Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Updating Belshaw’s blog list 1

Denis Wright

I have begun the slow process of updating my blog lists. It’s slow because I have to squeeze the time required into an otherwise very busy schedule. Since I am updating, I thought that I would devote today’s post to a blog review.

Denis Wright died on 7 December 2013. I have retained his blog, My Unwelcome Stranger, on the list and will do so so long as the blog survives on-line. Denis was a very brave man who retained his joy in life to the end.

Do read the blog, starting with the final post, a last message from Denis. Right at the end, Denis’s blog achieved global reach because of its messages of hope and endurance.

It has been quite a while since I mentioned Barbara Martin’s Canadian blog. I used to read it all the time and then, somehow, it dropped of my radar. I think Barbara stopped posting regularly, something that we all must watch. The blog continues with its marvellous pictures of the Canadian bush.

Tikno has not posted since 21 November 2013, and I have, with sadness, deleted the blog from the list. Tikno occupies a special place in my blogging memory. The link with him and with Niar marked the start of a period when our little blogging village developed first a connection with Indonesia and then beyond. Sadly, this dropped away quite quickly. While I still get a little information through Facebook, I do wonder what happened to those who briefly flashed across our blogging firmament.

Anna Carborg’s My Observations is a new addition to my list. Postings are weekly, if sometimes irregular. I enjoy her writing style.

I have retained Catallaxy Files on my blog list because it provides an alternative view. Here I was struck by a Steve Kate’s post, Excessive savings[!] and Keynesian economics that reminded me of my lack of knowledge.

When I first studied macro-economics all those years’ ago, the simple Keynesian message had two parts. Savings must always equal investment. That was established as an identity. The second part was about plans. If planned savings exceeded planned investment, ie people and businesses wanted to save more than others wanted to invest, then the lower consumption would not be offset by investment spending. Since actual savings and investment must equal, balance was achieved by involuntary investment (rising inventories) that would ultimately lead to reduced production, lower incomes and lower savings bringing savings and investment back into balance.

The macro focus is necessarily short term. It says nothing about the longer term, including the situation where longer term savings consistently tend to exceed investment either because the investment opportunities are not there or are not there at the required rate of return adjusting for changing perceptions of risk.This seems to me to be a very different issue.

I have added Michael  Pettis’ China Financial Markets to the main blog list. IBotanic Gardens Herb Garden find it an insightful blog that also links to Steve Kates’ arguments. 

This photo of the herb garden at the Sydney Botanic Gardens comes from the photo blog Sydney - City and Suburbs. This is another blog that I haven’t mentioned for some time. It continues to run some rather nice shots about life in this harbour city.

I have added Christopher Moore's History News to the main blog list. The blog carries frequent short posts on Canadian history and historiography. I refer to it all the time.

Well, since I started this post I have played tennis with my daughters and put a pie on for lunch. I really need to eat now. Talk to you later.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Rex Winston's paintings, the return of the morals' police, Tom Keneally's The Commonwealth of Thieves

I have just discovered Kempsey's Dunghutti-Ngaku Aboriginal Art Gallery (DNAAG). This painting, Milky Way Dreaming - Turquoise is by Rex Winston.

Born in Sydney 1968, Rex belongs to the Gamilaraay language group.

He was adopted by a white family at three months of age and grew up at Nyngan. Winston’s interest in his birth mother and Aboriginal heritage was sparked when he first began painting. With the support of his adoptive parents and a government agency, he was able to locate and meet his birth mother.

A self-taught artist, Winton is an established commercial contemporary artist who has undertaken numerous commissions. Works are held in numerous private collections, including the Kerry Stokes collection.

Winston’s contemporary paintings are a response to his environment and landscape, expressed through an innate skill for precise dot markings.

Do have a browse through the Gallery's collection. I found a number of the works visually appealing and the prices are pretty good too.

I hadn't heard of the American writer Joseph Bottum until kvd pointed me to this piece in US publication the Weekly Standard, The Spiritual Shape of Political Ideas. The piece is subtitled How it is that we once again find ourselves rooting out sin, shunning heretics, and heralding the end times.

Given Bottum's apparent prominence as a US thinker, I probably should have known who he is. Still, I tend not to follow US thinking unless I have a very particular reason for so doing.

I grew up in a strongly protestant Methodist/Presbyterian tradition tempered, to some degree, by an Anglican thread and by the sometimes broadness of view of my family with its perceptions of progress and action. I certainly understand the concepts of sin and guilt! Still, I had some difficulty in translating Bottum's very American frame to an Australian context. However, I could see what he was on about.

We actually live in very strange times marked by a proliferation of secular theologies and the imposition of right views of behaviour as seen through the eyes of a growing multiplicity of increasingly narrowly focused beholders. They all tell us what we should do, should not do, and in many cases have the political influence to enforce their views.

In the end, I did get two books for Christmas. One was Tom Keneally's The Commonwealth of Thieves, the story of the establishment of the penal colony in NSW.

I was interested in the book for several reasons. For example, how did Keneally turn what is, after all, a narrow niche subject into something that seems to appeal to a broader global audience? Then I was interested at a technical level in the way he structured his sentences, paragraphs, sections and chapters for effect.

The two link, of course. Keneally is a very good writer with the capacity to tell a tale. His simple writing structures link to his story telling role. Then his global reputation breaks through barriers in the minds of those who do not know where Sydney is, know little about Australia and care less about either. They are prepared to read because they have liked his previous books, know that he can tell a good yarn. They find from the first paragraph that they do not need background knowledge, it's a story with its own internal cohesion and context. In this sense, it can be read  just like  a novel.

I still have to finish, but I am enjoying the book.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Carrington, sex and the attractions of a complex life

I usually spend a fair bit of Christmas and Boxing Day reading the books that I havCarrington film postere been given. This year was marked by an initial paucity of books, although I got some today at lunch. People worry that if they give me books I will have read them. That’s actually unlikely, because you generally won’t find the books I buy or read in current bookshops.

Initially restricted in new reading, I turned back to my existing books and indeed my own notes, continuing the reading of Carrington, the book I mentioned in my last post, Carrington, family life and the freedom of the new.

In a comment on that post, kvd wrote:

Anyway, so I admit it - I clicked on the link for Carrington's life, and what do I get? Nothing but sex, baby, nothing but sex. Never mind her artistic accomplishments - we have to get down to the nitty, the gritty, important, stuff: sex!

We pin all these bright flowers and butterflys to the page with mealy mouthed words about what? Not their human accomplishments - no - just their SEX, baby, let's talk about sex.

I'm so tired of that lens; it needs something like DOUBLE-CAPS-LOCK-BOLD-ITALICS to get my attention these days. She was actually quite a good painter: ttps://www.google.com.au/search?q=dora+carrington+paintings&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=KNucVOKELsa4mwXy1YGACA&ved=0CAgQ_AUoAQ&biw=1467&bih=730

I think that kvd has a point here. You can see it in the 1955 British film on her life. This focuses on her complex personal life and loves. Lytton Strachey by Carrington Her art is lost.

I don’t like some of her paintings, they are too naive for me, but I do like her  portraits. This one of Lytton Strachey with its elongated fingers has become something of a visual icon.

One of the things that I became interested in in reading Gretchen Gerzina's biography of Carrington were the intricacies of the overlaps between the English and Australian artistic experience. The specific trigger  was the descriptions of the stylistic conflicts during the period when Carrington studied at Slade. I wanted to refresh my memory on the way that those conflicts played out in an Australian context.

To investigate this, I went as I so often do to Wikipedia. Here I struck a major disappointment at the poor standard of the Wikipedia entry on the history of Australian art. It just stops at the Heidelberg School as though there had been some form of conflict that had prevented any later additions. It is too far outside my current focus to try to add material, and in any event I do not have the knowledge or easy access to the material required to do so. But it’s a bit sad, nevertheless.

Ah well. Time to finish this post. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Carrington, family life and the freedom of the new

The photo shows Dora Carrington and Lytton Strachey at their house, Ham Spray.

Back on 22 December 2008, I wrote:
 As I read into the Bloomsbury set I actually found them quite repulsive. There was an intellectual narrowness, a bigotry, that I found hard to accept. I also found the description of of the family life that so many of them had experienced very strange indeed. This was not my world. 
I was reminded of all this when, by accident, I picked up and started reading Gretchen Gerzina's Carrington, the  life of Dora Carrington.

Carrington, she always called herself that from her days at the Slade School of Fine Art, was born a little later than the key figures in the Bloomsbury set. By then, Victorian English attitudes towards child rearing had begun to change. Certainly Carrington as a woman received opportunities that might not have been possible earlier. And yet, Carrington's character seems to have been shaped by the complex relationship between her parents, including reaction to her mother's overwhelming sense of propriety.

My own research is focused especially on Australia. Quite a bit of that research involves reading personal memoirs, biographies or autobiographies. Reading these, I don't have the same feeling about the picture of family life and growing up presented by the English equivalents. You do get the same type of conflict for those whose sexual orientation was strong, confused or just different. But family life itself was different, more open, less angst ridden.

 Comparisons are useful things. To really see a society, you need an external view. This allows you to look in, to break away from the rigid bounds imposed by belonging or, indeed, the rebellion associated with not belonging,    

When I first visited England with Sue on a quite wonderful trip, my first reaction to the history was exhilaration. Later, I came to find it in a sense overbearing. The past was ever present and imposed its own rigidities. I concluded that there was a lot to be said for growing up in a new country.  

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve 2014

This is a photo from my home country. On this Christmas Eve, I wish you and yours a happy Christmas and a great new year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

How New Zealand set the inflation target

Interesting piece in the New York Times, Of Kiwis and Currencies: How a 2% Inflation Target Became Global Economic Gospel, that I'm simply recording for later reference.

The Narcissism epidemic, a little more on Cassab and Google's Ngram viewer

Winton Bates is taking his Christmas blogging break, but I thought that this radio program, The narcissism epidemic, would be of later interest. The ABC summarises the program in this way:
Are we in the midst of a narcissism epidemic? Attention seeking behaviour, the need to stand out, an increased focus on image, fame and money seem to be on the rise. Researchers from the U.S. have found that young people’s average scores against the Narcissistic Personality Inventory are significantly higher than in previous generations. We explore the causes, symptoms and possible solutions to this growing trend of self obsession.
While I am suspicious of this type of analysis, it's still interesting.

I added a postscript to Monday Forum - go where you like drawn from Judy Cassab's diaries on Chaney Coventry's eyes. In a Facebook comment, Neil Whitfield remarked that there were some Cassabs at Sydney Boy's High. By accident, I found this reference in the SBH magazine from 2013.
Judy Cassab is one of Australia’s best known portrait painters and the winner of many prestigious art awards including the coveted Archibald Prize. Her sons Peter Kampfner and John Seed, attended Sydney Boys High (John [1962] and Peter [1964]).
 SBHS was honoured to receive her generous gift of six works which showcase the wide range of subject matter and provide a glimpse into her extraordinary career and contribution to Sydney Boys High School and Australian culture.

I guess it wasn't quite by accident. The references in her diaries to the counter-culture movement in Northern New South Wales led me to do web searches, something I mentioned in Saturday morning musings - meander though Belshaw's writer's diary 1. Once this started, finding a reference to the SBH paintings was only a matter of time.

Finally in this morning's short post, I have rediscovered Google Books' Ngram viewer, This allows you to search the frequency of words or phases across time from all the books digitised by Google. Have a go; its quite fun.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Monday Forum - go where you like

With Christmas coming, traffic on this blog has displayed its normal sharp dip. Traffic is higher than last year, but still well down. People just have better things to do than to visit me!

I have no idea how many people are still around who might want to comment on this forum. So today a random selection of topics to help.

Over on The Conversation, Hilda Maclean looks at the fall and then rise in public mourning. I was thinking about one aspect of this. For Australian readers, when did you first notice the rise of private crosses and road side memorials to mark the road accident death of loved ones.? I was trying to work out when I first noticed it. Early eighties?

Staying with the Conversation, I was interested to learn that some colleagues at work not active in the on-line world follow The Conversation as an impartial source of information. I would have thought that the publication was firmly fixed on the center left simply because of its writing base. I quote from its web site: You must be a member of an academic or research institution to write for The Conversation.

This is Judy Cassab's 1987 portrait of Chandler (Channy) Coventry. I love portraiture. Do you have a favourite portrait?

On Facebook, our mate Ramana asked us to circulate this story It wasn’t the final atrocity. He also asked us to read the comments. I did so and now do so.

On Catallaxy Files, Sinclair Davidson wrote A quarter of the population is now suspect? and promptly got his head knocked off in comments.

A few questions for you. Indonesia is our biggest neighbor and is a majority Muslim country. As the Indonesian economy grows, Indonesia will become more and more important to us. We also need Indonesia for defence reasons. My best guess is that in twenty years we may have over a million Indonesians of Muslims faith living in Australia. They will dwarf all other Muslim groups. How might they fit in? How will Australia respond?

I suspect very well. What do you think?

I must finish now. Washing and the world awaits.


I was  reading Judy Cassab's diaries (Judy Cassab, Diaries, Alfred A Knopf, Sydney 1995) when I came across this reference to the Chandler Coventry portrait.

30 November 1987. "Bob Klippel and Rosemary Madigan came on Saturday to pick up the marble torso, and Bob seemed to be impressed by the large composition. He liked Channy's portrait, said: "The eyes are amazing, as if surprised and desperate about the injustice of the stroke."   I think that that is an acute and also sad observation.    

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday snippets - history, hedges and a little investment advice

One of the joys of an interest in history is the way it allows me to meander.

This is a Mosman hedge. For those who don't know Mosman, it lies about 8k north east of the Sydney CBD over the bridge. A leafy suburb, it now has the highest median house prices in Australia.

Wandering round Mosman, I suddenly realized that the most noticeable feature of Mosman gardens was the formal hedge.They are everywhere. Sadly, I seem to have mislaid my camera (again), so can't take pictures in the way I would like.

How does this link to Australian history? Well, among other things, the story of the Australian garden, its rise and fall, is deeply entwined in Australian social history. Memo to self: time to join the Australian Garden History Society.

Looking back over 2014, my worst prediction has to be this one from 3 May 2014.
Just at the moment, I would be inclined to buy shares in Woodside or any other Australian gas entity. Looking at events in Eastern Ukraine, some cessation of Russian gas supplies to the EU would seem inevitable. I just don’t think that Mr Putin has the subtlety to handle the forces that he has unleashed.
I remain of the same view re Mr Putin. I just didn't foresee the wholesale collapse in oil prices that would have made an investment in Woodside a no-no for the present. I should have. The Australian financial press has been full of stories about the explosion in oil and gas production associated, among other things, with what has come to be called unconventional oil.

Can oil be unconventional? Well, no. Somehow I struggle to visualize an unconventional barrel of oil! It can't be done.  However, the term refers not to the product but to the extraction methods. Fracking and all that.

I was far more accurate in foreseeing the tanking of the Russian economy. I shouldn't have been since I did not foresee the collapse in oil prices. However, the dependence of the Russian economy on a single commodity, the failure to undertake structural reforms, the cost of military adventures including sanctions, all suggested a bad outcome.

With the assistance of Prime Minister Abbott, one result was a single short post that went from zero to over 5,000 page views in the space of a bit over two months, making it it the third most visited post in this blog's history. The post? Defining shirtfronting! Lot to be said for a short, sharp topical title.

Looking back over the year, there has been a lot of very silly stuff written on the Australian economy. I'ts not so much that each piece is silly, many are not, but that the pattern becomes silly. Earlier in December in Strange disconnects in the swirling world of Australian reporting and politics, I said in part:
If the commentary and reporting on the international economy is almost breathless, that on domestic economy and politics is more so.
Reserve Bank Governor Glen Steven’s statement on the reasons why the Bank had yet again kept official interest rates on hold had a more negative if still balanced tone. It’s not surprising.
The global economic scene has become more clouded, while the latest national accounts figures show that real Australian incomes are falling. Lower commodity prices are hitting government revenues, while many Australians are beginning to suffer lower real incomes. You can see this from the latest national accounts figures. The economy is still growing if at a low rate, but real incomes are falling.
Over the last two weeks, domestic reporting has become increasingly frenetic. As happened with Senator Ricky Muir’s attempt to open a motor show on the lawns of Parliament House, the press flock swarms, swoops and wheels around every new development.
I find it all quite distracting. It makes it hard to think straight. Get over it, guys. There are significant issues, but we are also dealing with a natural end boom process that Australia has seen before. Each boom is different, but the pattern does repeat.
To my mind, the distinctive feature of this end boom is the absence of major crash. I don’t expect one, just a slow and sometimes painful adjustment.
The financial press has continued to flock and swirl in the period since I stand by those words. Mind you, as I walk around Mosman studying the on-ground effects of the real estate bubble, I wonder. There will be pain, but that's the local impact.   

I do not pretend to have any particular wisdom on future developments. I recognise that for many older Australians these are critical times, for the decisions they make now will affect the rest of their life and especially their retirement, present or future. My only advice to them is:
  1. Don't panic. The worst won't happen, and if it does there is little you can do about it 
  2. Work your time horizons out very carefully
  3. Don't bet unless you can survive the loss
  4. Undertake what if analysis based on worst case
  5. If things look good after analysis, go for it.  
  I have to go and do some mundane things. Washing calls. Avenger has come in from the garden and demands attention. He is rubbing his head up against the key board. That makes it hard to write. I have sheets in the washing to be hung out.

Well, Avenger, I accept your demands. I must go.  


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday morning musings - planning for the holiday break

It's still quite early here in Sydney. Yesterday was the work Xmas party and the end of the working year. I'm probably not alone in saying that I escaped into the break with a feeling of relief. It's not that its been a bad year, just sometimes stressful and complicated.

I will be posting over the break. This fits with the objective I have set for the holiday period, one of consolidation. This still is from Maslyn Williams 1952 Australian film Mike and Stefani.

Wednesday's post, New England writers – Introducing Binks Turnbull Dowling’s For crying out loud, was the first of a two part series on another New England child and early adult hood memoir.

Binks Dowling was born in 1923, Maslyn Williams in 1911, Judith Wright in 1915, Judith Wallace in 1932. Each writer describes different aspects of life on the New England Tablelands during formative periods in their life.

While researching the posts on Binks Dowling, I put together some of the posts I had written on the others looking for links and patterns. It's quite a complicated writing task, for (driven by the links) I find myself drawn into my own memorializing. .

Binks Dowling's book with its Armidale focus is a particular problem. I am very much younger, but I find that I know, knew or knew of nearly all the people she mentions. It's hard to avoid placing a personal slant on things in reading, but that's not what I want in this case. I need to stand back, to analyse and report.

 Looking back over the year, I find that I have achieved few of the primary goals I set myself. In my own defence (self-justification?), with travel time I work fifty hour weeks. While I do read and jot notes while travelling, my primary writing has to be fitted into the evenings and early mornings. Again in self-justification, I have maintained my weekly newspaper column and reasonably regular blog posting, but still.

So this Christmas break, I am looking to a period of consolidation and reflection that covers both my own writing and the views and reflections of others. On this blog alone, I have so far written 2,783 posts with 7,853 comments including my own responses. That's a big resource on its own, ignoring the work of my fellow bloggers. Add that, and I have a massive canvas.      

I am looking forward to my review. I don't want to be too precious about it. It is a holiday and I mean to have some fun, exercise and time with friends. Still, I will enjoy it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Further Palmes d'or for silliness in Sydney’s hostage crisis

I will bring yesterday's posts up at the right date. For the moment, I am distracted by the continuing fall-out from the Sydney hostage crisis. This post is a follow up to Palme' d’Ors for silliness in Sydney’s hostage crisis. I have, following advice from kvd, corrected the heading.

My first new Palme d'Or for supreme silliness goes to Senator David Leyonhjelm for his views on guns. It’s not that I agree with Stephanie Peatling nor necessarily disagree with all aspects of what Senator Leyonhjelm says (I opposed Mr Howard’s views on gun control), but the timing was remarkably stupid. As, I might add, were the reactions of US Tea Party supporters.

My second Palme d'Or for supreme silliness goes to change.org for their email encouraging me to support a petition on tighter bail laws. Now as an organisation they need to run with popular issues to get cash, and I understand the position of those suddenly reacting who change.org is responding to. But at a time when Australia has been rife with proposals and actions to restrict bail, many of which have very adverse effects on particular individuals or groups with little social gain, we need another anti-bail campaign like a hole in the head. Let’s just wait until we know the facts.

My third Palme d'Or for supreme silliness goes to the neo-conservative commentators for their comments on the #illridewithyou campaign. The term neo-liberals is sometimes applied to them, but that has an economics connotation that I don’t always disagree with. I like neo-conservative better because they wish to freeze Australian society into that particular past model stuck in their mind. To attach neo-liberal to those views is an insult to liberalism.

This is not, I might add, an attack on my regular commenter Rod who has been engaged in a conversation with me on the issue. Rather, the neo-cons attack the very goodness of the human spirit. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Palme' d’Ors for silliness in Sydney’s hostage crisis

I don’t want to write a lot here tonight and especially on the results of Sydney’s hostage drama, but a few comments.

I'll ride with you

The first Palme d'Or for supreme silliness goes to the Australian’s Chris Kenny for  this piece: Sydney siege: Alarm bells should ring over latest Islamic wake-up call.

It is a silly piece at multiple levels. Of course Australia needs to be aware of the dangers of Islamic extremism. In fact, how could we be otherwise? But what are we to do with Mr Kenny’s arguments? What is he actually suggesting? I’m not sure.

His attack on the #illridewithyou. hashtag is both gobsmackingly petty and stupid. It was a human response to a tragedy, something that people could do.` It also reflected a fear that there might be an irrational response, a coming together to prevent that.

My second Palme d'Or for supreme silliness goes to Mike Baird, the Premier of NSW and others like him, for describing this in some way as Sydney (or Australia’s) lack of innocence. I’m not sure what that means. In fairness to Mr Baird, I’m sure that he was very tired and trying to strike the right note, but it was all very strange.

Probably the oddest thing in all this has been the discovery of Mr Monis’s troubled but well known past. The instinctive reaction is to ask why the authorities didn’t take some action. Perhaps they should have, we have to wait on this, but we also have to be aware of the constant present Australian tendency to demand more restrictions on freedom to avoid what-if's.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Monday Forum - what is it about villians?

As I write, the Sydney hostage drama is till unfolding. I don’t want to comment until more is known, but it has been an interesting exercise in human psychology.

As the news broke, it ran around the office like wildfire. People started trying to contact relatives in the city, while rumours spread that the Church Street Mall in Parramatta and/or the big Westfield Shopping Centre were being evacuated. Neither was true.

I watched the twitter feed for a while, as well as the live media blogs. There was just too much misleading and in some cases quite distasteful stuff, especially on twitter, so I switched it off. Someone asked me why I was so calm. Had I contacted my daughters to find out if they were okay?

Well, no. One works in Strathfield, the other in the city, but it would be incredibly unlucky (and unlikely) for her to be involved in what appeared to be an isolated action by a single individual. And, in any case, what could I do? I also remember London during the IRA blitz. In this case, wll we can do is hope for the best. 

Events in Sydney quite blew away the intended topic of this Monday Forum, the villain. The topic was triggered by this comment from DG: “Well, in the case of the lascivious Cesare Borgia, apart from his patronage of Leonardo de Vinci (through ill-gotten gains through his awful family), there certainly wasn't much else in his favour or worth remembering.” 

This got me wondering. The Borgias including Cesare and Lucrezia have always got a very bad press. Certainly their morals were somewhat relaxed to put it mildly, but did they deserve the coverage they got? And, if so, why are we so fascinated with them at the expense of other, more worthwhile souls?   Why do we remember Captain Thunderbolt while Constable Walker is almost forgotten?

So for the purposes of today's discussion, what is it about villains that so fascinates us? Who are your favourite, least favourite villains?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday morning musings – meander through Belshaw’s writer’s diary 2

Continuing the muse that began last Saturday with Saturday morning musings - meander though Belshaw's writer's diary 1,  I find that my writer’s diaries are littered with dates; dates that I wrote, dates of publications or articles, dates of events. I seem to be obsessed with dates. It’s partly the academic in me  that makes me want to record chronology, partly that I need dates to fix things in my head, partly that I get things wrong if I don’t have dates right.

I also like to know the days on which things happened. Sometimes it just makes things seem more real if I am reporting on past events as though they were just happening. For example, 10 October 1845 was a Friday. So if I was reporting on the opening of the Naval School (now called US Naval Academy) at Annapolis (I’m not sure why I would, but who knows!) I might begin the piece Annapolis, Friday 10 October 1845….

Dates are important for another reason. We live in a world where ten years is very past, twenty years remote, fifty almost inconceivable. I don’t mean that people don’t know objectively that certain events have happened, they simply can’t attach context to them.

I mention this now because of the current Australian debate over whether the current generation however defined will be the first to be worse off than their parents. When I first saw it, my first reaction was that this was a-historical. Surely that can’t be right? As I dug into it for a piece that I am writing, I concluded that as framed it was a meaningless discussion except to the degree that policy prescriptions were being based on it. That had an objective reality.

In writing, I constantly struggle with the difference between causation and correlation. This leads to diagrams and charts as I try to sketch possibilities. They are always rough, often just lines and squiggles. The kinship relations of the Kamilaroi are in a case in point. I have page after page of relationship trees, written on trains in the morning and afternoon. Most now mean nothing to me. However, it’s not wasted, for if I go back to my source material, the writings of Michael O’Rourke, I know that they will.

Michael features heavily in my writer’s notes at certain periods. Michael, it may give you a certain satisfaction to know that your kindness in sending me copies of your books on the Kamilaroi has been repaid by hours of reading, thought and writing. I have no idea as to how many hours, but it’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds.

I don’t think that Michael and I have ever met, if we have it was just in passThea Proctor Charles Davis 1909ing along our different tracks, but I know how to place him in my firmament, and an important place it is. So, Michael, time to do more writing?

As a writer, I struggle with context.  This is a 1909 portrait of Australian artist Thea Proctor by Charles Davis. I struggle with fitting her into the multiple places she occupies. As a human being, I struggle to deal with the texture of human experience with its moments of happiness, challenges and despairs.

I tend to leave what I think of as my angst moments to my personal diary, not my writer’s log. Inevitably, the two overlap. How do I understand Thea Proctor (she is a very pretty woman) and try to explain? Inevitably, I mine my own experiences, for that is only way I can understand, to give an emotional context.

I find that as I re-read my writer’s diaries over the years that I have been keeping them, it is the political and, more broadly, the current events that have the least long term value. It’s partly the ephemerallity of current events, more that it’s so hard to bring about change.

I don’t believe that our current system is sustainable, it’s too entrenched in cost and rigidity. But how do you explain that?  How do you show what needs to be done when the answer is not doing better, but simply not doing, accepting limitations?

I am vehemently opposed to some of the current nostrums about the role of the state, the structure of social control, the application of simple models. Grattan gives us disaster, as do the Greens. The solution lies not in models with their universal solutions nor in a constant search for improvement. While improvement is always possible, the real immediate need is simply simplification, the need to stop doing stuff. The second need is to get rid of command and control.

As an example, it took more time and resources to introduce a simple $A1.84 million subsidy to support a narrowly defined range of activities to help Aboriginal housing in NSW than it did to restructure the entire training program for ophthalmologists in Australia and New Zealand?  Sorry, I don’t think that’s very useful.   

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

CEDA announces results of its 2014 business big issues survey

Yes, the following is a CEDA press release. I actually get a lot of press releases now. Because CEDA has been hammering some of the same issues that I have, I decided to run it in full for comment and later follow up. Interesting, however, that you can always tell something is a press release!

Results of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) 2014 Big Issues survey of the business community show long term policies around our future workforce, such as driving innovation, R&D and education and training, accompanied by taxation reform should be priorities.

On releasing the results CEDA Chief Executive Professor the Hon. Stephen Martin said they strongly indicated the business community want long term policy solutions rather than blunt cuts or use of fiscal policy levers.

“Survey respondents again ranked the top four policy priorities for the Federal Government as enhancing productivity, improving our competitiveness, encouraging innovation and reforming taxation,” Professor Martin said.

“What is interesting is that the response to addressing these key areas has now clearly shifted to focus on innovation, skills and R&D.

“Respondents said the best way for Government to respond to below-trend growth was to incentivise innovation and R&D and invest in education to support workforce capability rather than use traditional fiscal implements and levers.

“Again in response to improving Australia’s international competitiveness, the results show incentivising innovation and R&D and enhancing workforce capability through education and training ranked much higher than policy changes such as lowering the corporate tax rate or reducing the burden of government red tape.”

More than 875 people completed this year’s annual CEDA Big Issues survey, conducted over a two week period starting in late November. The survey’s aim is to capture a snapshot of the business community’s views on the critical policy choices – the big issues – in the year ahead.

Professor Martin said the survey also showed rising support for increasing or broadening the GST compared to last year’s survey.

“This is probably a combination of concern about the Federal Government cuts and recognition that they alone will not be enough to balance the Federal Budget if we are to maintain the same level of services and infrastructure,” he said.

“Eighty per cent of respondents support increasing revenue by reforming taxation with priorities being broadening and increasing the rate of GST along with removing middle class and business welfare tax breaks.

“The Federal Government’s Tax White Paper process is critically important but it must look more broadly than the GST and look at taxation reform in a more comprehensive way so that the burden of taxation is spread appropriately.

“With respect to reforming our Federation, an issue being driven by CEDA, the survey clearly showed removing areas of duplication between the states and Federal Government should be the priority.”

Professor Martin said while assigning a portion of income tax to states specifically for key areas such as school or public transport – hypothecation – has not had much support from government, it was the highest ranked response to how imbalances in revenue allocation and collection could be fixed.

“Obviously there is wider support for this change in revenue allocation beyond government and it should be one of the options considered in the Reforming the Federation White Paper,” he said.

Professor Martin said other key results from the survey included:
  • With regard to which tier of government should be responsible for key services such as education and healthcare, most responded that they should stay the same with the exception of vocational education and hospitals, with the responsibility to be more evenly split between the State Government and Federal Government for each of these areas. 
  • More than half of respondents think Australia suffers from entrenched disadvantage and that current government policies do not sufficiently address this issue. 
  • The majority of respondents ranked early intervention, education system reform and better targeting of welfare as more important to address entrenched disadvantage compared to housing programs or restricting welfare arrangements. 
Professor Martin said the results around entrenched disadvantage again point towards the business community wanting long term solutions that deal with the root cause of issues rather than simply the symptoms. This matter will be further investigated in CEDA research, to be released in April.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

28 months on Mars

I watched this New York Times feature on NASA's Curiosity Rover with fascination.

It provides evidence written in red rocks and sand of a warmer, wetter, more habitable Mars.

On discovering sculpture

My continuing efforts to document artists with New England connections led me to Bronwyn Oliver (Another New England artist – Bronwyn Oliver (Gum Flat via Inverell). This is an example of her work, Globe (2002) at the University of NSW.

Bronwyn Oliver is very well known indeed, both as a sculptor and for her sometimes troubled life. The fact that I had not heard of her is an indication of my own lack of knowledge of the field.

I came to sculpture quite late. Growing up, I had considerable exposure to art on the walls of family homes or at the nearby Armidale Teachers' College. However, the only sculptures I saw were in ancient history books, mainly Greek or Roman heads with staring eyes. I wasn't attracted, regarding them mainly as historical artifacts.

I didn't really discover sculpture until the opening of the Australian National Gallery in Canberra. Then I spent many hours in the sculpture garden, often eating my lunch while looking at the pieces. These were very different from the sculptures of the classical world. I would sit in one spot for a longish period just enjoying and then move. The lines fascinated me with their shifting perspectives as I shifted my position.

This piece, Song Cycles, is in the main street of Walcha. The Walcha Shire Council has been turning the whole town into a sculpture gallery. So far, there are 41 pieces on display.

Again, I have only just discovered sculpture Walcha. A while back, a friend and I stopped in Walcha on our way back from Armidale. It was then, walking the streets, that we found it.

We couldn't stop for long, but influenced by a recent visit to the National Gallery's sculpture garden, I thought and then wrote that Walcha should promote itself as the sculpture town. It was quickly pointed out to me Walcha was trying to do just that! Ouch!

 I said that I was fascinated by the lines. It's an addiction, but one that I value. Enjoyment of the addiction requires a number of things.

To begin with, you actually have to look. If a sculpture is presented to you, you know that you are meant to look. But lines whether in nature or the built environment don't always present themselves in obvious ways. It may be the tracery of the trees or some configuration of buildings or, indeed, a combination, but you have to look.

Then you have to pause and take time to absorb. I am constantly amazed at the way people living in what are, in fact, highly visual worlds just let the whole thing go by. They miss so much.  


Monday, December 08, 2014

Monday Forum – what are your favourite blogs, why?

This post began as Sunday Snippets focused on history blogs, but has now become the Monday Forum post. The topic today is what are your favourite blogs, why?

The History Blog reports Shackled remains found in Gallo-Roman necropolis, along with Lost avant-garde painting found in Stuart Little’s living room.Stuart Little & the sleeping lady The piece begins:

Art historian Gergely Barki was watching Stuart Little with his daughter Lola on Christmas Day 2008 when he recognized a painting above the living room fireplace as Sleeping Lady with a Black Vase, a lost masterpiece by Hungarian Avant-Garde painter Róbert Berény. Berény painted Sleeping Lady with a Black Vase at the turn of 1927/1928. The model was his second wife, cellist Eta Breuer who posed for several of her husband’s post-Impressionist works, often with her cello even though she had stopped playing professionally when she married Berény.

In History News, Christopher Moore muses on the Canadian position:

There used to be an arm's length principle in public funding for art and culture: the funders of culture should not get to determine what gets produced. But that has been going by the boards. Funding is tough to come by, and where's the harm in a little compromise? But gradually all our independent historical and heritage agencies begin looking like government advertising.

Here in Australia something of the same thing has been happening. Sadly, the focus on remembering the events of the First World War has become yawn-making. Is any one listening or watching out there?

A lot of history is actually quite boring, except to the specialist. It is only later when all the bits are fitted together that it becomes of interest to a broader audience. Then it challenges our basic conceptions.

John Hawke’s blog does a pretty good job in combining the immediately technical with the broader. These are the titles of some recent posts:

I suspect that most of us still carry the perception that Neanderthal man was wiped out in a Darwinian style battle. In fact, we are all  Neanderthal. The genes live within us.

ART and ARCHITECTURE, mainly continues to be one of my favourite blogs, although it had been a little time since I visited. That was a mistake. If you just browse, you will see what I mean.  

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Saturday morning musings - meander though Belshaw's writer's diary 1

My writing output is well down at the moment, as is my reading of other people's blogs. I apologize, especially for the second!

I keep a writer's diary. Nothing profound, simply jotting down things that interest me that may or may not go into stories or some other aspect of my writing. This morning's musings trawls through that diary,

The painting is Judy Cassab's 1955 portrait of Judy Barraclough. I have always liked Judy Cassab. She is part of that rich intellectual flowering that came to Australia as a consequence of the Second World War and its aftermath.

I have been reading her diaries. This is my bed time reading, so I rarely get more than a few pages completed before I have to to put the book down and turn out the light. After all this time, most of the people she writes about are very familiar. In a way, it's very much an insider's book, for she became part of the establishment.

Unexpectedly, the book became part of my ever evolving history of New England. Judy's son, John, was drawn to the counter culture movement that flowered in Northern NSW following the Aquarius Festival. The exhibition Rainbow Dreaming celebrates forty years.

At Nimbin, John became involved in the establishment of Bodhi Farms. His son, Bodhi, carries the name. This photo, Two Women of Blue Springs, 1992, is connected with the farm. Judy's diaries have a fair bit on Bodhi Farms, so what was an exploration of another Australian painter has actually become part of my New England history.

Mind you, I do wonder about my capacity to complete this project. It seems to grow and grow, with ever increasing interconnections. Still, its not going to be your conventional state, regional or local history, and that's what I wanted.

Over at his place, Neil Whitfield has been exploring the last twelve months as seen through the eyes of his blog. Well, really his eyes as expressed through the blog. Looking at my writing as well as my notes, the interaction between Neil and myself has been important.  

Another Australian art related book that I have been reading was Drusilla Modjeska's Stravinsky's Lunch. This book, part of my Train Reading series, examines the lives of two very different Australian painters,
Stella Bowen and Grace Cossington Smith. The illustration is Grace Cossington Smith's 1916 "Study of a head: Self portrait". 

So far I have used one quote from the book plus discovered two artists (neither Stella or Grace) with New England connections!, but have yet to write up my thoughts. Presently I have just random jottings from the book or inspired by the book.

"The textures of people and connection. How to break free from the imposed isolation of the intellect?" 
"In telling the stories of these two extraordinary women, it asks how an artist finds a balance between her art, love and daily life."(Dust jacket)
"SL is a biography, really two biographies,but it is also a muse. This gives M freedom to insert herself into the story."
"The story of the two visits (p179) illustrates the way the world changes around us. It also illustrates....." 
 As you might expect, there is a fair bit on politics and economics, but not as much as you might expect since a lot bit of my writing here is instant. Much of the jotting is reference, especially to Financial Review stories.

For example, on 12 November I noted Egyptian militias, RET, iron ore prices - Mr Hockey, student numbers, rouble; Indian red tape. The following day murdoch mess, student cheating plus multiple infrastructure references. Then there are lines, circles and squiggles linking things together, along with comments and instructions to myself and links to commenters and fellow bloggers.

A lot of this never makes it into any form of writing, but its not a bad resource. Well, time to move on. I have a rather large check list for today.      

Friday, December 05, 2014

Hat on Cat

Christmas insanity is breaking out at work.

Hat on cat, courtesy of Dr Suess and Alison O.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Strange disconnects in the swirling world of Australian reporting and politics

This post began Tuesday. I ended up holding it back because so much was happening. Since this post is in part a way of ordering my own thoughts and covers many topics, I am using headings.

Mental Health Numbers Overstated

Psychiatry professor Jon Jureidini argues that popular mental health campaigns are misleading the public into thinking that serious mental illness is more widespread than it actually is. I am sure that he is right and it’s not the only case. It all leads to some very distorted policy making, as well as making people obsessive and unhappy. Current economic reporting in this country is a case in point.

Global Economy

Oil, oil, oil! The collapse in global oil prices is having all sorts of ripple effects. Saudi Arabia and OPEC seem to be doing what the iron ore majors have been trying, expanding production to drive out high cost producers. Countries such as Russia and Venezuela who have been using oil to fund social or military adventures are in a degree of strife.

Commentators are focusing on the positives in the oil price move. Lower oil prices mean more disposable income for consumers, lower transport costs. I think that’s right, although lower oil prices also add to deflationary pressures in some countries.

The thing to remember with oil, LNG, iron ore and coal is that they are all commodities and behave that way. High prices draw new supply that progressively comes on stream as demand begins to fall, compounding subsequent price falls. We have seen it before. No doubt we will see it again.

There is something almost breathless in the reporting of international economic activity at present. Commentators have barely got one sentence out before events over-run them.

Australian Economy

If the commentary and reporting on the international economy is almost breathless, that on domestic economy and politics is more so.

Reserve Bank Governor Glen Steven’s statement on the reasons why the Bank had yet again kept official interest rates on hold had a more negative if still balanced tone. It’s not surprising.

The global economic scene has become more clouded, while the latest national accounts figures show that real Australian incomes are falling. Lower commodity prices are hitting government revenues, while many Australians are beginning to suffer lower real incomes. You can see this from the latest national accounts figures. The economy is still growing if at a low rate, but real incomes are falling.

Over the last two weeks, domestic reporting has become increasingly frenetic. As happened with Senator Ricky Muir’s attempt to open a motor show on the lawns of Parliament House, the press flock swarms, swoops and wheels around every new development. Senator Muir and the swarm

I find it all quite distracting. It makes it hard to think straight. Get over it, guys. There are significant issues, but we are also dealing with a natural end boom process that Australia has seen before. Each boom is different, but the pattern does repeat.

To my mind, the distinctive feature of this end boom is the absence of major crash. I don’t expect one, just a slow and sometimes painful adjustment.

Strange disconnects in Australian politics

All this means that there are some strange disconnects in Australian politics at the present time.

Down in Canberra, Public Service Minister Eric Abetz is engaged in a bitter dispute over public service pay. The Minister points out that public service pay increases have out stripped the rate of inflation by 14% over the last ten years. He clearly regards that as excessive. I'm not sure that people would agree: If you think about it, that's an annual increase in real wages of a bit over one per cent per annum during a long boom period. That's not a lot and is well below the overall rate of real economic growth during the period.

I think that the comment says more about Minister Abetz than anything else.

Meantime, the Australian Financial Review fulminates about the Australian Government's inability to bring about real reform, largely blaming the cross-benchers in the Senate. The paper is seriously disappointed. It's not just the failure to bring about change, it's a failure to bring about the changes that the paper has been advocating!

Disconnect comes in because the Australian population does not accept the argument as framed. Disconnect comes in because, as in the mental health case, the swirling arguments bring about their own behavioural responses. The paper seems to put its arguments, as does the Government and much of the media, in the context of the need to respond to the now when we are actually dealing with longer term processes and issues.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Monday Forum - the death of email

This is actually something I have written about before, but I now have another case study.

We were talking about communications at Sunday's New England Writers' Center Board Workshop (Lunch in Armidale).Some time ago, we switched from print and post to email. It saved time and cash. It allowed us to "communicate" with members more frequently, providing them with a wider range of information.

Now the results of a survey were in. Our members absolutely hated email. Few read the emails, few opened the newsletters on which so much time had been spent on content and design. Consulting some of our sister organisations, they told us that around 5% of emails were opened and read. The equivalent figure for print and post was about 95%.

Looking at these stats, we decided to stop using email as a communications device. We are going back to the old print and post. It just works better even though it is much more expensive.

I wondered about you. Do you hate emails? How on earth do you manage your email traffic? I can't.

Are we seeing the death of emails?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lunch in Armidale

Back from Armidale a little earlier tonight and catching up. This is a photo from lunch. Note the mud bricks. Further comments follow the photo.

NEWC board workshop lunch, 30 Nov 14

I drove to Armidale yesterday, back this evening, for a Board workshop of the New England Writers’ Centre. For the benefit of those who do not know Australian geography, that’s six plus hours north from Sydney. overnight Armidale, six plus hours back, all for a hour workshop. It was worth it. The workshop was good, lunch prepared by Sophie Masson and partner David magnificent.

I will write a proper post later in the week.    


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Saturday morning musings - Heather Ewart and the Country Party, Mr Abbott and problems with what to do and how to do

The first part of Heather Ewart's A Country Road: the Nationals (ABC TV) really took me back as it did for others.. In a Facebook comment Paul Barratt, one of Doug's Deputy Secretaries during the Fraser year's,  recollected: 
Heather's Episode 1 really brought back some memories, memories like ringing the general store at New Brighton via Billinudgel (aka the Summer Capital) and leaving a message for Doug to ring me back. Some time later a call from a public phone in the store, with that familiar voice yelling "Paul? You wanted to talk to me?" etc. Another: Curly Nixon's steadfast refusal to have a phone installed at his beach house. Those were the days!
I had the same reaction to the same incidents. It may seem odd to focus on the refusal of senior ministers to interrupt their holidays, to reject 24/7 unless it was really necessary, but there was a certain balance to it. Doug ran the country from his caravan, and the country was no worse for that. I will write a proper interpretative memoir once the series has finished.

As an aside, I wandered across to Don Aitkin's place to see what his reactions might be to the program. He wrote a number of perceptive books on the Country Party and knew the players. Sadly, or at least I think it so, climate change has come to dominate Don's world. When he first started writing on climate change I was interested and found it a useful corrective to some of the almost theological writing that was and still is around on climate change. Theology goes two ways. I find now that I tune out unless there is something new.

 The negative reporting of the Abbott Government drags on after a somewhat chaotic week. Mark Kenny's  
Tony Abbott steers ship into storm of uncertainty is an example.Apparently "conservative" commentators are upset. I had to put conservative in inverted commas. It is far from clear to me that either Andrew Bolt or Janet Albrechtsen, for example, are conservative in the normal sense that word is used.

I seem to have been dragged into commenting into Australian political events as they proceed. Here I want to come back to the last sentence in my last post, How to make a mess: Mr Abbott’s confusion with objectives, strategy and tactics. There I ended: Meantime, things that are really important get lost in the confusion.

I write about both the what to do and the how to do. On the first, in the lead-up to the last Federal election I suggested that the campaign had become a policy free zone. We almost seem to be in that position now, despite the volume of reporting. And yet, a lot is happening.

Staying with politics, the Victorian elections are this weekend. The latest opinion polls show a small swing back to the Napthine Coalition government, with the most likely result a narrow Labor win. Blowed if I know, however. It all depends on individual seat results.

In Melbourne as in Canberra, we have the prospect of a one term government. In Melbourne as in Canberra, there is no sign that the opposition has regrouped, developed new ideas. The Victorian election has been marked by what one might variously call retail or supermarket politics. There is little new, just long lists of promised activities.

Regardless of whether I agree with Mr Abbott or not, there is a strong case for governments to have at least two terms. I am not talking mandated terms, just that governments need enough time to evolve, oppositions enough time to develop alternative positions in response. Because both sides get locked into stylized positions set within existing frames, we also need circuit breakers,. movements that will capture and force recognition and response to new needs. The Labor and Country Parties played this role,  as indeed (dare I say it?) did One Nation!

One Nation lanced a boil by giving recognition to feelings that existed but had become suppressed within the Australian electorate. By venting those feelings, One Nation allowed the country to move on.

I said that I was concerned with the how as well as the why. Just at the moment, I am probably more concerned with the how.

Interesting interview on ABC Radio National this morning. The link is not yet up. I will add it if I can.

I suppose the fist key point was that engineering studies taught engineering science. The question of engineering practice had been placed aside, something you learned on the job. That was fine when you had Government public works departments that provided a conservative but deep exposure to engineering practice. But now with outsourcing, nobody is providing access to engineering practice, The private sector in Australian and many other countries is effectively free-loading off previous practice knowledge. One outcome is a rise in cost over-runs.

Now there are all sorts of issues here. I am just recording it now for later analysis.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How to make a mess: Mr Abbott’s confusion with objectives, strategy and tactics

There is a lot to be said for getting a title just right. On 15 October, I put up a short post simply called Defining shirtfronting. As of today, that post has had 4,768 page views (!) making it the third most popular post in this blog’s history, 319 in the last week long after the original event.

Now that Mr Abbott has indicated a need to clear the binnacles of the ship of Government, this is a euphemism for accepting defeat on some things, commentators are stepping in with suggestions.

One of the things that I really didn’t understand about the timing of the ABC cuts was why do it now? It just opened up a new front, another wound, for a Government already struggling. Sitting on the train this morning and trying to understand just what had happened to this Government when it should have been riding comfortably, I got out a piece of paper and started jotting down some of the Government’s stated objectives. I did so because I found that I was getting confused, I just didn’t understand quite what was happening.

Sitting there with my sheet of paper ordering and re-ordering things, drawing circles and lines between circles, I came to a fairly simple confusion. The Government’s problem is that it has too many objectives, confuses tactics with strategy  and does not properly recognise the inherent conflicts and choices built into its objectives. It takes an objective, say restoring the budget to surplus, and then turns the selected means to achieving that into objectives in their own right.

If you take the budget surplus one as an example, it might achieve this by lower spend, higher taxes or some combination of the two. While the Government is actually doing this, it has increased fuel taxes as an example, its associated objective of lowering taxes does not allow it to say that.

Then we come to the mechanisms to be used to lower spending. Here the Government has chosen policy initiatives that fit its ideological stance. There is nothing wrong with that, However, it has then turned the detail of those initiatives into major objectives into their own right. This puts it on a hiding to nowhere by widening the battlefield. Meantime, the economy has worsened, making it harder to achieve the original objective.

I could go on by working through objective after objective. The same pattern appears. This confusion will persist until the Government achieves a small number of primary objectives that link in some way and can be explained.  Can they do this? I wonder.

Meantime, things that are really important get lost in the confusion.   

NEWC response to the NSW Government’s discussion paper on a NSW cultural policy now on-line.

Some time ago, I referred to the response from the New England Writers’ Centre to the NSW Government’s discussion paper on the development of a cultural policy for NSW. I promised Evan who wanted to read it that I would place it on-line and then let him know. I have now posted it to Scribd.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

ABC cuts and the progressive reduction in the capacity of the Australian media to reflect us back to ourselves

The cuts to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) budget had been well foreshadowed. And, yes, whichever way you cut it, it is another broken promise. The reactions on both sides have been very stereotyped.  In this short post, I want to come at the issue another way, one that reflects my own biases


This is the web site for Australia's Channel Nine news, this for Channel 7, this for Channel 10. Now compare it with ABC TV or, for the sake of completeness, SBS news.

This is the web site for NBN TV news, this for Prime TV. I have deliberately selected these TV stations because they still have local and regional news.

Prime local news has declined as the network spread, while its regional news has always been fairly narrow. The third Northern NSW TV network, Northern Rivers TV, also had local news, but this vanished after it became absorbed into the Ten network.

Regional TV is an area where the commercial networks were, still are, much better than the ABC. You see, ABC is state/metro based and has no local or regional TV coverage at all except, I suppose, where the state or territory entity is is so small that the coverage is by definition local.

ABC radio is quite different. This is the ABC Kimberley site, this the New England North West site. ABC radio is the main source of news and events at regional level outside the still very important if struggling local newspapers. Those papers themselves have an increasingly localised focus.

This is the web site of the Fairfax owned Armidale Express; I write the Express's history column. The site format is the same for all Fairfax regional papers. The regional referred to there is not regional in the old sense, but regional in the sense of feed from other Fairfax papers in regional (ie non-metro) Australia.  

If we now turn to special interest broadcasting, ABC radio is the medium par excellence when it comes to country or regional Australia with programs like the now to be closed Bush Telegraph.


We all have our own biases and perceptions. I would argue, for example, that the earlier decision to close the ABC's international service was an own goal of monumental  proportions. In similar vein, faced with cuts the ABC is choosing what to cut with varying responses depending on your perceptions of the value of those things being cut or, alternatively, being saved or even extended. The Australian Financial Review, for example, mounted a swinging attack on the ABC's decision to extend digital coverage.

In all the changes that have taken place in the media, the ABC cuts and consequent re-orientation are just the latest, the things that I have most noticed are a gradual impoverishment at two levels.

One is simply access to news and information. Yes, I am a news junkey, but I think that it's still true. The second and the one that I am most interested in, is the progressive reduction in the capacity of the Australian media to reflect us back to ourselves in all our local diversity.

 The Financial Review argued that the proliferation of on-line sites meant that there was no justification for the ABC to move further into the digital space. That may be true, depending on the way that the arguments are phrased. But I operate in the digital space the paper is talking about.

I created two regional specific New England blogs in part because I was interested in the area in question, in part because there was very little coordinated coverage of the broader area I was interested in. Then I realised that my blogs had become in part journals of record because there was no longer any, I mean any, media source that you might go to for this stuff.

Now here there is a problem. I am a single person with broad interests. How do I find the time for my self-identified journal of record role?  Clearly there is demand; the stats show that, but I struggle to maintain the blogs.

This brings me to the simple take-home message from this post. The decision by the Government to cut funding, the subsequent response by ABC management, further reduces coverage in areas (geographic and subject) that I am interested in. There is no point me arguing about the cuts, for or against, because that won't actually affect what has become a firmly established trend.

If I want to do anything, I am going to have to do it myself, using the platforms I have. Whether that makes sense I leave it to others to judge. For the moment, I'm just thinking about responses.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday Forum – exploring stereotypes about Australia and Australians

I was browsing the Geocurrents recent series on the Brazilian elections (Preliminary Observations on Brazil’s 2014 Presidential Election, Regional Stereotypes in Brazil, Brazil’s Soy Empire: Mato Grosso in the 2014 Election). There I came across a link to this site, National Stereotypes. It’s quite fun. On Australia: Australian Stereotypes or 25 Pictures That Prove Australia Is The Craziest. Or you can combine stereotypes:
“ In heaven, the cops are British, the lovers are French, the food is Italian, the cars are German, and the whole thing is run by the Swiss.
In hell, the cops are German, the lovers are Swiss, the food is British, the cars are French, and the whole thing is run by the Italians.”
Or in the case of Brazil, Brazilian women!
Obviously stereotypes and stereotyping has its negative side. A prejudice is a stereotype writ large. The SBS series  First Contact deals with this, if in a way that I rather dislike.

Still, I thought that I might devote this Monday forum to collecting a few stereotypes about Australia. They might be Australian’s perspectives of themselves, others’ perspectives of Australians, or Australians’ perspectives of other parts of Australia, cities or regions.

Feel free to wander in any direction you like.

In North Queensland, for example, people wear big hats and talk like Bob Katter; do the chardonnay drinking socialists of Bungendore still exist?; is Adelaide in a constant state of rebellion against its puritan past?; are drop bears parse?; what do you think of the latest Bundaberg rum ad?. This, by the way, is the ad. It seems to me that Bundaberg has moved away from the Australian stereotype of its past to try to capture another set of stereotypes!

Well, I leave this discussion in your hands.   

And for kvd, this is a drop bear ad: