Thursday, May 23, 2019

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

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

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

This is a large and geographically diverse area. From Lake Macquarie in the south to Tweed Heads on the Queensland border is over 700 km (434 miles) by road, from Grafton in the Northern Rivers to Brewarrina on the Barwon River is 716 km (445 miles). From the old gold mining town of Nundle at the southern edge of the Tablelands, it is some 400 km (249 miles), almost five hours drive time, to the to the orchard and wine center of Stanthorpe in Queensland’s Granite Belt.

To provide an international comparison, by road London to Edinburgh is around 666 km (414 miles), New York to Washington a mere 364km (226 miles). To put this another way, depending upon the precise boundaries adopted, New England at 166,000 plus square kilometres (64,000 square miles) is 25 per cent larger than England.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Following the creation of Queensland with its own North, the coverage of the terms Northern Districts, Northern Provinces or just the North shrank in New South Wales to the area up to the new political border, setting up its own inconsistencies that have grown with time. You can see this easily if you look at terms in use today.

To begin with, what does the term the North mean? It doesn’t mean all of Northern New South Wales, but actually the north-east of NSW, the territory I call New England. The term Northern New South Wales itself has become very confused.

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

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

This type of naming confusion can be found throughout New England. I have already referred to the Northern as compared to the New England Tablelands. The name North Coast is another example.

Originally the name was attached to the coastal strip from the border to the Hunter Valley. Then came a short gap to the Central Coast, followed by another gap around Sydney and then the South Coast. This at least made a certain sense. Today we have the term Mid North Coast used to describe the area from the Northern Rivers to the Hunter. But where is the South North Coast? Or, indeed, the North Coast itself? It is now hard to say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They knew that there would be strong resentment further north at the inclusion of Newcastle, but could see the logic. The previously adopted boundaries had put a line south of Maitland to include the important railhead and the separatist areas in the Upper Hunter, but this cut the Hunter Valley in two. Apart from some campaigning by Drummond in Newcastle in 1931 where he explored the degree of support, there had been no education of Lower Hunter or Newcastle voters. Could they educate them in time? In the end, the leadership decided that the time was not right for a referendum, a decision that they would come greatly  to regret. Separatist agitation now rested.

The third new state wave came from a somewhat unexpected source, David Drummond’s son-in-law. As the Second World War began to wind down in 1944, attention turned to post-war reconstruction. There was a creative bubble of new ideas. Belshaw, then normally called Doc and later Prof, did not agree with his father-in-law that new states were an answer, but was committed to decentralisation and Northern development. To his mind, the answer lay in effective regional councils of the type proposed by the Cohen Commission. Along with geology lecturer Alan Voisey, also from the New England University College, Belshaw launched a regional councils’ movement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 20, 2019

Monday Forum - Australia's voted!

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

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

Update 21 May 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 16, 2019

New England Travels One: Setting the Scene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Eggs, egging and to egg somebody on - a note

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Responding to Sami Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 06, 2019

Monday Forum - what are your favourite idioms?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 04, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 And I will get back to writing here! 
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