Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Visiting Vancouver - 3: Canadian history through Australian eyes, early days

I my second post in this series, I said:

I had not properly realised just how different Canada's history is to that of Australia or New Zealand. Far more complicated. I don't think that you can understand Canada without understanding that history.

As part of my train, really in this case plane, reading I have been reading Craig Brown (Editor), The Illustrated History of Canada, Key Porter Books, Toronto, 2007. I bought this book on my last full day in Vancouver to set a context for some of the things that I had been learning.

Outside the Aboriginal period, Canada's history is far longer than that of Australia. By the time of the first settlement at what would become Sydney in 1788, the history of what would become Canada was already something like 300 years old. Canada's oldest company, the Hudson's Bay Company, was formed in 1670.

At the time that Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson crossed the Blue Mountains in 1813, the colonies of what would become Canada were in the middle of a US invasion. This followed the British defeat in the American War of Independence, really the first US civil war, when many Empire loyalists moved north. Canada itself was formed by the British North America Act of 1867, Australia 1901.

Canada itself emerged almost by accident. Had the US not invaded what would be Canada in 1812, then it seems to me that some if not all of the British North American colonies might well have ended up joining the US. Despite all the apparent odds the US was beaten, creating heroes and mythologies that unified at least English speaking Canadians.

The later decision to form Canada, while supported by Westminster in part for financial reasons, reflected local political rivalries and especially the conflict between French and English speaking areas.

French, English, US and Indian form the corners of a complicated geometric figure. The interactions within that figure were determined not just by the relations between the corners, but also by geography and climate.

Fish and furs bought the Europeans to what would become Canada.

The rich east coast fishing grounds provided a source of food that could be transported to Europe by sea. What would become Canada's maritime provinces began as fishing camps.

Furs were required for beaver hats; fashion created a demand that supported a European presence because, like wool in Australia, fur was a high value product that could support collection and transport costs. This supported French settlement along the St Lawrence river, creating what would become the province of Quebec. It also led to the creation of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670, a company granted formal authority by London over the vast lands draining into the Hudson's Bay to the north and west of the French settlements . The irony here is that the Company was in fact created by two Frenchmen who turned to London after the authorities in Paris refused their requests for support.

Initial European settlements were small, fishing camps and trading forts. However, this began to change because of the efforts Samuel de Champlain. In July 1608 Champlain and a party of workmen landed at the foot of Cap Diamant, the great rock that dominates Quebec City. While New France and Quebec remained little more than a trading post and embassy for decades, the die was cast. To understand this, we need to introduce the next players, the North American Indians.

When the Europeans first arrived in Australia, they applied the word tribe or tribes to local Aboriginal groups. This misnomer came from North American experience.

Despite the modern usage of First Nations to describe the original indigenous inhabitants of countries such as Canada or Australia, the North American Indians were and are very different from the Australian Aborigines. They were far more war like, possessed developed social and political structures that made it easier for them to operate as larger groups and displayed great variety in ways of life.

The arrival of the Europeans changed Indian life in a variety of ways long before Europeans or European settlements arrived in particular areas. As in Australia, the spread of diseases such as small pox affected population structures. European imports from tin kettles to horses to guns spread across the North American continent. Most importantly of all, the Europeans became players in inter-tribal warfare and politics in a way alien to the Australian experience.

Initially, the Indians controlled the fur trade. They collected the furs and brought them to the trading posts. The fur trade became an important source of wealth to particular Indian tribes. Just as the French and English competed against each other for furs, so Indian groups fought against each other for the control of supply of furs.

Champlain established his new settlement at Quebec as a trading post for furs. However, furs did not require a significant permanent settlement, simply a location for trade and shipping. Champlain was able to create a permanent settlement because of warfare between the local Huron (or Wendat) Confederacy and the powerful Iroquois Confederacy to the south. Huron and Iroquois spoke related languages and had similar economic and political structures but were in deadly rivalry for power. The Hurons accepted Champlain because they saw the French as protection.

Initial growth of the new French colony was very slow, just a small stream of settlers. Then in the Indian wars of the 1640s, some of the bloodiest in North American history, the Iroquians used newly acquired guns to launch a major military offensive against their rivals. Between 1645 and 1655 four major nations including the Huron each numbering more than 10,000 people were wiped out. New France itself was threatened. Many settlers and missionaries suffered the terrible deaths by torture that marked Iroquian warfare. New France survived, but by 1663 it had barely 3,000 people as compared to 100,000 settlers in the English colonies in North America, 10,000 in New Holland, the Dutch colony on the Hudson River.

In 1663 Louis XIV took direct control of New France. In 1665 French troops arrived to bolster the militia that had been defending New France against the Iroquois who then made peace with New France and its Native allies. Louis began an active migration program. While still small scale by later standards, the number of settlers had grown to nearly 10,000 by 1681. From this point, the population increase came largely from natural growth.

At this point we can introduce the next main thread in Canadian history, the importance of export industries and farming.

The fur trade did not require large numbers. The settlers who came to New France came as farmers, missionaries and administrators. As happened in Australia in the first period of European settlement, this made for initial slow growth in population.

The problem with farming is that transport costs were high relative to the value of farm produce. The new settlers hugged the waterways and developed farms whose primary purpose was to feed the family while also supplying tithes to church and seigneur; New France had developed something approaching a feudal structure.

With small domestic markets and lacking high value exports beyond fish and furs, all the colonies in what would become Canada grew far more slowly than their counterparts further south. Timber exports would become important, but it was not until the later spread of the railways that exports of farm produce itself became important. This then led to the opening of new lands and mass migration during periods in both the 19th and 20th centuries.

To be continued

A full list of posts in the visiting Vancouver series can be found here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Just back - and another book to complete!

The plane from LA was much delayed. We did not board until 2.50am. Helen got very worried when I did not return. There was another LA flight that did get in at the time of the the original LA flight, and she could not find out what had happened!

I am terribly tired, need a shower and a shave. But I also have another book to go, this one on the Pacific Belshaws. I will write properly when I am less exhausted. But I did try a few intro paras while away. For example:
This is the story of the Pacific Belshaws. Divided by time and space across
three continents and five countries and yet linked by genes and a common
ancestry forged in working class Lancashire of the 19th century, the striking
thing about the Belshaws is the way patterns have carried across

It's actually a very good story, but also one that is very hard to write.

My current boss recently described me as an egg-head. There is some truth in that because the Belshaws have been concerned with ideas. In this context, the story of the Belshaws is partially a story of the evolution of ideas, of thought, in four countries.

It is also an Empire and Commonwealth story. With the end of Empire, the previous unity has dissolved into a series of national stories. Yet the Empire was more than England or its other constituent parts. The Empire and Commonwealth was itself an entity, with its own linkages and ways of thinking.

I have just been reading a history of Canada. It's a very good book, but it suffers in the way that equivalent Australian works do because of its narrow national focus. Coming to it from an Australian perspective, I kept on wanting to ask where is your context?

Canadian history is very different from that of Australia or New Zealand. That said, there are very many commonalities. I felt that the book suffered badly because it it was so dominated by the relationship with the US on one side, the colonial authorities on the other, that other things were lost.

I will pick some of this up in another post.

A full list of posts in the visiting Vancouver series can be found here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A continuing break

It is after 11 Canadian time Wednesday. It will now be Sunday Australian time before I can post.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Visiting Vancouver - 2: first impressions, a steak at Mortons

10.20 am Vancouver time, Tuesday 23 June.

Friday we took a taxi from the airport into the city to find our hotel, the Pan Pacific on the waterfront.

On first impressions, the thing that struck me about Vancouver was how New Zealand it felt, sort of Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington rolled into one. This was partly due to the light, partly architecture and lay-out, partly the physical surrounds themselves.

Prior to arrival I had not realised just how young Vancouver was. The first European settlement dates from 1862, and the city itself did not really start to grow until the transcontinental railway was completed in the 1880s. This railway was the price for British Columbia's entry to the new Canadian confederation in 1871.

As an aside, I had not properly realised just how different Canada's history is to that of Australia or New Zealand. Far more complicated. I don't think that you can understand Canada without understanding that history.

The second thing that struck me was the small number of Chinese. Vancouver was an early settlement point for Chinese, and has been a major entry point in recent years. Yet I saw very few, far fewer than you would see in the Sydney city area. As we shall see, this visual impression proved to be quite misleading.

I was also struck by the number of tall apartment blocks, as well the building activity.

Unlike Sydney where the new tall apartments in combination with the office towers crowd out the sun to create cold concrete canyons, Vancouver blocks are somewhat lower and and are mixed with smaller medium density developments. I was to learn that this was due to conscious planning policy. All this creates a visually spectacular sky-line without creating a desert at street level.

I took some photos to try to draw this out, so expect a later post! I think that Vancouver is a civilised city in the way Melbourne is but not Sydney.

The ever-present building activity is directly linked to next year's winter Olympics. The city is refurbishing itself in advance.

Having decanted ourselves at the hotel, we went for a walk to look for a convenience store as well as somewhere to have dinner.

Convenience stores or small supermarkets, along with what Australians call bottle shops, are very important. Prices at the big hotels are so high that purchase of a few supplies not only adds to the enjoyment of life, but also saves a fair bit of money.

We have followed this approach from Paris to Florence, Rome to Shanghai. Here I give Vancouver a fail. We finally found them, but there were not very many in the immediate area.

On dinner, D. and I were quite unsure as to what we wanted after the plane trip. We finally settled on Mortons, a steak house not far from the hotel.

Now this was a new experience. We had just wandered in off the street. We had no idea that this was the local branch of a very successful US chain.

The prices took a little getting used to; a glass of Konunga Hill cost $C12.50, perhaps $15 Australian.

For the benefit of international readers, Konunga Hill is a mass Australian wine. It provides good value at a moderate price - $A11-$14 a bottle, depending on where you buy it. So $C12.50 struck us as high.

Like all chains, Mortons has a mass produced air, but is high quality mass produced. And so it should be at the prices!

There was not a table, so we went to the bar first. There was a long cocktail menu; the US places weight on a cocktail before dinner in a very different way. D. had a cocktail, I a Canadian beer. No beer on tap though, and that was to my mind a weakness.

To the table, and our helpful waiter brought around a trolley with meat, fish and vegetables set out on it to explain the menu. Grain fed and aged beef, cut in large sizes. I am a grass fed beef person, and also find that I can no longer eat huge slabs of meat in the way I would have done in the past. So we both chose the smallest cuts we could find.

The food was good, but really nothing out of the ordinary. The service, on the other hand, was superb and worth a visit just for that.

On the wine, we chose a British Columbia pinot noir. The Canadian wine industry is quite new, something that surprised us, given the French influence. After trying now at least a dozen different bottles, when in Rome drink what the Romans' make, I can also say that it's pretty good.

It was still light when we emerged to go back to the hotel and bed. Because Vancouver is a long way north, it has long daylight hours in summer.

Exhausted, we collapsed into bed!

A full list of posts in the visiting Vancouver series can be found here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Visiting Vancouver - 1: getting there

It is 10.18am Vancouver time, Monday 22 June. I have a break and internet connection, so I thought that I would take the time to record some initial perceptions. Sort of a somewhat eclectic travel diary. Photos will have to wait until I get back.

We finally got off the ground a bit after 2pm Australian time, Friday June 19. Because of D's broken wrist, we had used frequent flyer points to upgrade to business class. We were flying on a QANTAS A380.

This is one huge aircraft, the biggest in the world. Two decked, the upstairs deck is of itself as large as a conventional aircraft. The plane itself is not pretty. It looks as it is, a big bus of the skies.

For someone generally flew business class and sometimes even first class, limitations in time and cash in recent years had wrapped the whole experience in increasing nostalgia. So how did business class measure up?

Not bad, actually, although the increased size of the business class area meant some reduction in personal service. Still, after the rush of getting away it was nice just to sit down in a comfortable seat. I whiled away the hours watching films, drinking Cointreau and coffee.

We arrived at Los Angeles LAX to catch our connecting Air Canada flight a few hours before we actually left Sydney! I had not been to LAX for a number of years, and was struck by just how run down the place appeared to be. There was re-construction work going on in several places, but it just did not feel like a modern airport of the type Australians are used to.

Even though we were just transitting, we still had to go through full immigration procedures because we actually had to go onto US soil to get from one terminal to the other. The immigration procedures were interesting; compulsory finger-printing, among other things, something that I greatly disliked. Still, the procedure was actually less cumbersome than on my first trip to the US.

We worked our way through to Terminal Two and found the Air Canada lounge. This was a tiny little place; even the toilets were outside on the other side of this wing of the terminal. However, one Australian remarked that at least the drinks were free; apparently this is not the case now in at least some other lounges!

Mind you, after Cointreau, coffee and limited sleep, my only interest lay in water. Oddly, there was no mineral water. However, ordinary water from a dispenser was just fine. Because of our past work, both D. and have an interest in aviation and aerospace, so we parked ourselves near the window and watched the planes.

The Air Canada flight was a slightly odd experience. The service just felt somewhat run down. Air Canada has had somewhat chequered experience since the airline was privatised, and is reportedly in a degree of trouble again.

To Australians or New Zealanders with their experience of their own flag carriers, somehow Air Canada does not feel quite like a national flag carrier. This may be unfair, but I get no sense that Canadians feel about the airline in the way Australians or New Zealanders still feel about the flying Kiwi/Kangaroo. I think that this still holds, notwithstanding the commercial games played by both carriers.

After LAX, Vancouver airport was open and modern.

To be continued. My wife wants coffee!

Other posts in this series:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Things I am proud of + Vancouver

My thanks to those who have responded to my meme. Difficult to respond, but I will do so.

Vancouver is fun. It's actually very NZ. Eerily so, in fact! More later!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Time to go

St Peter's Gordon SmithWell, my bags are packed, almost! I am not going to try to post while I am away.

In the meantime, this photo of St Peter's Cathedral in Armidale comes from Gordon Smith's continuing series of photos around this city. You can find the entire series here.  

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"Wild blacks" and other interesting things

Useful comment from Will on my post The Australian Aborigines - problems with personal perceptions pointing me to a book I hadn't read. This deals with the work of Harry Lourandos and the intensification debate about the nature of change in Australian Aboriginal life during the Holocene period.

I said at the end of my brief response that I was trying to stand back to some degree from some of the academic debates with their broad sweep to focus just on Northern NSW. This is partly a matter of self protection, I don't know enough, partly because I feel that the narrower geographic focus is likely to lead me to ask different questions of the evidence.

Take, for example, the question of wild blacks or Myalls. This term was often used by European settlers to describe Aboriginal groups that were seen as still posing a threat. Use of the term moved with the frontier.

But the term or something like it also seems to have been used by the Aborigines. What, therefore, does it mean when used by an Aboriginal group?

Clement Hodgkinson's book Australia from Port Macquarie to Moreton Bay (1845) is not just a travel yarn, but contains some fascinating material. My thanks to Sheila Pegum for sending me an excerpt published by Pilot Books on two of Hodgkinson's journeys from the Macleay Valley into the two adjoining then still unsettled river valleys.

Hodgkinson travelled with Aboriginal companions. The book provides some fascinating insights into relations between Aboriginal groups. But more on this will have to wait.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Australian Aborigines - problems with personal perceptions

Today I listened to a chat from an Australian Aboriginal colleague. Some of the things he said I knew to be true, some I did not know whether or not they were correct but found them interesting, and some I knew to be wrong. They had been carried into Aboriginal thinking and then internalised.

A little later I was reading a book on an area, the chapters I think written by professional historians. There was much I did not know about the local Aborigines, but the book suffered because it selected and presented material within a conventional current intellectual frame. This added to its value in one sense, I can use the material for my own purposes, but I felt that it detracted from the primary purpose of the book.

Now both examples reminded me of a recent personal case where my own perceptions were standing between me and the evidence. Because I know the ethno-historical material quite well, I tend to interpret elements of Aboriginal history and thinking in the context of Aboriginal culture as it stood when the Europeans arrived.

This is quite wrong when looking back into the past. Take a simple example. The first Aboriginal colonisers could not have had the same attitudes including closeness to country. After all, this was a new world. Long periods must have been involved in learning enough about the country to populate it with the dream time.   

Just at present I am bogged down in the Holocene period on the Australian continent. In broad terms, this covers the period from around 12,000 years ago to the present.

The archaeological record suggests that the last 3,000 years of this period were a time of substantial change in Aboriginal life and culture. This seems to have included significant population growth and the development of more formally defined territorial boundaries. It was in this period, less than 10% of the total Aboriginal history of the country, that the Aboriginal view of the world that existed in 1788 emerged.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Just a note

I am finding it very difficult just at present to post properly. While I am now only going overseas for a week, I still have all sorts of things to do before I go, including writing three Express columns. Two done, one to go.

I am not sure how much I am going to be able to do before I go, nor if I will be able to post while away. So posts are likely to be very irregular.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A sunday meme - five things I am proud of

I have a number of remarkably serious post part completed. However, I don't feel like completing them just at present. I feel too stale. 

One of the things that I find in talking to people is just how remarkably interesting they can be. They may not feel that their lives are especially interesting, yet most of us have done things or have experienced things that are of interest to others.

I was reminded of this by an odd thing, the need to fill out a mentoring form. One question asked me to list my major achievements. I jotted a few things down, then stopped and put the form aside for the moment. You see, looking at the "achievements" I started to wonder what were in fact achievements.

My mentee is Aboriginal. She has had a completely different life from mine and has struggled with different things. I won't give the details, they are obviously private. But at a personal level, she has come through difficulties that might have broken me. These are things that she is, rightly, very proud of.

Thinking about the mentoring form, I found myself asking not what I have achieved but a very different question instead: what are the things in my life that I am most proud of? I find that this gives me a very different set of answers, far more personal, far less career oriented.

I thought that it might be interesting to jot some of them down. I also thought that I would ask some fellow bloggers with different experiences to do the same.

One: my family. After twenty two years of marriage, we are still together as a unit. My decision to work from home and take on the primary child care role imposed significant career costs, but it allowed my wife to do things, while giving me a closeness to my daughters that has been of immense value to me. I am proud of all three of my girls, and like to think that I have played a role in helping them.

Two: my staff. This may sound an odd one, but looking back over the different jobs that I have had, the thing that keeps coming out is my pride and pleasure in the people I have worked with. When I was listing individual things that I was most proud of, examples involving people kept coming up.

In Treasury, a colleague and I felt that the Department's approach to graduate recruitment was failing. Independently, we carried out a study (this was outside our normal work) and prepared a paper setting out what needed to be done. This led to a re-structuring of the graduate recruitment program. 

As much as I could, I have tried to develop and protect my people.

When I thought that a decision made by the acting head of Treasury was unfair to one of my staff members I fought the decision as hard as I could. As a director I was a fair distance down the chain, but I got the matter put on hold until the permanent head returned from leave. He ruled in my favour.

In another case, I inherited a branch that had become a people disaster area. It's hard to believe just how bad the position was. The acting head of one section was crippled by tension induced migraines. A second section head was leaving all the real work to his staff and especially his assistant who was struggling with the load because he was a sole parent with a large family who simply could not could not work long, inflexible, hours.

By changing work flows I took the pressure off the migraine sufferer, allowing him to focus on areas where he was best. The migraines were still there, but ceased to be debilitating. Changing work flows meant shifting some work to a capable female staff member, in so doing giving her greater visibility and an accelerated career path. The non-functioning director left. His place was taken by his deputy who had been doing all the work, with more flexible hours to allow him to meet family commitments.

I remain quite passionate about the importance of people management. If you look at some of my writing on management, you will see that one of my charges against current management structures is that they have effectively emasculated management as such.

Three: the Armidale pre-selection campaign. My period at university coincided with the Vietnam war and the introduction of conscription. This conflicted with my strong religious views and I finally registered as a conscious objector. This was not an easy decision of itself. I was not called up, so in some senses the matter went away.

Five or so years later in 1972 I ran for Country Party pre-selection for the seat of Armidale. At the Armidale branch meeting I was side-swiped with questions about this earlier period.

Making inquiries after the meeting I found that there was a viscous whispering campaign, with opponents ringing around the electorate making allegations about my past behaviour including the suggestion that I had spent time in jail.

The issue split my own family. My uncle, an ex-serviceman himself and a key supporter, was furious about the campaign and stated that he would not support me any further unless I took immediate action for defamation. My father took an opposite view. There was something approaching a yelling match in the kitchen. For my part, I just felt sick, knowing that the deeply personal and coordinated nature of the attacks made an effective come-back very difficult. My checks had shown that my painfully built support was quickly evaporating.

I did lose the pre-selection on this issue, if not by very much. The reason why this episode is on the list of things that I am most proud of is that I fought back.

It is hard for people now to realise just how divisive the Vietnam War was. At following branch meetings across the electorate I explained my position and people did respond, including deeply conservative branches with majority ex-service members.

It wasn't enough, but I still take pride in both my own actions and in the people who supported me. It explains in part why I am still deeply committed to the country cause. These are my people who despite their own prejudices and views were prepared to listen.

Four: the College. This is the only conventional achievement that I would put on the list. I do take pride in a number of things that I have achieved in a working sense, but many of them have been ephemeral in that they were over-turned through subsequent change.

I became the first CEO of the Royal Australian (now Australian and New Zealand) College of Ophthalmologists at the end of 1997. I was in the position for just two years.

I was appointed to raise the College's profile with Government. However, I found an organisation that lacked basic systems. There was no accrual accounting system, no proper budgeting processes, no filing systems, the system for training future eye care specialists lacked process documentation and was in fact very close to collapse in administrative terms. Adrian as Executive Officer had some changes in train, but was struggling to get things through.

By the time I left at the end of 1999, we had working accrual accounting systems, new budget processes. a working information system, a fully mapped training system with new handbooks and documentation. All this was based on a common information hierarchy. Ivan Goldberg as Censor-in-Chief (the head of the College's academic arm) had been able to re-launch the curriculum review process intended to re-structure specialist training.

I take pride in this. However, there is a second reason for pride, and that is my resignation.

Change brings pain. I was driving through fundamental change in the way the organisation operated. This led to a reaction at the end of my first year. The new honorary treasurer became concerned at my approach, wanting to return to elements of the past. I fought to defend the things that I had achieved. It all became quite messy.

The Honorary Treasured downloaded all the accounting files so that he could check each entry. I found that without my knowledge he had commissioned a special audit of the College's affairs, special advice from the College's lawyers, to check my management. He forced a special meeting of the College Executive that actually fired two staff who he had decided must go.

At one level, I was in a strong position. In some ways I am an obsessive person. I had driven through budget and accounting changes to provide greater transparency and accountability. Each month I checked the accounts in great detail. Every thing was documented. I was fire-proof. At a second level, I was involved in a broader fight about College direction and management. I resigned because damage was now being done to the College. My president said "Jim, I wish you hadn't done that", but it was the right decision.

My successor was a calming figure without my baggage. He smoothed things down, preserving the things that I had achieved while making necessary compromises to allow the College's collegiate system to function. He has just retired. Reading the annual reports over his period, I think that he has done a very good job.

Five: my writing. A year or so back I would not have included this one. However, now that writing has become something of an obsession, I do take pride in it. Here an quite unexpected pleasure has been the discovery that some of my very early work including my honours thesis has had a far greater life than I could reasonably have expected.

I said that I would ask a few bloggers to also talk about the things that they are most proud of. Now here one of the interesting things is that there is so much choice, so much variety. Who to choose?

Well, my victims are as follows.

First, Tikno who has just had a new bub (my congratulations) for an Indonesian perspective.

Second, Kanani who comes from a very different US world.

Third, Neil Whitfield for his teaching wisdom.

Finally, both Legal Eagle and scepticlawyer from scepticslawyer because I am just plain curious!       

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Night Chat

Bear with me tonight. This is just a random chat among friends.

I had a full post ready to go yesterday triggered by yet more publicity about Harris Park and Indian students. I wanted to explain a little about modern Australia, but then decided to leave it. I think that it would be interesting to write something in a away that would help international readers understand some of the complexities and nuances of this country, But not now.

I did not know that when Peter Allen and Liza Minelli married that neither knew that Peter Allen was in fact gay. Now I do, thanks to the Armidale Express. Peter Allen's global career began in Armidale, hence the interest.I wrote of him in Peter Allen, Armidale and Claire and Eileen Napier - an attack of nostalgia

Peter was older than me. My only real brush with Allen fame  came when one of my primary school teachers forgot dates and thought that we were in the same class. His song I still call Australia home tugs at heart strings in the country. It begins: 

I've been to cities that never close down,
from New York to Rio and old London town,
but no matter how far or how wide I roam,
I still call Australia home.

Still on Armidale, the University of New England's VC made the point in the Express that Armidale's international students did not experience the same problems. He is right of course, but I am not sure that the Express is the best place to get the story across to a broader audience.

In Armidale, the academic year begins with a formal civic welcome organised by the City Council and held in the town hall. Beyond this and the University's own protocols, there is an entire infrastructure dedicated to involving international students in the local community. It doesn't always work perfectly, but it does give students a richness of experience.

Growing up in Armidale, the predominant colours were white for walls, red or green for roofs. I think that this was largely due to limitations on availa20090515-11-50-40-around-armidale--streets-and-architectureble paint. Today, Armidale is a pastel city.

This photo shows what was the Rural Bank. This is the type of colouring that you will now see across Armidale on the older buildings. It makes for a very pretty city.

Do you ever have one of those periods where what can go wrong does so?

As a family, we seem to be in such a phase at the moment. I won't bore you with the details except to note that our overseas trip has shrunk so far as I am concerned from a month to a week. And that is still a little uncertain.

In NSW, the Premier has announced a major administrative restructure. I will write a proper post on this a little later. At this point I would simply note that it seems to continue the bifurcation of NSW into one entity called Greater Sydney - Wollongong, Sydney, the Central Coast and Newcastle and the Lower Hunter and what can be called the rest.

More broadly, I am not sure why people should be surprised that interest rates are now on an upward trend and not just in Australia. One of the points that I have tried to make is that heavy Government borrowing has something of a crowding out effect and that this, of itself, puts upwards pressure on interest rates.

Ah well, I had  wanted to give you the story of an 1841 camping expedition in NSW. I feat that this will have to wait.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Indian Students Australia - the real lessons

This is the third and, hopefully, the last post I will write on this issue.

I explored the general issue in Australia's Indian Students - a wake-up call for Australia. In Harris Park, Indian Students and the latest Sydney troubles I looked at a specific case. This lead Anon to point me to a specific opinion piece by Peter Sheehan in today's Sydney Morning Herald.

I write against the background of a comment by our PM that, in absolute terms and relative to the size of the population, more Australians have been killed or attacked in India than is the case of Indians in Australia. I have no doubt that Mr Rudd is correct. None of this matters a damn.

Australia has no choice but to react to current problems on both economic and moral grounds.

On economic grounds, education is a key export earner. The current problems will cost us heavily. On moral grounds, and as I have said, Indian students are our guests.

If we are going to seek international students we must look after them. However, we also have to be careful.

We must display caution in local reporting. We should also expect Indian students and others in the Indian community to observe our laws. An attack by 200 on a Lebanese restaurant, if true, is not observing our laws. 

Solutions to the apparent  conflict in Sydney have to be worked out at local level. Melbourne has different problems, although there too local issues must be considered.

My plea remains. Regardless of the economic damage all this does to Australia, let us take a cool view and think of this in people terms. 

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Harris Park, Indian Students and the latest Sydney troubles

Last night there was apparently another outbreak of trouble involving Indian students in Sydney. According to newspaper reports, some Lebanese young men in Harris Park are alleged to have attacked a young Indian student leading to a retaliatory attack by some 200 hundred Indian men on a Lebanese restaurant.

So far as Sydney is concerned, I cannot comment on troubles at Melbourne or Newcastle, recent reports seem to suggest that there is a very particular problem concentrated in the Harris Park area that has little to do with Australian racism as conventionally presented.

Just at the moment I travel through Harris Park every working day on my way to the adjoining suburb of Parramatta. I thought, therefore, that I might make a few comments to set a context for my international readers including those from India.

This is one of the most ethnically diverse areas of Sydney, part of the great ethnic melting post that is modern Sydney.

At the last census, Harris Park itself had a population of 6,854.

Of this, just 29.2%  spoke only English at home. The most common languages other than English spoken at home were Arabic 10.4%, Gujarati 6.8%, Hindi 5.8%, Mandarin 4.6% and Cantonese 3.7%. Indian born make up 19.5% of the population of Harris Park. Those between 15 and 25, the main student groups, total 68.7% of the population.

The main suburbs next to Harris Park along the train line include Parramatta itself, Granville and Auburn.

Of Parramatta's population of 18,848, 32.5% were born in Australia, 14.1% in India, 12.8% in China.

In Granville (population 22,819), 47.4% were born in Australia, 11.7% in Lebanon, 4.5% in China. A more striking statistic is that 31.2% speak Arabic at home, 29.5% English.

In Auburn (population 29,968), the most common language spoken at home is Arabic 18.4%, followed by English 15.6%, Turkish 12.2%, Cantonese 8.6%, Mandarin 7.5% and Dari 3.9%. 

To avoid trouble here, I have made it clear before that I support Australia's current immigration policy. However, my point is that when we strike troubles in an area like Harris Park we have to be very careful about coming to simplistic conclusions.

When I spoke in Australia's Indian Students - a wake-up call for Australia about the creation of an underclass, I was talking in part in the code that seems to be forced on us today.

My remark was true at a general, universal, level. Regardless of anything else, once we develop localities with generational unemployment we are building a future problem. The problem becomes worse once you can attach a label of colour or ethnicity to a particular group because this creates group responses on both sides.

Despite the problems, it is (I think) true that that the Parramatta local government area displays remarkable inter-ethnic mixing.

On the train I take school kids in large numbers and in great ethnic and cultural variety join at each stop. When I shut my eyes and listen to them, the words and cadences, I cannot distinguish. The visual differences stand out only once my eyes are open.

Concluding, the Harris Park troubles have little to do with Australian racism in the way it is normally presented, much to do with the operations and mix of that particular local society. This is the problem we need to address.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Progress on NewEngland's history

I have just finished a post New England Australia History Research Report - May/Early June 2009.

I actually seem to have made a fair bit of progress since I made my obsession central!

I am going to reduce my local history posts on this blog. Since I became so obsessive, my average visitor numbers have actually halved! I will give links across to other posts for those who are interested.

Australia's Indian Students - a wake-up call for Australia

I haven't commented to this point on the attacks upon Indian students in Melbourne because I lacked information. I have also been cautious about some of the racist interpretations because of previous experience of the way this distorts facts.

Yesterday at a rally in Sydney an Indian community leader tried in vain to persuade a crowd of angry international students that a series of violent attacks against their fellows was not about them. "I strongly believe that it's not a racial issue; it's a law and order issue and it has to be tackled," the secretary of the United Indians Association, Moninder Singh, told the students.

This is a very important issue from the viewpoint of the students and indeed the nation. So to educate myself I have spent the last hour looking at some of the stories over the last year in Melbourne, Sydney and Newcastle.

The first thing to say is that it is quite difficult to get the facts. I wanted to know which groups were being targeted and by whom. A simple enough question, but apparently our anti-discrimination laws mean that that this type of ethnic based data is simply not available.

I think that Mr Singh is right when he says that this is first a law and order issue. However, there is more to it than this.

To begin with, the heart of the problem lies in a growing failure of Australian social policy. Over at least the last few decades, Australia has worked quite hard to develop an under-class marked by low education, high unemployment and high welfare dependency. This feeds into violence, including violence against perceived outsiders. This violence is concentrated in particular areas and also fluctuates.

It appears that Indian students are especially vulnerable because they are clearly identifiable, while many work at part time jobs, live in lower rent areas and travel at night.

According to Dr Yadu Singh who heads a committee formed by the Indian Consulate in Sydney to address student welfare and safety, there have been numerous robbings and random bashings on Indian students at night and in daylight, on trains and near their homes, often in western Sydney. Dr Singh said the attacks had in Sydney been happening for about four years, and were a mixture of opportunistic robberies and outright racist attacks. Dr Singh also pointed to a particular problem, the failure of victims to report incidents. This made them easier victims and delayed recognition of the fact that there was a problem.

Looking at the reports, I formed the impression that we are dealing with what are essentially young thugs. In Newcastle this week, for example, charges were laid against six youths, aged 12 to 16, involved in what police said were unprovoked attacks on foreign students at Newcastle University.

I make these various points because while at least some of the attacks are racially motivated, the core of the problem appears to me to be not racism as such, but deprivation and group or gang behaviour.

If Australia is going to invite large numbers of foreign students to study here, then we have a duty as hosts to be hospitable and to look after them. Our schools and universities also have a duty of care towards their foreign students. So what can we do?

Part of the answer to current difficulties obviously lies in better policing. Note I say better policing. This is not the same as more policing, although this may be required too.

Better policing starts with information. This has to be provided by the affected students, as well as the universities and various student bodies.

Part of the answer also lies, I think, in better information and support for our overseas students themselves. Part of this is simply street smarts. Whether we like it or not, and I do not, there are parts of our cities and towns where I would not go or not go at certain times. Part lies in providing greater support to assist students to feel at home and, most importantly, safe.

I know from my own contacts as well as media reports that the universities are aware of this. However, there is a greater problem in the various private colleges who actually lack the resources (and sometimes the inclination) to properly support their students.

I also think that we need to look at the absolute number of international students that we can comfortably accommodate in general and within individual institutions. Don't get me wrong here. I like, for example, the hustle and bustle of Kensington and Kingsford associated with large Chinese student numbers at the nearby University of New South Wales. It's just that it can get a bit over-whelming.

I am not suggesting quotas on international students. I am suggesting that individual institutions have to make judgements as to the number and proportion of international students that they can accommodate and properly care for. This includes ensuring that there is adequate student housing. They also have to recognise the impact of their activities on surrounding communities.

Australia is at the stage now where a small but significant proportion of its very large international student community, perhaps as much as 20 per cent, are dissatisfied in some way with their student experience. This needs to be addressed.

To end, I see the current difficulties being experienced by a still small minority of Indian students as a wake-up call. We must address the problem and address it now.


There has been a lot of media coverage on this issue this morning.

As you might expect, and this demonstrates the need for caution in commenting, the discussion drew out a number of additional issues, including actions that have already been taken.

I didn't hear anything that would make me alter my post, just glad that I was cautious in my remarks.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sunday Essay - church, state and social change in Australia

On Christmas Day 1884, Bishop Torreggiani was celebrating mass in the Roman Catholic cathedral in Armidale. A deranged Irish road worker tried to stab him, but failed because of the Bishop's vestments. He then pulled out a revolver and tried to shoot the Bishop, but failed again, with the bullet passing through the vestments. The vestments with the bullet hole are still held in the Armidale cathedral.

This post has been triggered by musings on three apparently very different books.

The first is Kenneth Dempsey's Conflict and Decline: Ministers and laymen in an Australian country town (Methuen Australia, North Ryde, 1983). This is a sociological study of the changing relationships between ministers and lay people in a Methodist community in New England from 1905 to mid 1967 written by a man who lived in the community to carry out the study.

The second book is Pauline Kneipp's This Land of Promise. The Ursuline Order in Australia 1882-1982 (University of New England History Series 2, Armidale, 1982). This is a history of this order of nuns from their initial Australian establishment in Armidale written by a member of the order who was also a member of the University of New England's history department.

The third book is Don Aitkin's The Country Party in New South Wales: a study of organisation and survival (Australian National University Press, 1972). As the title says, Don's book is an organisational study of a political party from its establishment through to the end of the 1960s.

I have a special interest in all three books because of family and locality connections. However, beyond this the books have some common linkages that together make for an interesting mix.

All three book overlap in time. All three are concerned with organisational survival and change over periods of great change in Australian society. All three are connected in some way with faith, whether it be church or party.

Ken Dempsey's towns are disguised.

The Barool Methodist circuit centres on Barool, a small country town. About 8km northwest from Barool lies the farming and orchard centre of Treeleigh. Not far away from both lies the educational centre of Highcliffe. Barool, Treeleigh and Highcliffe - the relations between the three form one thread in the book.

This is a slightly uncomfortable if interesting book from my viewpoint.

I went to Methodist Sunday School in Highcliffe, was a member of the Order of Knights and of the Methodist Youth Fellowship. My grandmother was born in Treeleigh, my grandparents married there, my mother attended Church and Sunday School at Treeleigh when staying with her grandparents. Some of the lay people Dempsey talks about are members of my broader family. All this provides a very particular context. Don Aitkin, too, would find aspects of the book very familiar since I think that he actually lived in Barool while attending high school in Highcliffe.

Even though Ken Dempsey disguises the towns, he talks about Highcliffe as a nearby coastal city, anybody who knows anything about the area would quickly make the connections. Highcliffe is Armidale, Barool is Uralla, Treeleigh is Arding.

Founded by John Wesley, the Methodist Church began as an evangelical movement within the Anglican Church.

On 17 May 1738 after attending a meeting conducted by a group known as the Church of the Brethren, John Wesley wrote in his diary:

I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

Within months of his conversion, Wesley started preaching in the open-air to miners and factory workers, winning thousands of converts with his message that the love of God was for all men, irrespective of social class, wealth or religious heritage.

The new movement developed an autocratic flavour that would seem familiar today in a somewhat different context.

The only condition of membership was a desire to flee from the wrath to come. However, once joined, converts were expected to attend worship at the local parish church, receive the ministrations of its clergymen and subordinate himself or herself to an exacting discipline.

Initially, Wesley organised his members into local societies. Each society was divided into cells called classes. Each class comprised eleven members under the leadership of a layman. The leaders would call on members weekly to collect dues and admonish those straying from the rules. The classes met regularly for bible study, for prayer and to personally testify what God was doing for them. Those who did not comply with the rules were expelled.

With more members, Wesley organised the societies into circuits, with himself as superintendent for each circuit. Lay people were appointed to partially deputise for him in every circuit. During Wesley's life, the movement remained within the Anglican Church. However, after his death, the highly centralised, autocratic and well-disciplined organisation of Methodism facilitated its shift into an independent denomination. It was also a denomination that was to split, including especially the creation of the Primitive Methodists in 1811.

All this may sound a long way from Uralla, but there are some features of this brief history that are relevant to later events.

Methodism was a movement that appealed to the working and lower middle class. However, the very disciplines and structures of Methodism with their emphasis on hard work, mutual support, education and abstemious  behaviour made for a degree of material success.

In my own case, Grandfather Belshaw was an industrial worker who became a Primitive Methodist Home Missionary in New Zealand. There is just one generation between me, two generations in the case of my daughters, and the harsh industrial world of England into which my paternal grandparents were born in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Methodism was also a movement that combined central autocracy with a degree of lay responsibility. As the Church and its members became more successful, the Church moved away to some degree from its evangelical roots, seeking to retain members. Yet the Church tradition and culture remained in what was called the Connexion, the name given to Church organisation and structures.

Many of the original Methodists came to Uralla in search of gold at the nearby Rocky River goldfields and as free-selectors following the passage of the Robertson land acts that allowed people to select blocks from the big pastoral runs.

By April 1905 when Uralla achieved its long held desire for its own circuit and independence from Armidale, Uralla's social structure had been set in a form that would hold for the following decades.

At the top were local squatters, generally Anglican or Presbyterian. Then came the middle class: local business people and farmers who were generally Methodist and had achieved success through hard-work. Then came the lower middle or working class such as shop assistants or rural workers. Here the Catholic Church was strong.

The relative numbers of each group were reflected in voting patterns. Farmers, graziers and town business people voted Country Party, the rest Labor. For much of the twentieth century, Uralla was a Labor Party town. My maternal grandfather was first State and then Federal member for the area that included Uralla from 1920 to 1963. In all that time I think he gained a majority in Uralla once, in 1932 at the height of the reaction against the Lang Labor Government.     

In looking at the history of Methodism in Uralla, Dempsey broke it into two periods: years of harmony 1905-1949, followed by years of conflict 1950-1967. The differences between the two periods partially reflect differing ministerial styles. They also reflect economic, demographic and cultural change.

Dealing first with demographic and economic change.

One of the reasons why Don Aitkin added the words "organisation and survival" to the title of his book on the Country Party lies in the nature of the economic and demographic change that has taken place in Australia over the last one hundred and forty or so years.

In the Australia of 2009, it is hard to believe that majority of the Australian population once lived outside the capital cities. The decline in country Australia began in the nineteenth century, but accelerated during the twentieth century and especially in the period after the Second World War. Uralla really suffered - by the 1960s and 1970s even its main stores had closed.

This decline reduced the population available to the Methodist Church. However, the Church's decline was accentuated by other factors. A key was the social structure of the Church itself. To survive, the Church had to reach out beyond its now middle class base; it could not because of the attitudes of its membership and especially its senior laity. Dempsey quotes case after case where those in the lower middle and working classes with some connection to Methodism dropped out because they felt excluded.

This problem was accentuated by cultural changes that divided ministers from laity.

In looking at this issue, Dempsey distinguishes between what he calls consensual and conflictual styles.

The Methodist Church's Connexion had always, and this reflects the Church's history, given the Minister ultimate formal authority. Ministers were appointed centrally, not by the circuit, and answered centrally. They had a role to preach and convert, to extend the influence of the Church.

Despite the Church's formal position, in the period between 1905 and 1950, Uralla ministers generally saw their role in strictly parish terms. They were there to minister to their parishioners; the senior laity really controlled the circuit.

This was a complex and demanding role on ministers and their wives and children. They were expected to represent what the laity saw as the austere moral values of the Church in their lives. They also had to comply with the perceived culture of the Church inherited from its past in terms of their approach to ministry.

A key example was home visits. Ministers were expected to visit Church members in their homes. They were also expected to minister to the young. The failure of individual ministers to do both to the satisfaction of the laity were some of the most frequently cited reasons for negative attitudes towards individual ministers.

From 1950, cultural change in Australia affected the ministry.

Increasingly, minister's wives were no longer prepared to play the traditional pastoral roles expected of them. Increasingly, the ministers themselves came to Uralla in part to advance their studies at the nearby University of New England, creating conflict with their much older and less well educated senior laity who were suspicious that their circuit (and financial contributions) was being used simply as a means to the end.

Perhaps most important of all, the new ministers were affected by and reflected the waves of intellectual and theological change sweeping the Church. An aging, conservative, country congregation found themselves dealing with younger ministers who wanted to substitute reading from the newspapers for bible readings, who wanted to debate the moral issues of the Vietnam war, who wanted to energise their congregation to go out and convert.

I remember this last period well because of my involvement in the Methodist Youth Fellowship. There was a real excitement in the debate on theological issues and what it meant for Church and life. However, I can also understand the position of the Uralla laity who felt that Ministers had ceased to meet their needs. Conflict replaced consensus. 

The results were a disaster on both sides.

Of the ten ministers who served in Uralla between 1950 and 1967, no less than six resigned from the ministry immediately or soon after leaving Uralla. This disaster for the Church was finally matched by the abolition of Uralla circuit, leaving the Uralla laity as part of an Armidale circuit whose whole tone was set by its proximity to the nearby university.

Reading Ken Dempsey's description of the process I was struck by the apparent similarities with the County  Party experience.

Like Methodism, the early Country Party in New England had an evangelical, populist, feel. Unlike Methodism, the New England dominated NSW Party explicitly rejected rigid central control; no pre-selection or pledge was adopted as an early slogan to distinguish the Party from its metropolitan and centrally controlled rivals.

This rejection of central control did not apply in all the newly emerging Country Parties. In Victoria, for example, the Party did adopt the pledge system that applied in the Labor Party. Parliamentarians were pledged to comply with Party policy. However, in NSW the concept of the independence of parliamentarians was deeply imbedded.

Like the Methodist Church's Connexion, the Country Party's success meant that it developed a central organisation dedicated to the continuance and success of the Party. This continued independent of the rise and fall of the Party in individual areas.

Interestingly, too, the most politically active branches were also the least stable and for the same reasons that activist reforming Ministers experienced trouble within Uralla. Political activism built numbers, but also created and highlighted divisions on specific issues. The most stable branches and electorates were those where Party officials and local parliamentary representatives focused on the Party equivalent of their pastoral or representation role.

Like the Methodist Church in Uralla and for the same reasons, the Country Party and its membership had become older and more conservative by the 1950s. The Country Party represented thousands of Urallas, and suffered just as much as the Uralla Church from the loss of young people from country areas. The branches of the Country Party youth wing struggled to survive in the same way as did Uralla's Methodist young people's groups.

We can see the same type of broader issues, the interplay between Church, organisation and changing community, in the Roman Catholic Church.

To some degree, the attempted assignation of Bishop Torreggiani in 1884 by a deranged Irishman was a side effect of broader trends playing out in the Catholic Church.

Initially, the Catholic Church in Australia was dominated by English orders. Their dominance was successfully challenged by the Irish Catholic Church who established almost total control over the Australian Church. The diocese of Armidale under Torreggiano was unusual in that Torriegiano was Italian and saw the role of the Church in broader terms, reaching out to the whole community, not just the Roman Catholic faithful.    

This view was not shared by many of his Irish colleagues. Fearful of what they saw as secular tendencies in Australian society, distrustful of the English and with strong historical grudges, they were determined to maintain control over their congregations.

When in 1880 the NSW Government under Sir Henry Parkes introduced a new state education system and in so doing withdrew financial support from Catholic schools, the Church responded by launching a huge program to build their own schools to protect the faith and the faithful. This inflamed sectarian tendencies; the Church withdrew into what became a self-imposed ghetto apart from the broader Australian community. Even in Armidale, Bishop Torrieggiani's broader vision was finally replaced by a narrower world in which Catholics came to mix with their own from tennis clubs to welfare organisations.

Pauline Kneipp's view of this ghettoing process is not sympathetic.

Writing as a Church insider, she suggests that until the 1860s the Church had an opportunity to develop into a vital social and cultural force in what was basically an open secular society. She also points to the way events far beyond Australia shattered the dream of the first Australian Bishop, John Bede Polding, to make the Australian Church a Benedictine mission which would help bring learning and culture to the country in the way the Benedictine tradition had done for centuries in Europe. These included the opposition of Pope Pius IX to liberalism and other modern developments including secular education, as well as the influence of Cardinal Cullen, an Irishman whose interest in Australia ensured that a steady stream of Irish bishops filled the new dioceses being established.    

In many ways, the process in the Roman Catholic Church was no different from the attempts of some Methodist ministers in Uralla to build activities and organisations that would encourage the faithful to mix with the faithful independent of the broader society. This failed because there were just too few Methodists. When it came to the choice, the laity nearly always opted for the broader alternative. The Catholic Church was more successful simply because of its size.        

The construction of the Roman Catholic school system after 1880 itself is a quite remarkable story. This was no small endeavour. Inspired by faith that God would provide, huge building programs were launched well in advance of funding.

Buildings were one thing, teachers another. To find the teachers, all the Bishops looked to the religious orders. They were the industrial canon fodder on which expansion depended. Bishops begged and pleaded to obtain support for their particular endeavours.

In Bishop Torrieggiani's case, when he arrived in Armidale he had just two schools across a huge diocese of more than 10,00 square miles.

First he persuaded an Australian Order, the Sisters of St Joseph, to establish a school at Tenterfield.  Founded at Penola in South Australia in 1866 by Mary Mackillop, the Sisters were to run a number of schools in the Armidale diocese including one at Uralla. Then Torrieggiani persuaded a group of Ursuline nuns exiled from Bismark's Germany to come to Armidale to establish a new school.

The Ursulines date their foundation to 25 November 1583 when a  small group of twenty eight women and girls met in the Northern Italian city of Brescia. Under the influence of Angela Merici, they attended mass and then signed their names in the Book of the Company of St. Ursula. In doing so, they signified their willingness to commit themselves to God, living according to the rules drawn up for them by Angela.

The initial Ursulines lived in and served the community. The new order spread rapidly in a decentralised way. Church pressure then transformed them from an open to a cloistered group, but they retained the tradition of openness and community contribution.     

The Ursuline nuns that arrived in Armidale in 1882 were highly educated but spoke very little English. They found a very different world, far removed from the European culture that they had known. The first school they established, St Ursula's in Armidale, quickly became a success.

Initially the Ursulines concentrated their educational focus on educating their girls not just in religion, but in the culture the nuns had brought from Europe. They saw education in broad, holistic, terms. Then, recognising the growing importance of exams and of further education,they began preparing girls for public examinations.

One can argue about this switch. Pauline Kneipp recognised that it was a loss in a broader educational sense, but it also had an important side-effect.

At a time when the Church focused especially on the need to provide mass primary education and was in fact suspicious of education for women, girls from St Ursula's in Armidale were entering University or Teacher's College. In this sense, the Ursulines were well in front of broader social trends.

The Ursulines'  new Australian establishment quickly came under pressure to establish schools from bishops desperate to meet the educational needs in their dioceses.

Initially the nuns resisted this pressure, there were not many of them after all and they had a lot to do already, but then began the process of establishing new ventures. The order spread slowly from its Armidale headquarters, supported in part by girls from its schools who themselves accepted the call to join the order. One final side-effect of this spread was the shift in the Australian headquarters from Armidale to Canberra.

The processes of change that affected the Methodists of Uralla or the County Party after the Second World War also played out in the Catholic Church, if on a far larger scale.

The mass Australian mass migration program that began at the end of the Second World War brought to Australia more than a million non-Irish Catholics. The Church and its orders such as the Ursulines struggled to build and staff the schools required to educate the new arrivals. Then came waves of change and reform that swept the Church and confused the laity, but even more so the religious whose entire life had been built around previous structures.

The Ursulines were better prepared than most to deal with the changes, if only because they had had a more open outlook. Even so, there were great strains.

Internally, the order had to deal with pressures to create more centralised structures. Here the Australian order became part of the Congregation of Rome, a province in a broader international organisation. Decisions were no longer made just at a local level. 

There were new ways of doing things, including the requirement that all nuns must spend a year studying overseas. This withdrew teachers at a time when recruitment to the order was dropping. The number of lay teachers increased to the point that they far out-numbered the religious.

The nuns themselves wanted to do new things, to widen their vocation from the order's focus on teaching. The aging of the order also meant that there were more retired or semi-retired nuns. Dress itself changed, with the abolition of previous restrictive rules.

Change piled on change piled on change.

At a purely local Armidale level, the decision by the De La Salle Brothers to withdraw from teaching in Armidale meant the closure of De La Salle College.

From a purely personal viewpoint, this meant the end of one of the traditional rival schools against which I played Rugby every Wednesday afternoon in winter. It also meant the end of Armidale's St Ursula College, for the decision was made to merge De La (as we always called it) with St Ursula's to form a new Catholic High School.

Finishing this post still on a purely personal note, I do not regret the end of the sectarian tensions that marked Australia's past. My wife in fact comes from the NSW Catholic English/Irish/Labor Party tradition. I do regret the loss of some elements of that past.

One of the reasons I get on so well with my mother-in-law, a wonderful woman who I think is the greatest, is that we share this sense of loss. Neither of us would want to go back to the past. But how do I explain to my daughters the sense of rivalry between De La as we always called it and my school when De La no longer exists?

A story to finish.

Back in the 1930s the two schools were playing Rugby. A fight broke out on the field. The TAS boys pulled pailings of the fence and chased the De la boys back to their school. They arrived to find the De La gates locked. They opened, and led by the brothers wielding sticks, the De La boys chased the TAS boys back to TAS.

I have no idea whether this story is true. Still, it's not a bad story.       

Friday, June 05, 2009

Armidale Sanctuary - a refugee success story

Just a little story tonight with a positive message drawn from a story in the Armidale Express.

Six years ago a group in Armidale, my home town, established a new organisations simply called Armidale Sanctuary. Its aim was to help new refugees settle into Australia.

We are not talking big stuff here, simply targeted action at a local level.

In the six years since, Armidale Sanctuary has welcomed nine groups totaling almost 50 people. The group's work is supported by local church and community organisations as well as State and federal agencies. 

The new arrivals are not expected to stay in Armidale. The aim is to support them until they have the confidence to venture further afield.

New arrivals at Sydney Airport are met by Narcisse Badhere from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who came to Armidale as part of the program but is now working in Sydney and is happy to meet new arrivals on behalf of Armidale Sanctuary. At Armidale Airport arrivals are met by Sanctuary members including those presently being helped.

A small story I know, but this is local individual action. It creates an individual and community structure whose paybacks may be small in national terms but are high for the individuals concerned. This is family.

I wish new Sanctuary president Helen Ware every success in her work.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Just a note on the economy

My apologies to those whose emails I have yet to answer. For reasons I won't bore you with, I have difficulty in accessing my email during the day just at present. Then my time at night and in the early morning is presently also very squeezed.

I have a part completed post on the latest Australian national accounts figures that I hope to bring up tonight. The fact that Australia recorded positive growth in the March quarter has received considerable coverage in the local media. The problem is, and a number of commentators have pointed this out, that the obsession with whether or not Australia is in a "technical recession" tends to blind us to other issues.

When I first started writing again on the economy after the global financial crash I knew what I didn't know. This led me to focus on what I saw as the fundamentals, trying to explain things to myself and, hopefully, others. This proved quite powerful because it forced me to stand back from the short term detail.

I think I have lost this to a degree in that I too have started to be caught in the day to day. So time for some more reflection.  

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A little more on the obsession of writing - the Delta Lady

In response to my post More on the obsession of writing - and personal obsession, Kanani left a comment that is worth quoting from. She wrote:

When I started writing my book, I became obsessed with an area I grew up in but had little real knowledge about. So I became the weird "Delta" lady, reading books about waterways, engineering, marshlands. And later, contacting groups like the wetlands conservancies, and asking them to take me out on boats and such. It was all rather crazy and culminated with me in a truck with a farmer who owned 10,000 acre island farm and told me I was crazy to have ever left.

Isn't that an interesting comment that so well captures the importance of obsession in writing?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Train Reading - E Lloyd Sommerlad's Serving the Country Press

In yesterday's post, More on the obsession of writing - and personal obsession, I mentioned that I had been reading E Lloyd Sommerlad's Serving the Country Press. Country Press Association of NSW 1900-2000 (Country Press Association of NSW Inc, Castle Hill 2000).

I read the book for personal reasons, as a source for one thread within the history of New England. However, it was also interesting for professional reasons.

Just at present, the future of the print media is the subject of much discussion. Can papers survive in their present form? Mr Murdoch, for one, doubts it. The continuing drift of population away from many country areas is also a topic of discussion, and not just in Australia.

This book is the story of an industry association. Yes, the Country Press Association was more than this, but it is its role as an industry association that dominates. This plus the time span of the book, a full one hundred years, means that it is actually a history of the changing form of an industry sector seen through the prism of its association.

The story begins with hundreds of individual newspaper businesses. It ends with the country press in NSW dominated by two large chains, Rural Press and APN, with only a small independent newspaper rump. It is clear that the Association itself only survived through support from Rural Press, something that almost certainly created problems for APN and made its support for the Association very uncertain.

The story begins at a time when the newspapers were also individual printeries, making as much if not more money from printing as compared to publishing. By the end, the printing of newspapers had become centralised. Printing itself remains important for some of the independents, many of the independents and frees were in fact established by printers, but for the chains the location of physical production depends upon network economics.

One thing that stood out as I looked back over the one hundred years was the impact of constant change. The longest period of what we can loosely call business stability was probably the fifteen or so years from the early 1950s to the late 1960s, and even then there were local events such as droughts.

As independent businesses. country newspapers were affected by local conditions, by economic conditions in their market area. They were also affected by broader trends over which they had little control.

In 1900, the sector was weak and fragmented. The important metropolitan and then national advertising was effectively controlled by the metro dailies pushing into the regions and by advertising agents who played off local papers, many country towns had more than one paper, forcing them to accept supplements or to discount advertising rates.

Perhaps the single most important thing the Association did in economic or business terms was the creation of cooperative commercial mechanisms that gave the individual newspapers a collective economic power. This was never perfect, but it was still effective in attracting national advertising and raising rates. There was constant experimentation. This included the first commercial press clipping service, subsequently sold and now known as Media Monitors.

All this would be regarded in current terms as anti-competitive behaviour and indeed the introduction of the Trade Practices Act had a significant negative effect on the Association and its members.

Whatever the generalised arguments for competition policy, it does tend to benefit the big over the small. The reason for this is simple. One hundred small independent newspapers cannot combine to set rates or to enforce cooperative action. That's anti-competitive. However, if those newspapers are owned by a single company, then it can set rates and enforce common action to its heart's content. That's competition.

Don't get me wrong. I support competition policy. It's just that I am conscious of the dreadful irony that laws and policies designed to encourage competition among the big actually have the result of reinforcing the position of the big as compared to the small.

Nor is this the only case where actions by Government or other big players worked to the disadvantage of the small. However, I am out of time for the present and will have to pick up the story a little later.     

Monday, June 01, 2009

More on the obsession of writing - and personal obsession

In The Screwed Up Life Of A Writer: A Response To Jim Belshaw Kanani responded to my post Sunday Essay - further musings on writing.

I thought that this was a rather wonderful response. Leave aside the nice things that Kanani said about me (blush, my ego has been stroked). Look, instead, at the obsessive elements. I think that's true. My immediate family encouraged me to write. Now they have to pay the price.

I do not think that you can write, or try to write, something major without being either obsessive or at least very organised. I am not really organised, so I have to rely on obsession.

You know, Neil my old blogging friend, I blame you a bit. It was our broad on-line conversations that actually started the rot, shifting my writing from the largely professional to the more personal. If I ever get published I think that I will dedicate the book to you along with some of our blogging colleagues.

Yesterday and today I was reading Serving the Country, a history of the Country Press Association of NSW.

I know or know of over half the people mentioned in the book. In many ways it is a very sad book to me because it traces the decline of an institution I have known.

Those who read this column will know that I now write a weekly column for the Armidale Express. You may not know that my grandfather became a director of the Armidale Newspaper Company Limited in, from memory, 1926. When what became Rural Press took over the paper in the 1970s I tried to organise a shareholder revolt against the takeover.

There is an even bigger irony here.

Rural Press began as the Land, the journal of the NSW Farmers and Settlers Association, the populist wing of NSW farm politics. My grandfather was a former President of the FSA. The family had shares in the Land. So what was a cooperative vehicle became heart of a press combine.

1926 to 2009. That's a long time to maintain a connection.

Had New England gained self-government when the first agitation stated, it would have been the third largest Australian colony by population. Had we gained self government during the 1920s push, we would have been the fourth largest Australian state.

I am writing about an area who for much of its history has had a population larger than Tasmania, South Australia or Western Australia. This is actually not small stuff in Australian terms.

The rise and fall of New England mirrors many elements in Australian history.

This is a world that you will not find in conventional Australian history books. Many of the things that I write about do not exist there or, if they did, have been written out.

NSW history is essentially dominated by Sydney doings. This ignores the rest of a state that used to exceed Sydney in population and even now has a larger population than most Australian states. The problem gets worse as you move to broad regional areas within NSW.

I accept my biases. My challenge in writing is to convince the reader that the story I have to tell is both important and interesting.

A gentle stroll through Dili

In Walk to work Diak Malae recorded his early morning stroll from home to office in photographs. I liked it, although once you have read the post you need to click through to Flickr to get the photos in order.

Somehow it seemed much more interesting than my Sydney equivalent!