly, I consider that Mr Turnbull replaced the old concept of the  divine right of kings with a divine belief in the overwhelming power of his own intellect.

The original concept of the NBN may have been flawed, but Mr Turnbull's melded model retains the flaws and adds new ones. The end result looks like a lower performance mess. Thinking about this, there were two central problems.

The first was Mr Turnbull's belief that he knew what people needed when it came to bandwidth and speeds. I think that that has already been invalidated. The second was his belief that he knew the technology, that it was possible to meld very different systems. The end results was an NBN that retains the flaws in the original model while introducing new ones.

Refugees is the last area I want to mention. This is one that we have debated here. My core concern is a simple one. Start from the premise that we do need to protect our borders in a strong way. The question then becomes how we do this in the most humane way. I think that the Government has simply failed here.

I don't want to make this a long post. In my next post on the elections, I will look at some of the patterns as I see them.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Problems of employment and free speech - Folau, Ridd and Anderson

"Rugby Australia Chief Executive, Raelene Castle said: “At its core, this is an issue of the responsibilities an employee owes to their employer and the commitments they make to their employer to abide by their employer’s policies and procedures and adhere to their employer’s values." Australian Rugby Union media statement, 15 April 2019 on the breach notice served on Israel  Folau
Israel Folau is, arguably, Australia's best Rugby back. A devout Christian, he was sanctioned by Australian Rugby Union for his comments during the debate in Australia on gay marriage. Folau did not believe that it should be approved, that  homosexuality was a sin. Now he has posted on Instagram that people engaging in certain behaviour including drunkenness, idolatry, theft, adultery and homosexuality must repent or go to hell. The quotes appear to have been drawn directly from passages in the Christian bible.

The posts created a storm, focused on the comments on homosexuality. Other elements were ignored.
The ARU gave notice to Folau that his contract was to be terminated. Folau is fighting the case.
 "What we are expecting, through the (university's) code of conduct and our enterprise agreement, is that we have a safe, respectful, ethical and professional workplace," deputy vice chancellor Iain Gordon told 7.30. James Cook University's Deputy VC commenting on the sacking of Professor  Peter Ridd  for the way he criticised colleagues on Sky TV and in private emails over their views on climate change. 
Professor Ridd was sacked. He appealed to the Federal Court. The Court found that his sacking was unlawful. The judge's views were reported as following:
In his judgement, Judge Sal Vasta found Dr Ridd's termination was unlawful, as JCU's enterprise agreement protected his comments over and above the university's code of conduct. 
"It is actually [Clause 14] that is the lens through which the behaviour of Professor Ridd must be viewed," Judge Vasta wrote. 
"To use the vernacular, the University has 'played the man and not the ball'. 
"Clause 14 means that it is the right of Professor Ridd to say what he has said in any manner that he likes, so long as he does not contravene the sanctions embedded in cl.14 — that is at the heart of intellectual freedom." 
Judge Vasta wrote that the university had "not understood the whole concept of intellectual freedom". 
"In the search for truth, it is an unfortunate consequence that some people may feel denigrated, offended, hurt or upset. 
"It may not always be possible to act collegiately when diametrically opposed views clash in the search for truth."
Note that here we have an apparent conflict between two different policies and procedures, a conflict between general behaviour expected of an employee and academic freedom. This has been a vexed issue in the United States.
Sydney University has sacked a controversial lecturer who showed students a lecture slide featuring the Nazi swastika imposed over Israel's flag. 
Two months after senior lecturer in political economy, Tim Anderson, was first suspended and asked to show cause why his employment should not be terminated for "serious misconduct", the university rejected his appeal. Sydney Morning Herald report.
In commenting on the matter, Sydney University Provost Stephen Garton reportedly said:
All staff were required to meet behavioural expectations. “We have always supported and encouraged our staff to engage in public debate and accept that sometimes those views might be controversial," he said. 
“We will continue to defend the right of our academic staff to express unpopular views as part of their teaching and research, and recognise this as a vital part of the academic process. 
“At the same time, staff must also meet their obligation to engage in debate in a civil manner, and in accordance with our policies and codes of conduct.”
So here, too, we have a conflict between the imposition of two different codes of conduct imposed through contracts of employment.

I have chosen these three cases because they illustrate a point I want to make, one that confuses me.

In recent years, I have mainly done contract work because I wanted an income stream that would support my writing addiction, This means that I have worked for a number of biggish organisations predominantly in the public and not-for-profit sectors. In each case, I have had to do on-line induction training on things like organisational values, code of conduct and, in recent years, social media policies.. This has made me increasingly uncomfortable.

I suppose that this came to a head during the plebiscite on same sex marriage in Australia. I voted yes for reasons I have explained. But when I saw Qantas, a major sponsor of the Australian Rugby Union, come out formally and strongly in favour of a yes vote, I thought what would I do if I worked for Qantas and wanted to campaign for no? Would they fire me or would I just be marked never to be employed again? I concluded that the only way to save my job (or contract) would have been to shut up.

I support the idea of humane and comfortable work places, although I have reservations about the way this may work in practice. Bullying is an example I referred to. Having being involved in a bullying case (I was the one who was allegedly being bullied), I wish that that I had never been.

I was tired and under stress and mishandled it very badly. Instead of calming things down as I had hoped, we ended in a situation where no-one gained. There were only costs.It was a failure on my part.

Linking this back to my my starting point, does an employer have the right to impose limitations on the comments of employees or indeed behaviour outside the workplace? I am driven to the position that the answer is yes.

Employment is a contract, a payment for service. The employee does not have the right to object .to behaviour that conflicts with it's objectives.  One can say that Qantas is hypocritical because it has strategic alliances that are in fundamental variance with its stated values.  But, at the end of the day, that is a matter for Qantas. I's staff can choose to work for it oar not., 

I know that this isn't a comfortable position,There is  are obvious legal questions. But Qantas can only impose its views if it complies with Australian law.

Our universities are now big businesses. They, too, as employers have the right to limit our speech where it conflicts with their commercial objectives. Again, only if it does not conflict with local law.

 If you disagree with me, I think that you must address this question. What gives Folau, Ridd or  Anderson the right to object to restrictions placed upon their view by employers? Where do we draw the line? 

Postscript

In a comment, marcellous pointed me to this Australian High Court case,  Comcare v. Banerji. I have recorded the link here because I want to come back to it later. . 



Monday, April 08, 2019

Monday Forum - How do we preserve civility and cooperation in a polarised world?

I suppose that this Monday Forum owes its existence to drinks I had last Thursday with Harry Creamer and his friend Andrew Waterworth. Both were in Sydney for a reunion of their old college. It was fun.

I regard Harry as a thoroughly good thing.  We really met when I was chair of Tourism Armidale and he was deputy chair.

I was trying to get people to see Armidale and tourism promotion in a new way. Forget the focus on just what Armidale and the immediate environs had. Think of Armidale as a base to explore a much greater area. It was a good base because of its attractions and life style, but there was so much more to be found beyond Armidale.

I was also suggesting that we should promote Armidale as the place that would have been capital of the New England New State. The existence of the separatist movement was a story in its own right, while Armidale as capital was to New England as  Edinburgh was the Scotland. I had some difficulties in getting both ideas across, but Harry was a supporter.

At the time, Harry was working for NSW National Parks. I did not know until later the work that he was doing on documenting Aboriginal languages and history across the broader New England.. His photos are now being digitised by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS.). I look forward to seeing them.

Harry has retired to Port Macquarie. There has campaigned for recognition of climate change through the North Coast press. He has also been involved in efforts to continue the work of Ned Iceton. Most recently, he has become a campaign volunteer for Rob Oakeshott, one of now 500.

Andrew Waterworth was also fun. A film maker and journalist, he moved to Dunedin and is now living in Central Otago. This is Pullar country, part of the New ZealandBbelshaws. so we had a lot to talk about.

I relaxed and enjoyed myself but, relaxed, I made some very rude comments about the Greens. Now I should have known better. A year or so back I did the same in Armidale, adding insult to injury with some positive comments about the Nationals. A long standing friend left the party to avoid getting into a fight.

Now this Forum was going to be about some of the inanities of certain parts of the environmental movement and especially the vegans, a follow up to this post,That Aussie Farms' map - a vacuous gesture that poses some individual dangers but has no meaning beyond.  But since I started writing, my thoughts have gone in a different direction. How do we preserve civility and cooperation in a polarised world?

I an mot sure that this is really a sensible topic for a forum, it's too amorphous.  But I think it's important. My friends span opinions. I like them personally and want to retain links. I also want to be able to pull people together to campaign on common issues where divides would otherwise prevent real cooperation. But how do we do that?

Over to you. As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you want. . 
  

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Sunday Essay - Tibsy and the pleasure of watching birds

In December I mentioned  that I had acquired a new friend, a young magpie subsequently named Tibsy.

With Avenger's death, the cat food that had been outside and which acted as a magnet for multiple birds ceased. However, Tibsy does come back from time to time and stands there, looking hopeful.

Friday, a friend and I were having lunch outside. Tibsy landed and walked right up to the table. We threw him bits and pieces which he ate with apparent satisfaction.

This morning he was back. He is a bigger bird now with glossy feathers, although that's not clear from the second photo. I gave him a little more bread and he then flew happily away, providing a chorus first from the back of a chair.

I spend a fair bit of time sitting out the back. It's peaceful despite the constant background murmur of traffic and the sometimes noise of planes when the flight path brings them this way.  The birds also provide constant if sometimes noisy entertainment especially in the mornings and evenings.

There are a lot of birds in this area, despite the presence of some cats. The Botany Wetlands used to stretch from Centennial Park down to Botany Bay. The remnant wetlands start just down my street and are a haven for a variety of birds.

Then you have all the birds that have adapted to living with humans in urban areas. These include that now ubiquitous pest,  the Indian Myna bird as well as the bin chickens, the White Ibis.

I have a love hate/relationship with the Mynas. They are very noisy, talking all the time. They are also aggressive - I think of them as ether the spitfires or perhaps stukas of the bird world, grouping together in a wing formation to mob and chase away much bigger birds.

The rise of the urban bin chicken is relatively recent. Ibis are wading birds that have adapted to the availability of food. They are very common in this area as are pigeons. Ibis may be a royal bird in Europe, but they hardly seem royal when pecking at a garbage bag to open it. And they shit. I know all birds do, but the Ibis roost in the tall palm trees and deposit their droppings from a great height to the sometimes distress of passer-byes. The bus stop I go to is quite dangerous with Ibis roosting on both sides of the bus stop.

My interest in birds is relatively recent. Growing up we had bird books and used to colour them in, but then my life style took me well away from any bird studies. Indeed, I used to regard bird watching as a rather quaint hobby, a bit like watching grass grow.

I appear to have changed my mind. It's hard not to become interested when one's own backyard is part of bird central to the point that I can even recognise individual characters. It's not an addiction yet, but it a very pleasnt way of passing the time while thinking of other things.     

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The importance of a treaty with Australia's Aboriginal peoples - reflections on 13 years of blogging 2


Posed photo. Thomas Dick collection, Aborigines, Port Macquarie

"I first became interested in the idea of culture and cultural change in studying prehistory. 
Here culture was defined in simple terms as nurture, not nature, all the things that were learned. Necessarily in pre-history, this had a material focus, but anthropological and sociological studies dealt with culture in a broader sense, including interactions between individuals and societies. 
During this period I came in contact with what is now called mirroring, the way in which individuals or minority groups (in this case the Australian Aborigines) could come to reflect or mirror the attitudes held about them in the broader society. 
You can see this today in the way I approach Aboriginal policy issues - I argue (among other things) that our focus on Aboriginal disadvantage and failures not only stigmatises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the broader community, but feeds back into attitudes and perceptions within the Aboriginal community". Belshaw, 23 May 2010 
This post follows from We create the things we most fear - reflections on 13 years of blogging 1.

In all the areas that I write about, the one that I have found most difficult, the one where I have lost most joy, is the history of, and policy relating to, Australia's Aboriginal peoples. I find it all just so complicated, complications that have continued to increase since I wrote the above in 2010.

Looking back over my writing, I can see many things that are worthy of republication, a few that are wrong and deserve retraction. I may look back as part of this series on some of the things I have said that are worthy of repeat or retraction, but in this short post I want to focus on just a few things.

Back on 20 December 2006 I wrote Australia's Aborigines - an introductory post. It was, I suppose, something of a manifesto. Over the thirteen years since I have written 146 posts here, more elsewhere. I have also given one major seminar paper on New England's Aboriginal languages. I really have no idea of the total word length. I guess that it would be well over 200,000 words in all.

When I wrote that first post I had nor met many Aboriginal people. Later, I would work for the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office. I would have an Aboriginal mentee. At AHO we also shared a building with the NSW Aboriginal Land Corporation.

During the four and a bit years I worked with AHO I met many hundreds of Aboriginal people, I attended community meetings, meetings with Aboriginal housing groups. I saw Aboriginal politics and policy making at first hand. I did not change my basic views, but those views were tempered by a better understanding of prejudice and disadvantage.

I respect the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to express views about their own communities. This may sound trite, even condescending. Surely it is self-evident that the rights of any group to make comments about their community should be respected? Well yes, but in the Aboriginal cases it goes to something more important, the right of self determination.

Here I am always conscious of the words of my Aboriginal mentee. We had been at a combined session of mentors and mentees and had gathered outside for a fag. "We know our culture must change", Jenny told the assembled group, "but we want to control that change." I accept that viewpoint. I also accept the right of Aboriginal people to point to and highlight the ills of the past. I may disagree on historical fact, but we are dealing with feelings and emotions that must be respected. This bears upon something that I argued for many years  ago, the need for a new compact with our Aboriginal peoples.

Reflecting on my historical research over the colonial and post-colonial periods, I have often found myself shaking my head .and saying you could not think that. I am not talking about race, although racial prejudice has been and remains a factor. Rather, I am thinking of those who for the best of reasons wanted to "do something to help" our Aboriginal peoples. Bluntly, the Aborigines would have been better off if none of those things had occurred, if there had been no Aboriginal specific policies at all.

Paternalism, the desire to do good for others, the belief that officials and social reformers knew best, had quite devastating effects. This remains a factor today. The Intervention is an example. I wrote a fair bit on this at the time. I was prepared to suspend judgement. Now, with the passage of time, I'm hard pressed to identify a single positive that might justify the expense or the disruption of people's lives. It's just another failure in a long line of policy failures.

I mentioned mirroring in my introductory quote. I came across this in an article in Oceania in the 1960s, I no longer have the reference, looking at the way that prejudices and stereotypes about Aboriginal people affected the views of those people about themselves. I think that it's an important concept that I have carried with me over the years. 

The effects of mirroring combined with paternalism and prejudice have been quite profound. They largely destroyed Aboriginal agency, the affected culture, they created structures and policiesthat were bound to fail. In recent years, their effects have been compounded by "white" guilt which is, in its own way,quite as destructive and paternalistic as its predecessors. 

I have been deliberately provocative here to make a simple point. If, as I believe. Aboriginal people have to determine their own future, then they should be allowed to do so. The question of how the broader community responds is a separate question.

My personal view is that we require a treaty to move forward. The creation of that treaty will be a messy process since neither side presently has a common position. Still, I believe that it can be done. I also think that it needs to be done to allow us to put the past aside. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

We create the things we most fear - reflections on 13 years of blogging 1

This post is an initial follow up on my last post, Initial reflections on thirteen years of blogging. There I said "Over the next few weeks, I plan to reflect on some of the past events and my associated writing here and on my other blogs". This is the first follow up post. I will keep each post short, centred on  a single idea.

Back on 23 May 2010 in Sunday Essay - threads in Belshaw thought, I provided an update on the evolution of my own thinking over time. I think that the post does draw out some of the evolving threads in my thinking. While my core framework remains the same, my views have continued to evolve.

 One thread in that May post was the way our mental constructs, what I call mudmaps, affect our view of the world. A second was the way that our views can affect the behaviour of others through a process called mirroring. I think that we are in that position now in some of our current debates.

In my brief writing on the "War on Terror", I suggested that the mental construct, the rhetoric attached to it, was misleading. A war implied a structured conflict between two sides. That was not the case. However, in applying the rhetoric and in forcing other people to respond. to it, we actually risked creating a war  by creating the very thing that we feared, a structured response that took the rhetoric and used it to it;s own ends.

I think that we are now in that position in the currently confused discussion on race and racial prejudice with its constant emphasis on the past and current evils of "whites", on the need for society to protect itself from right wing aka white extremism. As someone involved in country politics over a long period who sits to some degree on the right of politics but who also straddles from left to right, I have been amazed at the way that rhetoric and response has created patterns that I never expected.

 In the "war on terror", the West's response helped create the demon so painted. Now, I think, we are doing it again, but in the opposite direction.

Brief Update 28 March 2019

I wanted to provide a brief update before moving on.

Remember in this post I am not talking about whether particular views or episodes but the way in which particular mental constructs, particular forms of rhetoric, can actually create the thing attacked. In this case, the growth of certain right wing political views.

It does become complicated because of the emotional and value overlays involved in discussion. Take some of the discussion and responses around that Al Jazeera sting on One Nation.

Former Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste called the story unethical. I think that's right. It's like what we have come to expect from certain Australian media outlets. It lowered my opinion of Al Jazeera as a serious media outlet.

At a second level, it told us little that we did not know before, although the sheer stupidity in getting caught is a bit mind-blowing. But then, and you may call this a personal bias, I have long thought of One Nation as distinctly unprofessional and silly. Here former One Nation David Ettridge made a remarkably lucid point.

Interviewed by, I think, the ABC's Patricia Karvelas, he said that the whole thing would have little impact on the One Nation vote because it played into an already established trope, Ms Hanson and One Nation as victim of the main stream media and parties.

I think that is probably right, although PK was a bit incredulous. You see, we are not dealing with a conversation or even a conventional political debate, but views expressed by two groups that are now disconnected. And, my argument is, we have created that second smaller group through the frames we have adopted.