Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Wishes

As we track into 2007, I just wanted to wish you all a happy new year and to thank you for your support or for just visiting.

Way back on 27 September in conversations, I reported on the pleasure that this blog had given me. This remains true 64 posts later, although there have been a couple of times I have felt very stale, where it has been a very real effort to post.

Sometimes with bloggers it all becomes just too much. Here I have noticed the expiry of BiblioBillaBong with a degree of sadness because it was a blog I visited.

When I wrote conversations back in September my focus was on my regular visitors, those blogs I visited regularly. Since then I have acquired some site stats. This showed me that I while I did have regular visitors, search engine traffic was far more important than I realised. To what extent, then, should I try to take this into account?

To some degree I have done this by trying to give links in stories, by running some shorter stories on particular topics that simply provide an entry point. But my main focus remains on that group of regular readers that form this blog's very small community.

I no longer have a problem in finding things to write about. Now my problem is the opposite. Too many topics.

When I look at the pattern of posts, the blog has evolved from a post every couple of days to one nearly every day, several on some days. Even then I have things I had meant to say but did not.

Over at Ninglun's (Neil's) blog, I see that he has been making his new year's blogging resolutions.

One of those is to write less. Now this is a resolution I am not sure about, nor am I absolutely sure about his comments on focus, limiting himself, although I do agree that with so many blogs it may not matter if one does not say something. I have watched the growth of Neil's blog this year with admiration. For better or worse, he has created a blog (a monster on his back he might sometimes feel) that people do check on a daily basis, some like me several times a day!

When it comes to voting for the best NSW blog, I know where I am voting! Maybe a few shorter posts, a little limitation, just to ease the load.

For my part, I have made three but only three new year's blogging resolutions:
  1. Contribute more to other people's blogs. I did this a lot to begin with, then it dropped off because I was too busy writing myself. Conversation is conversation, not parallel but completely separate streams. Here I note that Lexcen has begun putting up some rather nice posts on Australian heroes.
  2. More short posts just to balance my longer posts while also making things a little easier for me.
  3. Focus a proportion of my posts on previous posts to ensure follow up and help build depth.

I have made no resolution in regard to actions to increase readership. Increased readership might be nice, but that's not my primary aim on this blog.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

End 2006 Personal Indulgence

This end year post is pure personal indulgence. If I can make it work within the blogger format, I wanted to share a few photos with you from recent years in no particular order.

Photo: Helen holds the floor. Year 11 camp 2004. Note the sunglasses as hair band. One of the problems today in a more complex and risk averse society is to give young people the type of experiences that their parents took for granted. School camps have become one way of doing this. I write a lot on this blog about the nature and process of change. When I look at Helen's friends from school, a remarkably powerful group of young women, I have no fear for the future.

Photo: Sis indulging. Harry's Bar, Venice January 2005. This is one of Venice's most famous expatriate bars. The girls loved Europe. Australia's European heritage remains strong as one national thread.

Photo: Clare's birthday 2006, four friends, six ethnic ancestries, one country. Clare's friends span all cultures and ethnic groups, and that's important as we track into Australia's future. While very different from Helen's friends, they are also a remarkable group of young women.

Photo: i luv this picasso. Paris, December 2004. Both girls, but especially Clare who loves art, thought that Picasso Museum was the one of the Paris highlights.

Colwell Bush birthday party 2005. Opening the gate. The impact of the drought can be seen. Australia will change, but it is very important to me inthe midst of change that my daughters retain some links to their country heritage. We -Belshaws and Colwells - were astonished to discover at a school function that there was a strong family connection between the two families.

Colwell Bush birthday party 2005. Raging on. I loved the country social functions in and around Armidale - Picnic races, woolshed dances, B&S's, Recovery Parties etc. It's interesting how things replicate themselves. One of Clare's friends, a lassie who originally came from from Cambodia, is presently going out with a country boy who is a boarder at my old school in Armidale.

Denise and I ready to go out to dinner in Rome January 2005. Dee is wearing her new leather jacket, I my new Italian shirt and tie. The Italians really do make good clothes! I come from the generation that first discovered Asia. I was 34 before visiting the UK and Europe for the first time, and then was surprised at the degree of resonance. Australia is an incredibly lucky country because of the way we link and can access so many different traditions.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Science and Political Correctness

One of the reasons why I read blogs such John Quiggin's on one side, Tim Blair's on the other, is that they give me very different perspectives on similar topics.

There has been a lot of debate about the Stern Report on climate change. Initially the report swept all before it, then doubts were raised about the assumptions built into the report. Here John Quiggin who is generally sympathetic but not uncritical of Stern's arguments makes the point that the single most critical assumption in the report is the discount rate used.

Just to explain.

With something like climate change, we are dealing with future affects. If we are to reduce these, we need to spend money now. In doing so, we trade off future reduced costs associated with climate change (the benefits) for costs now (the spend required to reduce future costs). So we have a stream of costs and benefits (reduced costs) spread over time.

Now a dollar in hand today is worth more than a dollar in the future. You can test this quite simply. If I give you a choice between getting, say, $800 now and $1,000 in fifteen year's time you may well opt for the $800 now. The discount rate is the rate required to bring the future and present amount into balance so that you are neutral between the two.

Now what all this means in the case of Stern is that he used a low discount rate, essentially arguing that present generations need to take the needs of future generations into account. As you increase the discount rate, the economic benefits of present actions fall away until ultimately the equation becomes negative. So those who attack Stern focus on the discount rate.

My point in all this is that before you can either attack or defend Stern's report, you have to look at the assumptions used.

On the other side of the ledger, Tim Blair is a climate change sceptic. This means that he will dig up material to support his position. But just because he is a sceptic does not of itself invalidate the material he presents.

Now here Tim presents a story on the concerns of oceanographer and climatologist Kevin Vranes on aspects of the climate change debate. Tim puts his own slant on the Vrane's views, but also provides a link to Vrane's post on a science blog.

The post is worth reading. For the moment I simply note that one of Vrane's concerns is, in my words, the way in which climate change has become so entrenched as a dominant popular view that scientists who want to express or discuss alternative views on issues such as the speed of the process fear to do so.

For what it's worth, my own view on climate change is that the growth in "green house" gases in the atmosphere is causing longer term climatic change and that's a problem that worries me. However, I also feel that the exact scale and direction of the process is still uncertain, that individual events such as the current drought in South East Australia probably have little to do with climate change.

I make this point only so that you know my own opinion on the climate change issue. My interest in this post is broader, the way in which dominant paradigms become so politically correct that they distort discussion.

Many years ago I read Thomas Kuhn's Scientific Revolution.

Kuhn, who brought the word paradigm itself into prominence, argued that major scientific change occurred via a stepped process. Looking at the history of science, he suggested that the dominant scientific view - the dominant paradigm - held the high ground, squeezing alternative views out.

Over time, evidence accumulated that could not be explained by the dominant paradigm. Initially, this was rejected, excluded because it did not fit with the prevailing view. Then at a critical shift point the excluded evidence suddenly reached critical mass. The old paradigm was suddenly swept away, replaced by a new dominant view.

I found Kuhn's arguments persuasive, and indeed if you look at my writing on my blogs you will see his influence in things like my discussion of the 1970s as a critical shift decade, my use of the words a 'a far country' to describe the pre 1970s world, my attempt to trace the fall of previously dominant Australian social, cultural and historical paradigms, my very use of the word paradigm itself.

The problem with revolutions is that in sweeping away the past, they sweep away good with bad, stopping discussion on alternative views. Now here in science today there is a particular problem, one that makes me very cautious sometimes about accepting so called scientific evidence. That problem lies in the nature of the interface between science, industry and government.

Kuhn wrote in and of a world in which science was a unique domain. Even when science itself was emerging from natural philosophy, it was an activity that could be thought of as the domain of those with a particular interest in the subject matter.

There have always been interfaces between science and the broader human world. That world with its changing interests and views has always affected scientific study. Nevertheless, when Kuhn spoke of scientific revolutions his focus was on science and scientists, on the way that the dominant paradigm and its supporters attempted to maintain their position until finally swept away.

Today, the position is a little different.

Technology has risen to rival science. Within science, the focus is on applied science. Modern science requires money, and that comes from government and industry. Patents are replacing papers as a publish or perish measure, itself a new concept. Science is seen as a tool providing results for use by government or industry. All this affects scientific thought.

Take climate change as an example. Whole scientific areas such as climatology or oceanography now depend significantly on climate change related funding. The results from that research are built into public policy and popular debate. Popular opinion, Government policy, the views and interests of individual scientists have come together to establish climate change as a new dominant paradigm.

This is not necessarily wrong, but it becomes very dangerous if, as Vrane suggests, it is squeezing out alternative views and discussions within the scientific community itself.

This problem is not in fact new, but is a feature of the late 19th and twentieth century, the period when government and industry throughout the world became actively involved in science.

We can see the process clearly in Nazi Germany. There the Nazi's conscripted science to the services of State and Party to the detriment of science and scientists.

We can see the same process in Australia, if in a more benign fashion.

I grew up in the 1950s. Dairy products were seen as good for you. Then, suddenly, we were told that dairy products were bad for you in a sustained campaign that ran for years. This campaign and to a degree the associated scientific research were organised by the margarine industry trying to break quota limitations on margarine production protecting the dairy industry. Elements of the campaign were picked up be Governments, doctors and health experts. Finally, sales of diary products went into sharp decline.

The problem with all this is that the case as presented and as finally accepted was flawed. We now know that the margarine produced at the time and sold as a health product had its own health problems. The decline in calcium intake flowing from the decline in the consumption of dairy products created bone problems. Today, dairy is back.

Something similar happened with red meat.

Even where the science as presented may have been right, there were sometimes unexpected side effects.

Goitre, the swelling of the thyroid gland, was a major Australian problem because of iodine deficiency. This was solved through iodised salt. The campaign to reduce salt in the diet was successful but, in combination with fashion changes towards the type of salt used, reduced iodine intake. Goitre, previously the domain of poor countries, is back.

Now, in perhaps the greatest irony of all, the basic diet of the 1950s as promoted by nutritionists since at least the 1930s is itself back. This provided for three meals a day, small portions, a balance between food groups, limited snacks between meals, a piece of fruit a day and so on.

I stand to be corrected, but it seems to me that a family that ignored all the health and diet discussions over the last fifty years and just on kept on eating the diet as recommended in the 1950s would have been better off in health terms.

So what is the ordinary person to do in all this?

To some degree, we all have to accept the advice of specialists. The only thing that I can suggest is to exercise a degree of caution in accepting things presented by technology, science, and especially Government and industry as infallible truths. Far too often they are not.

Australian Migration Statistics 2005 - 2006

The Australian Department of Immigation and Multicultural has released new statistics for the 2005-2006 financial year covering arrivals and departures.

Because I know that some of my readers like to drop below the official and media reporting to look at the original data, I thought that I should give you the links to two key sets of data. They are:

I have only had time to scan the stats, but on the surface there is a whole variety of data not likely to be reported that is of great interest to those like me who want to understand what is happening in Australia.

Just to give a sample of what I mean.

In 2005-06 there were 131,593 settler arrivals, people migrating to Australia with permission to stay permanently, an increase of 7.5 per cent over the previous year. This is the headline figure that has been reported in the media.

This sounds good. But in that same year 67,853 permanent residents emigrated from Australia, an increase of 8.4 per cent. So we gained 131,593, lost 67,853 for a net gain of 63,740.

I would have thought that this was not a good performance.

I will report more once I have had a chance to absorb the numbers.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Importance of Family History

As I was writing the last post with its detailed family tree material on the Belshaws of Wigan/ Platt Bridge I wondered just how eye glazing it might be to the external reader.

In a sense that does not matter because I am recording the material for my own benefit. However, the conversation I had with Doug Belshaw on my first notes post on the Belshaws of Wigan/Platt Bridge got me thinking about the importance of family history.

Many thing may have contributed to the rise in interest in family history over the last fifty years, and it has been rising for that period. The spread of more and and higher levels of education, greater wealth, longer lives and freedom from major war have all probably played a part.

It may sound odd to say the last at a time when our news is dominated by war, when there are so many conflicts across the globe. But you only have to look at the numbers killed in the two world wars, set out in my post of 11 November, to see what I mean. At least in western countries, the last fifty years have been a golden age as compared to the previous fifty years with its two world wars separated by the great depression.

But beyond all this, I think that the interest in family history is a response to greater complexity in life, to the speed of change. Over the last fifty years the great institutions that previously provided a sense of continuity in western countries - the churches, the state institutions, the universities are examples - have themselves become victims of change. At a time of complexity and change the domestic, the family, becomes more important in explaining who we are, where we fit.

This may help explain the growing interest but it does not, of itself, explain why I think that family history is important beyond the immediate individuals and families involved. Here my focus is on the importance of family history to interest in historiography, the study and writing of history itself as a discipline.

Because historiography focuses on the human experience, it too has been affected by the change process. This has not been all bad.

When I first studied ancient history at school, the core focus was on institutions, politics and war. Material on ordinary life was included, but it was limited. Now we know far more about daily life, about the experiences and human condition of the mass of the population. I think that's a very good thing.

But there have been downsides. From my perspective the greatest downside of the change process has been the fragmentation of history, the loss of the narrative sweep that used to hold the whole thing together. This is not a comment on the history wars that have been been a feature of discussion in a number of countries, simply a personal observation.

I feel this especially strongly because I have been affected by it in a personal sense at two levels.

I am personally interested in the sweep of narrative history, in the changing human experience over time and space. So I find the fragmentation in historiography annoying.

Equally importantly, I find that entire slabs of history and the associated human experience that I am personally interested in have largely vanished, lost in changing fashions. The building blocks, the previous work, that I want to draw on as a narrative historian, are no longer there.

All this explains the importance of good family history and indeed of good local histories.

Interest in family history often starts with genealogy, the family tree, and sometimes stops there. But to really write a good family history extending over several generations, you have to look at the relationships between the family and the changing external world.

Just taking last century, what was the impact of the wars, the depression? Where did they go to school, indeed how much schooling did they have, where? What did they work at? How did this change?

To answer these questions, to understand the how and why behind the identified family facts, the family historian has no choice but to look at the family against the broader sweep of relevant human experience. Here it makes no sense to fragment by topic, subject or slice. The family becomes a prism through which the changing external world is viewed.

The quality of family histories varies. Even limited ones can provide useful information on otherwise ignored topics, while some of the best are very good indeed. In all cases, long may the interest continue.

The Wigan/Platt Bridge Belshaws - Note 2

This post continues my background notes on the English Belshaws.

Belshaw Family Tree - James and Ellen Belshaw (nee Baldwin)

According to the handwritten family tree prepared by my father, grandfather James Belshaw was born in 1867, the son of James and Ellen Belshaw, nee Baldwin.

We do not know exactly James and Ellen married, nor do we do whether or not my great grandfather was an only child. I do know that when first my Uncle then later my father went to England from New Zealand to study they visited family in the Wigan area, although this may have been on my grandmother's side.

I am only guessing at this point, but presumably there marriage was some time before 1867. I say this because for reasons I will give later I think both James and Ellen were about 37 when Grandfather Belshaw was born. If they married at 29, a not uncommon age, then they would have married in 1859.

According to my father's family tree, James Belshaw died after his son's marriage, Dad put 1903 in brackets with a question mark.

There are on-line records for the Wigan (Lower Ince) cemetry that can be accessed via the Wiganworld site. This may not be the right cemetry anyway, although the names and addresses listed suggest that it is highly likely to be. In any event, while there are a number of James Belshaws listed, none fall within the right date range.

We do not have a date of birth for Ellen Baldwin nor any details re her family. However, Baldwin was quite a common name in the district with 150 Baldwins buried in the Wigan (Lower Ince) cemetery after 1857. This compares to 148 Belshaws.

We do not know when Ellen died, although Dad's family tree states that she had died before grand father James married Mary Pilkington in 1897. Here the cemetery records are interesting.

In those days of high death rates, it was common (at least in Scotland and Australia, presumably England) to name children after relatives including people who had died, even siblings. So a common repeated name can suggest family linkages. In this context, I found the following Ellen Belshaw's buried in the Lower Ince cemetery:

  • Belshaw Ellen, 1 ¾ yrs, died Chapel Lane, 03 Jan 1864
  • Belshaw Ellen, 18 Yrs, Wigan, 7 Jun 1866
  • Belshaw Ellen, 9 Mths, Scholes, 19 Apr 1867
  • Belshaw Ellen, 4 days, Burns' Yd. Sch, 11 Aug 1874
  • Belshaw Mary Ellen, 6 mo, Burns Yd. Sch, 09-Mar 1889
  • Belshaw Ellen, 73 yrs, 18 Kay St, 08-Jan 1890
  • Belshaw Ellen, 60 yrs, 73 Victoria St, Platt Bridge, 14-Feb 1890, Hindley
  • Belshaw Ellen, 26 Yrs, Linney St, 08-Apr 1911
  • Belshaw Ellen, 21 yrs, 129 Walthew Lane, 30-Nov 1918, Platt Bridge, S 781, C of E

When I look at this list, and assuming my great grandmother was in fact buried here, the most logical person would appear to be the Ellen Belshaw who died on 14 February 1890 at the age of 60 years.

This means that she would have been born around 1830, making her 37 when my grandfather was born, which appears possible. The Platt Bridge address adds some supporting evidence. If my great grandfather was around the same age as his wife - born in 1830 - then he would have been 73 in 1903, the date dad suggested as a possible date of death. Again feasible.

But I also found the Ellen Belshaw who died at the age of 21 years in 1918 of interest because I have a vague memory of 129 Walthew Lane as a family address. This suggests that she may be a relative. If this is so, the age and date of death (she would have been born around 1897) suggests that her father may well have been an older brother to my grandfather.

I have no knowledge at this point of the life of James and Ellen Belshaw.

Belshaw Family Tree - Richard and Mary Belshaw (nee Tunstall)

Richard Belshaw, my great, great grandfather, stands out in family memory as something of a reprobate.

Again, we do not have birth details. Dad gave his birthdate as (about 1800?).

Family tradition claims that Richard eloped with a Mary Tunstall, the daughter of an aristocrat family, a move that so upset her father that he disowned her, then dieing without a will with the estates and assets going to chancery. As late at the 1930s, my father was approached by someone claiming to be another family member seeking financial support for a legal action to recover the money.

Family tradition also has it that Richard like a drink, something not approved of in the Primitive Methodist side of the family, requiring his wife to sometimes drag him out of the public house.

We do not know when they married, probably in the late 1820s given the suggested birth date for my great grandfather, nor do we know if they children other than my great grandfather, nor do we know the date of Richard Belshaw's death. There is no Richard Belshaw buried in the Lower Ince cemetery to provide a hint.

Dad's family tree records Mary Belshaw's death simply as d?(after 1867). 1867 was the year of my grandfather's birth, so the notation suggests that he remembered his grandmother, meaning that she must have died some time later.

Checking the Lower Ince cemetery records we find the following references to Mary Belshaws:

  • Belshaw Mary, 5 mo, Every St. Scholes, 09-Apr 1873
  • Belshaw Mary, 86 Yrs, New Springs, 05-Mar 1885
  • Belshaw Mary, 49 Yrs, Hallgate, 11-Jan 1886
  • Belshaw Mary Ellen, 6 mo, Burns Yd. Sch., 09-Mar 1889
  • Belshaw Mary, 83 yrs, 32 Cross st, 20-Oct 1894
  • Belshaw Mary Jane, 44 Yrs, Anderton St, 23-Jun 1897
  • Belshaw Mary, 78 Yrs, Schofield Lane, 07-Mar 1912
  • Belshaw Mary, 67 Yrs, Orchard St, 24-Oct 1914
  • Belshaw Mary, 70 yrs, 9 Gaskell St, 07-Jun 1915, Q 533, C of E
  • Belshaw Mary, 83 yrs, 2 Jane St, Platt Lane, 17-Oct 1916, Q 258, C of E

Again I find this list interesting for the same reason as Ellen, the recurrence of names.

If Mary Belshaw Snr was buried here, the most likely person is the New Springs' Mary Belshaw who died in 1885 aged 86. She would have been born around 1799 and been around 31 at the estimated date of the birth (c1830) of my great grandfather, 68 at the time my grandfather was born.

There is also an interesting pattern of names here in terms of the mix of Ellens and Marys:

  • Belshaw Ellen, 1 ¾ yrs, died Chapel Lane, 03 Jan 1864. Thus born 1863
  • Belshaw Ellen, 18 Yrs, Wigan, 7 Jun 1866. Thus born c 1848
  • Belshaw Ellen, 9 Mths, Scholes, 19 Apr 1867. Born 1867.
  • Belshaw Mary, 5 mo, Every St. Scholes, 09-Apr 1873. Born 1872.
  • Belshaw Ellen, 4 days, Burns' Yd. Sch, 11 Aug 1874. Born 1874.
  • Belshaw Mary, 86 Yrs, New Springs, 05-Mar 1885. Born c1799.
  • Belshaw Mary, 49 Yrs, Hallgate, 11-Jan 1886, Born c 1837.
  • Belshaw Mary Ellen, 6 mo, Burns Yd. Sch., 09-Mar 1889. Born 1888.

Now look at the surmised Belshaw dates:

  • ?1799 Richard Belshaw and Mary Tunstall are born
  • c1829 Richard Belshaw and Mary Tunstall marry
  • c1830 James Belshaw senior and Ellen Baldwin are born
  • James and Ellen marry somewhere between 1859, possibly earlier, and 1866.
  • Richard Belshaw dies some time before 1867
  • 1867 James and Ellen Belshaw name their son James Belshaw
  • ?1885 Mary Belshaw (ne Tunstall) dies
  • ?1890 Ellen Belshaw (nee Baldwin) dies
  • 1897 James Belshaw and Mary Pilkington marry
  • ?1903 James Belshaw senior dies

If I am right about the connection between my part of the Belshaws and the Lower Ince cemetery, then it is a reasonable hypothesis that there is probably some as yet unseen connection between the pattern of Marys and Ellens and my own family, although more than one family is involved.

It's all quite complicated!

In my next note I will look at Mary Pilkington and her family.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Wigan/Platt Bridge Belshaws - Note 1

Photo: Church, Platt Bridge

We had a lovely Christmas today.

I suppose its natural at Christmas time to think about family past amd present. So I found myself thinking about the Belshaws in Wigan before grandfather and grandmother emmigrated to New Zealand, thought triggered in part by a comment posted by Doug Belshaw linking back to a story on his blog.

I don't think that Doug will mind if I repeat part of his material in this post.

The Belshaw Name

Belshaw is an unusual surname. Growing up, I knew no other Belshaws outside my immediate family, with only a few listed even in the Sydney telephone directory.

There are more around today, but it is still a rare name. We can see this from the table showing the relative occurrence of the name at the 1881 and 1998 UK censuses.

To my knowledge, Wigan in Lancashire remains the only place in the world where the name is reasonably common.

Belshaw is also very much a working class name.

To quote Doug: "Digging deeper on the Surname Profiler website, for example, shows that I've got one of the lowest-status surnames in the country! 95% of people have 'higher status' surnames than me, and the majority of Belshaws are of the MOSAIC type (a social classification indicator) 'Ex-Industrial legacy'"

The Indicator speaks of these families in this way:

Most people are in older working age groups, often with grown up children, who have been born and bred in the area. Relatively few co-habit, or are divorced, or head single parent families. By contrast these are areas which, on account of long histories of employment in dangerous occupations, have high proportions of people who are in poor health or who are permanently unable to work because of sickness. This poor level of health is reflected in low levels of life expectancy, particularly among males, and a high proportion of the population that are widowed.

Reference Sources

I have a family tree prepared by my father before his death. In trying to check this I found the following sources:

I have only visited Wigan once, and that many years ago, so in addition the above sources I looked at the Wikipedia articles on Wigan, Platt Bridge and Lancashire.

I am also drawing from Wikipedia articles on the British Labor Party.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Yet more on Tamworth and Refugees

Photo: Tamworth aerial view. This photo is taken from the Total Travel site. Do Please visit.

I suppose that it was too much to hope that the Australian metro media would leave Tamworth alone for a moment to give them (the locals) time to work the issues through. After all, it is a major story.

In case I haven't made my own position clear in the stories I have written, I thought that the original Council decision to reject the resettlement proposal was dumb, the way Council handled the matter dumber still.

At the same time, one of my key points has been that this is a complicated issue from a local perspective, one that the locals themselves have to work through.

The difficulty with the story now carried in today's Sydney Morning Herald (here) is that it is highly likely to inflame local divisions, making sensible consideration of the issue still more difficult. People dig in if placed under too much pressure.

Community development has been one of my long standing interests. Why do some communities develop, others fail?

In a post back in July - A Town like Alice - development and creativity at community level - I compared Armidale and Tamworth. One of my points was that Tamworth had a long record in business creation and that this helped explain its relative success compared to Armidale.

As a community, Tamworth has been a considerable success. I am seriously concerned that this current controversy will damage the city, affecting every person who lives there, including the thousands in the city who oppose the original council decision.

So let's cut Tamworth some slack, letting them work the issue through.

Victorian Election November 06 - Final Results

On November 24 I ran an introductory post on the Victorian elections followed on 26 November by a report on the preliminary outcomes. I then had to do a hasty part recant on 28 November as some apparently certain results became uncertain.

I thought that I should round all this off by providing the final results as I understand them drawn from the Victorian Electoral Commission.

Lower House Results

The ALP ran in all 88 Lower House seats, gained 43.06 per cent of the vote (previous 47.95) and won 55 (previous 62) seats, thus comfortable retaining Government if with a significantly lower vote.

The Liberal Party ran in all 88 Lower House seats, gained 34.44 per cent of the vote (previous 33.91) and won 23 (previous 17) seats.

The National Party ran in 20 regional seats, gained 5.17 per cent of the vote (previous 4.30) and won 9 (previous 7) of the seats.

The Greens ran in all 88 seats, gained 10.04 of the vote (previous 9.73) but failed to win any seats.

Family First running for the first time ran in all 88 seats, gained 4.29 of the vote, but also failed to win any seats.

The number of independents in the Lower House fell from two in 2002 to one.

In the Lower House the big winner was the National Party whose previous decline in seats had put them at risk of losing official party status. Labor will be happy to be back in Government, while the Greens will be disappointed at their failure to win a seat.

The Liberals will not be happy at their vote with Family First siphoning off votes that would otherwise have gone to them. On the other hand, they also ended up with more seats than first appeared might have been the case on election night.

Upper House

After a very long and incredibly complicated count culminating in several recounts, the ALP won 19 seats in the Upper House, the Liberals 15, Greens three, Nationals two and Democratic Labor Party one, the first time that this last has held a seat in Parliament for decades.

While the ALP and DLP are traditional enemies, the winning DLP candidate has indicated that he proposes to support the Government because he was elected on ALP preferences.

The Upper House count was an incredibly messy if interesting process.

Keeping it very simple, under the proportional representation system you have to get a quota to be elected. Preference votes are distributed via a complex process until the requisite number of quotas have been achieved.

Each party nominates a preference list. Voters have two options. They can vote above the line, simply ticking a relevant party box. In this case, their preferences simply flow through as determined by the party preference list. Alternatively, they can vote below the line. In this case, they number individual squares to indicate their personal voting preference.

Most people vote above the line. This makes preference deals between parties extremely important in determining outcomes, leading to some very strange bed fellows indeed. A and B may hate each other but still combine against C if C is perceived as a threat to both.

A much smaller number who do not like being dictated too - me included in Senate voting- vote below the line. Normally this has little impact. However, in very close elections like some of the Victorian Upper House contests, the small number of below the line votes can suddenly become critical. Now the problem here for Party organisers is that it almost definitionally follows that below the line votes do not follow tickets and hence can go all over the place.

We saw all this worked through in the Victorian voting.

Finally, congratulations to Evan Thornley for finally making it through and upon his appointment by the Premier as Parliamentary Secretary for the National Reform Agenda. I suspect that Evan will make a major contribution here.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Australia's Aborigines - A Note on Demography

I am making this very brief reference post to this blog rather than the New England, Australia blog because it deals with Australia wide issues.

One of the things that interested me in looking at our indigenous people from a New England perspective was what I perceived to be a significant increase in the Aboriginal proportion of the population in certain areas. I now know that this perception was correct.

Since I wrote my first notes in this area I have found a very good article by J Taylor - Population and Diversity: Policy Implications of Emerging Indigenous Demographic Trends, Discussion Paper 283/2006, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University.

I do not have the time to analyse this properly at present, but a few quick heads up points.

In 2001, the indigenous population reached 485,000. This figure will obviously be higher now, but I have yet to check the latest figures.

Of this total, 138,494 (1.1 per cent of the total population) lived in major cities, 92,988 (2.3 per cent of the population) in inner regional areas, 105,875 (5.3 per cent of the population) in outer regional areas, 40,161 (12.4 per cent of the population) in remote areas, 81,002 (45.4 per cent of the population) in very remote areas.

Part of the significant growth in indigenous numbers in recent years has come from those with part indigenous ancestry reclassifying themselves as indigenous, but indigenous birth rates have been far higher than the Australian average. This leads to faster indigenous growth rates than the national average and a very different demographic pyramid with much higher concentrations in younger age groups in the indigenous pyramid.

This has several implications. Among other things, it means that the indigenous proportion of the total population will continue to grow. It also means that the focus and needs of the indigenous population are different, more focus on jobs now, less on aging issues.

The indigenous population appears more mobile than the general population, although migration patterns are complex. For example, growth in indigenous populations in metro areas comes largely from in-migration of the young, partially offest by out-migration of married couples with children.

Within these complex migration patterns, there are a two features worthy of immediate note:

  • The first is the growth of reasonably significant size aboriginal towns, urban communities with populations measured in the thousands.
  • The second is the pattern of heavy migration from more remote areas into regional centres such as Dubbo, Broken Hill, Armidale or Tamworth. Because non-indigenous population growth in those centers has been lower, in some cases negative, the indigenous proportion of the population is well above the national average and climbing.

Those who read my blogs will know that I try to come at things from a different perspective. They will also know that I write from a country or regional, rather than metro, perspective. Both influence my approach on public policy issues.

My core complaint against current policy and rhetoric in regard to Australia's indigenous people is that it confuses an indentifying label - indigenous, aboriginal - with the real issues. Let me try to explain.

I first read about Port Keats (Wadeye) ten years ago. I was astonished. Here was a substantial town totally off the radar that seemed to lack every facility taken for granted in every Australian community. The fact that it had an overwhelmingly aboriginal population was beside the point.

Put this in another way. If there was a country town of the same size in NSW or Victoria with the same facilities it would be a major issue. Somehow, the fact that Wadeye was aboriginal was confusing the issue.

A second example.

The New England town of Kempsey has, I think, an aboriginal proportion of the population now over 14 per cent. That proportion of the population faces major problems in regard to unemployment and the social problems that come from deprivation.

Is this an aboriginal problem?

In one sense it is. Certainly if I were an aboriginal parent living in Kempsey I might be worried about my own kids. As any parent I would be worried, for example, about the impact on local schools. As a visitor to South West Rocks, I was certainly personally concerned that our car was stolen by a couple of aboriginal kids from nearby Macksville who used it to go on a mini crime spree.

But if we stand back, the public policy problem is not in fact anything to do with aboriginality as such, everything to do with economic and social problems especially among the young. And it is just not aboriginal young people who experience this. The public policy response needs to focus on this broader question.

Tamworth and Refugees - update at 21 December

An update on my earlier post on Tamworth and the refugee imbroglio.

On 20 December the Northern Daily Leader carried an update on the current views of Tamworth's nine regional councillors in regard to how they were likely to vote on the January 16 motion to rescind the controversial decision not to support the refugee relocation centre program.

For Rescission

Cr Diane Carter, Cr Robert Schofield, Cr Warren Woodley.

Against Rescission

Cr Phil Betts: "I haven't changed my mind. There is not enough information at this stage. I haven't seen any information one way or the other on (Federal Government) provision of

Cr Kevin Tongue: "There is not enough evidence that the community is all for it to change my mind. My personal opinion is it shouldn't be dealt with so quickly."

Cr Shirley Close: "I feel very strongly that I basically made the right decision."

Undecided, not willing to reveal position

Cr Colin Murray: Undecided (voted in favour of the original decision)."I've seen some evidence for supporting it but there are still a lot of people out there against it."

Mayor Cr James Treloar: No comment on how he plans to vote (voted for original decision). "I think The Leader has a role in keeping the community informed but I don't think it should frame the debate."

Cr Cr Russell Webb: No comment on how he plans to vote (voted for original decision). "A decision will come from the January 16 meeting that will hopefully appease the situation."


So at this point we have three in favour of the original decision, three supporting rescission, three whose positions are unclear. Two of these three will need to vote for rescission for the motion to be carried.

As an external observer in all this, I wish that there was more information on the claimed inadequacies in the Commonwealth Government's refugee resettlement program since this is still being referred to as a problem.

I will report further closer to the 16 January vote date.

Australian Economy - Mid Year Economic Report

The Australian Government has just released its mid year economic report. The Government is required to do this under the Charter of Budgetary Honesty.

For the benefit especially of my international readers, the Australian Government maintains a budget web site that sets out details of past and present Australian Government budgets and supporting papers and of performance against budget. These contain a wealth of information on Commonwealth Government activities. The mid year economic report can be found on this site.

The report concludes that the Australian economy is slowing, with projected increase in GDP over 2006-2007 down to 2.5 per cent as compared to the budget forecast of 3.25 per cent. As I foreshadowed in an earlier post on 8 November, the continuing drought is now biting hard.

While unemployment measured by the official statistics (these tend to understate real unemployment) remains at historically low levels, this is expected to increase in line with slowing economic activity. In statistical terms, unemployment is a lagging indicator, falling after slowdown begins, rising after expansion begins.

The budget itself remains in surplus, with the underlying cash surplus now projected at $A11.8 billion, up from the estimate at budget time. Again for the benefit of international readers, the Australian Government has been running budget surpluses for many years, leading to close to zero Government debt. In fact, people in the financial markets have been complaining about the reduced availability of Government securities since these have traditionally provided the benchmark for debt portfolios.

Australia's international indebtedness has risen sharply in recent years, but all this increase has all come from increased private sector debt. While this is not seen as a problem by many economists, I must say that it does worry me.

Take the current leverage buy out proposal for Qantas as an example. This will be significantly funded by overseas borrowings. If the funds so released to shareholders are spent in part on consumption (Australia's household sector is now a net dis-saver), then the economy does become more vulnerable to downturn.

The revised economic projections assume continued global economic growth. This is projected at 5.25 per cent in 2006, up .25 per cent from the original budget assumptions, falling to 4.75 per cent in 2007. This strikes me as another significant vulnerability.

One economic plus has been the continued strength of business investment, with the investment share in GDP in 2005-2006 the highest for 32 years. The Government expects this to support future increases in exports.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Australia's Aborigines - an introductory post

Photo: This photo is taken from the Tobwabba Art site. Tobwabba is a 100 per cent Aboriginal owned artists' cooperative located in Forster.

The picture shows one element of traditional life among the Worimi, the tribe (language group) located especially around Forster and Port Stephens.

I have so far hesitated to write anything on issues connected with Australia's aborigines because this area has become a bit of a mine field, especially for some one like me who does not have much direct contact with aboriginal people. However, events have conspired to create a need for me to make some comments.

Just to explain why.

I have been interested in the aborigines for a long time. I did my honours thesis on the economic structure of aboriginal life in New England at the time of European intrusion, drawing mainly from ethnographic records. At that stage I still planned to become a prehistorian specialising in Australian prehistory. I also wanted to write a history of New England that started by looking at the aborigines.

While at University I attended a speech by Charles Perkins. He was, I think, the first aboriginal university graduate. He made the point, one that I thought was very fair, that instead of talking about the aboriginal problem we should talk about the European problem since it was the Europeans that had created the problem.

While my career then went in different directions, I retained my interest. I built up a collection of early anthropological and ethnographic studies and followed, if at a distance, the aboriginal cultural renaissance. By the 1980s, I thought that the aborigines had come an enormous distance when looking back to that day Mr Perkins addressed us at the University of New England Union.

From my perspective the wheels then came off.

To begin with, I found myself resenting the sudden overall emphasis on the wrongs of the past that dominated discussion over the next twenty years. In parallel, all the reporting on aboriginal issues appeared to turn negative. I do not mean that it was anti-aboriginal, simply that all the stories were about problems, creating a constant negative flow that seemed to affect both aboriginal and non-aboriginal views. I started wondering just how things had gone so badly wrong.

I do not mean that everything was negative. Social attitudes do change, if slowly.

Fifty years ago, some older Australians were still destroying records that showed convict ancestry. Today, convict ancestry has become a badge of pride.

In similar vein, rise in pride in aboriginality is now having a clear impact. I have a colleague whose grandmother was aboriginal. Twenty years ago, this was never mentioned. Today it is. I suspect that twenty years from now having some aboriginal ancestry will be a badge of pride among the broader Australian community. Indeed, it already is to some degree.

The only thing that will stop this happening is if we ourselves destroy it. Here I have found my own views shifting again.

Back in 1999 I was involved with work on aboriginal eye care. The Taylor Report had pointed to a number of on-going problems that needed to be addressed. However, when I came to look at the on-ground details of eye care in NSW drawing on the work of Rosalind Hecker two things became clear.

Number one was the great variety in on-ground experience making it difficult to draw universal conclusions. Number two was the fact that in key problem areas we were dealing not just with an aboriginal eye care problem, but with a broader problem of access affecting all members of the community. Without action to address this broader problem, any specific aboriginal eye care programs must fail.

This lead me to a simple conclusion. We should stop talking about specific aboriginal problems as though all aborigines were a uniform group quite distinct from the broader community, but instead should focus on disentangling the facts so that we knew just what we were really talking about.

I must say that this remains a real frustration. We simply don't get the information we need to be able to understand, let along make informed judgements.

The second thing that happened was the resumption of my own research and especially the reading and writing that I have been doing this year linked to New England. This has shown me how little I know on some issues.

Take the family material that Neil Whitfield has put up on his blog about his family history. This contained historical details about the aborigines that I did not know, forcing me to look at some things again. Now here I actually have a personal issue that I will need to address.

When I did my historical research on my grandfather (David Drummond) my focus was on his overall role, including his long period as minister for education in NSW. While I looked in passing at the Woolbrook school incident - an important case in the history of aboriginal education in NSW - this was very much peripheral to my broader focus.

However, now that I am looking at the broader history of New England including its aboriginal people I have to address the question of his role and views on aboriginal education as an activist education minister throughout the thirties.

This brings me to my final linked point. As part of my work in trying to understand and present New England on the New England, Australia blog I have begun digging down not just into the past but also the current position of New England's aborigines. Again it shows me how little I know.

Aboriginal New England was in resource terms a very wealthy area at the time the Europeans arrived. Reflecting this, the aboriginal population especially along the humid coastal zone was very substantial. This means that today New England still has a far higher, and I think growing, aboriginal proportion of its population than the Australian average. Lower than the Northern Territory, but still up to five times the Sydney average. Further, that population is especially concentrated in particular areas.

This makes aboriginal issues and the aboriginal experience relatively more important than, say, in Sydney. My frustration here is that the fragmentation imposed on New England by current systems makes it very hard to see and understand changing patterns.

In the absence of any integrated material I am forced to try to dig down location by location to discover the facts. Without these, anything I might say is likely to have little real meaning. Further, I have found little on some of the questions that I am interested in such as the nature of modern internal migration patterns. It becomes yet another total story that needs to be written from ground up.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Commonwealth of Nations - a unique global institution

Note to readers. My apologies to those getting two feeds on this post. Another case of formatting problems that needed to be corrected.

Photo: Flag of the Commonwealth of Nations

Those who read this blog will often know that I speak of pre 1970's Australia as a far country simply because so much has changed that Australians today have lost contact with much of that past.

For the record I should note that I have taken the far country concept from the name of a book by Nevil Shute that describes the story of a an English girl and a displaced Czech doctor who comes to Australia at the end of the second world war.

Well written, the book presents a picture of life in country Victoria at the start of mass migration and of the adaption to the country of two people from very different world's. The 1986 Australian mini series of the same name was based on the book.

As a fifteen year old back in that far country I won the Constitutional Association Essay Prize with an essay on the future of what was then known as the British Commonwealth. In that essay I argued in part that the Commonwealth would survive as an institution because of its remarkable ability to adapt to change.

Time passes and the Commonwealth drops from the radar screen of many Australians. Indeed, in the period leading up to the last Commonwealth Games some Australians queried both the Games themselves and the very existence and continued relevance of the Commonwealth as an institution.

Yet somehow the Commonwealth continues to survive. It has no constitution, but continues as a voluntary association of 53 countries with nearly 2 billion citizens, about 30 per cent of the world's population, drawn from the broadest range of faiths, races, cultures and traditions.

A key factor in that survival has been the 1965 decision to establish a permanent Commonwealth Secretariat in London to coordinate Commonwealth activities. Today more than 85 international bodies have the name Commonwealth in their title.

I was reminded of all this by a quite remarkable story I found by accident in the Scotsman while searching for stories on Tamworth and its refugees. It's an interesting story, but not one I think that would get coverage in Australia given the blind spots created by current mind sets.

The Commonwealth of course evolved from the old British Empire and was made up exclusively of former parts of the Empire. This changed in 1995 when Mozambique (a former Portuguese colony) and Cameroon (a former French colony) applied to join and were accepted as members.

Again this largely slipped past the Australian radar, although it was a remarkable development in an organisation many Australians considered to be moribund. Both countries joined because they saw the Commonwealth as a cost-effective way of extending their international reach.

Now there is another possible membership change, one that raises quite complex issues for the Commonwealth as an institution.

According the the Scotsman story, six countries in Africa and the Middle East have indicated interest in joining the Commonwealth. The countries have not been named, but diplomatic sources suggest that they are Algeria (a former French colony), Rwanda (former Belgium colony), Yemen (this has links to the old Empire through Aden), Sudan (part of the old Empire), Israel and the Palestinian Territories (Palestine was a former British League of Nations mandate).

I really blinked at this list for a number of reasons.

Dealing with the less important first, I found the continued interest of Francophone countries in Commonwealth membership of itself interesting. Now while I knew that the Commonwealth and Francophone countries were in some ways an extension of the old French/English rivalry, I had never in fact investigated the Francophone block. I did so and was surprised at what I found.

The Francophonie

The modern Francophonie was created in 1970, four years after the creation of the Commonwealth Secretariat, and has many of the same attributes as the Commonwealth.

Fifty-three states and governments are members of the organisation, four others are associate members, and ten additional states are invited observers of its Summits. The prerequisite for admission is not the degree of French usage in the member countries, but a prevalent presence of French culture and French language in the member country's identity stemming from France's interaction with other nations in its history.

I was surprised at the degree of overlap in membership between the The Francophonie and Commonwealth. No less than eight Commonwealth countries are members in some way of The Francophonie - Cameroon, Canada (Quebec and New Brunswick), Cyprus, Ghana, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles and Vanuatu. I was also surprised at the greater variation in membership within The Francophonie including a range of countries such as Belgium, Georgia and Switzerland with no direct links to the previous French Empire. This reflects The Francophonie's cultural focus.

Broader Membership Issues

Turning to broader issues, the composition of countries reported as now seeking admission to the Commonwealth raises some very interesting questions.

To begin with, the reported interest by both Israel and the Palestinian Territories (if correct) made me blink.

I must say that I had never thought of the Commonwealth as a possible vehicle for cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. Yes, there are long standing historical interconnections between both and the the Empire and Commonwealth, but even so it seems strange. Mind you, anything that might improve relationships in this area is obviously welcome.

The reported expressions of interest also highlight the question of continuity and links within the Commonwealth itself.

While Australians are sometimes rude about the individual countries within the Commonwealth and their governance systems, the Commonwealth has been a considerable force for democratisation and modernisation, not withstanding lack of power and conspicuous failures such as present problems in Fiji and Zimbabwe.

Central to this influence is the fact that countries actually want to belong to the Commonwealth, creating pressures for reform that encourage change over time. This is not the sudden type of pressure that we have seen fail so disastrously in Iraq, in fact another country that on historical grounds could apply to join the Commonwealth. Rather, reform comes from incremental changes whose effect can only be seen over longer time periods.

Central to this in turn is a wide range of often dimly recognised shared linkages that have proved remarkable enduring. You only have to look at sport in Australia to see this. The problem for the Commonwealth as an institution is that admission of new members may act to weaken those shared linkages in the absence of action to create new linkages.

Both Mozambique and Cameroon have been active members of the Commonwealth since joining. Mozambique is surrounded on all sides by Commonwealth countries, so its membership meant that all of Southern and South East Africa were members. In somewhat similar fashion, Cameroon adjoins Nigeria. But where to draw the line?

Commonwealth Response

Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon will not be drawn on just which countries have expressed interest and makes the careful point that no country will formally apply to join unless they know that their application is likely to be successful.

Mr McKinnon would also not be drawn on the question of whether or not new members would be admitted in time for the next CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government) meeting scheduled for Kampala (Uganda) in November 2007. Here the Commonwealth works on consensus, so the joining process is likely to be slow.

In the meantime, the Commonwealth has set up a group of eminent persons led by former Jamaican prime minister Percival Patterson to look into the matter. Here Mr McKinnon noted: "The issues would be: should we widen membership? Should we have associate members? Should we have a half-way house?"

I have no idea how all this will work out. The one thing that I am sure of is that the Commonwealth will continue to evolve in interesting ways.

Tamworth & Refugees - broader lessons

The refusal by Tamworth City Council to accept five Sudanese refugee families under a Commonwealth Government program has received world wide coverage.

I dealt with this issue in an initial way in a post on my New England, Australia blog. Since then, I have had a chance to dig further.


On 11 December 2006 under the heading "Report recommends refugee go-ahead", The Northern Daily Leader provided details on the proposal.

In April 2006, the Department of Immigration approached Tamworth Regional Council with a proposal to establish a humanitarian refugee resettlement centre in Tamworth. Similar programs had already been successful in Coffs Harbour, Inverell and Armidale.

One of the key criteria for the proposal to progress was that "the community [of Tamworth] is aware and is welcoming of the resettled refugees".

Following an extended consultation process, representatives from a broad spectrum of community-based groups discussed the proposal in November. DIMA, Anglicare, Hunter New England Health, Community Settlement Services Scheme, TAFE, Centrelink, Department of Community Services, police, Tamworth Real Estate Agents Association and the North West Slopes Division of General Practice were all supportive of the proposal for five families to arrive next year.

Council staff then prepared a report recommending that Council seek agreement from the NSW Government for Tamworth become a humanitarian refugee resettlement centre, accepting a maximum of five families in the first year.

This report was considered by Council at its meeting on the evening of 11 December, with the Northern Daily Leader reporting on the meeting next day.

Council rejected the proposal by a 6 to 3 majority, with those voting against all saying that public opinion demonstrated Tamworth was not ready to host a refugee resettlement centre handling five families in its first year. There were also a number of specific criticisms of both the consultation process and the report.

While the staff report to Council had concluded that the community was broadly supportive, the majority of submissions from the public during the consultation process had been negative, while those attending the public gallery during the discussion were split for and against.

Five speakers in total made a case on the issue from the public gallery during the meeting.

Those in favour of the recommendation spoke of the success of current refugees living in the city, of a quiet but willing network of volunteers and support people, and of Christian and religious values. Those in opposition spoke of a lack of services, and demanded council acknowledge an earlier voluntary survey which returned a 393 to 99 response against the resettlement plans.

Prior to the meeting, Council general manager Glenn Inglis had described his staff's report and the recommendations as fair and balanced. Mr Inglis said the voluntary survey was not a "fair representation" of community views, adding "Unfortunately, in Australia, we only ever seem to hear the opposers the loudest."

Reactions from the public gallery to Council's decision to reject the report covered applause from those opposed, disgust from those supporting.

There was instant community reaction to the decision.

On 13 November the Northern Daily Leader carried a story on responses, two pages of letters in support of the proposed centre, while talk back radio callers were strongly in favour of the proposed centre as well.. In addition, the paper carried a second story on the same day in which it set out the views of each councillor on the reasons why they voted the way they did.

It was this second story that I think really set the cat among the pigeons, ensuring subsequent national publicity. All the opposing councillors referred to public opposition to the proposal, with several commenting that they would have supported it had they felt that a majority was in favour. Councillors also referred to problems with the Department's resourcing of the program when dealing, in Mayor Treloar's words, with severely traumatised individuals.

Fair enough perhaps, but the unfortunate and insensitive use of words guaranteed future trouble.

Councilor Treloar:
  • "I absolutely believe the right decision was made and that this is the honest response the community was seeking. This is the natural reaction to such a plan, after current events. Ask the community in Cronulla, 12 months on if they want more refugees."
  • "Maybe we will be labelled racist, but only for the two days the media harp on about it. Quite frankly its tomorrow's fish and chip wrapping. It should be noted that all the people I've spoken to today have said thank you for the decision we made."

Councilor Tongue, someone who would have voted in favour if he thought that the proposal had majority support:

  • "The decision by council is much bigger than just branding us or the community racist and won't change the status of this town or our friendliness to all visitors. I personally don't want to see the events that are occurring in Sydney happen here, such as the racial slurs, and particularly those against Australian women. "

On 14 December the Leader reported on a possible rescission motion, noting also that the churches were organising a petition. However, Mayor Treloar was digging in, arguing that any rescission motion would likely fail as the voting positions did not appear to have changed. He also argued that the opponents of the project were a silent majority: "What you are seeing is a reaction from a vocal group of people with strong beliefs that others, who are less vocal about it, don't share."

On Friday 15 December, the Leader reported that "if Tamworth Regional Council was unsure of public opinion regarding the rejection of the refugee resettlement proposal on Tuesday it got some answers loud and clear," with city hall deluged with phone calls and emails, the paper with letters, with the letters running 3 to one against the Council decision.

That same day, the Leader carried a story reporting on condemnation of the decision by local community and political leaders, together with a further report on attitudes among the councilors.

On Friday as well, the story finally broke nationally creating something of a media frenzy over the weekend. On Sunday 17 December the Leader reported that Councilor Treloar was maintaining his position in the face of calls for his resignation. And that is where things stand for the moment.


Tamworth's problems seem to have begun with the community consultation process. That process, while clearly flawed, appears to have revealed concerns among at least some in the Tamworth community.

I do not have access to the submissions received , but based on the media reports the community concerns appear to be a mirror image of media reporting especially on Cronulla. Here the media presented the riots not as a rare incident reflecting specific local issues, but through a prism set by race and religion. The Tamworth community - or at least those concerned enough to respond - said we do not want a Cronulla in Tamworth.

This view is just plain silly in that five families hardly constitutes a mass invasion. However, my point is that the mind set that people used to interpret the proposal was created by previous media reporting.

The matter then came to Council for decision. Again I do not have full details of Council discussions, but it is clear that from the media reports that there was at least a lack of sensitivity about the media implications of the decision.

I think that this was due at least in part to the big fish, small pool syndrome. Tamworth itself is a small pool by national standards, but the Council itself is a very big fish in that small pool and has the behavioural characteristics of one including a certain lack of sensitivity to external non-Tamworth issues. Mind you, this is not unique to Tamworth Council. Just look at the way our state or Federal Governments sometime behave.

The Leader coverage makes it absolutely clear that the Tamworth community, while divided, was already moving to address the issue in the days following the Council decision as the previously silent supporters mobilised. The coverage also makes it clear that other nearby centres already had resettlement programs in operation.

In these circumstances, the lagged reaction of the national media and the subsequent feeding frenzy was unfortunate. Again, and as with Cronulla, the decision was presented through a racial prism ignoring other issues. Now Council set itself up here through its own lack of sensitivity. But I could not help noticing the irony of the media reporting on an outcome that they they themselves had helped to create through previous reporting.

As happened in the Cronulla case, the nature of local Australian reporting ensured that the issue quickly went international. Again as happened with Cronulla, this ensured maximum damage to Australia as the media prism used by our media in reporting was then reinterpreted to fit various overseas media prisms.

So we began with a mix of local Tamworth views, some which undoubtedly had racial overtones. After all, Tamworth is no different from any other Australian community. We then had a Council decision typed by the Australian media as racist, leading to the unfair attachment of the racist tag to the whole Tamworth community. In turn, this provided further evidence internationally that Australians are racist. In all, a mess.

I feel strongly about this one because it has happened in my own backyard. The controversy is unfair to Tamworth while also nullifying all the refugee work done elsewhere in New England.