Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Blogs can come from any sector. The key requirement is that the blog be a business blog.
By way of background, Brian's blog is a leading source of information about and examples of small business blogging. This nomination gives you the opportunity to promote your blog to a wider audience. It gives us a chance to showcase business blog examples from Regional Australia, hopefully encouraging interest in business blogging.
This can benefit existing businesses in Regional Australia. But we also hope to help those thinking of moving to Regional Australia by showing how you can use business blogs to reach audiences independent of location.
Nominations can be submitted by inserting the blog name in the comments section or by emailing me on ndarala(at)optusnet(dot)com(dot)au.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Photo: Armidale Country Week team debrief. From left to right Harold Ritch - Jobs Australia, Pip Warrick - The Armidale School, Stuart George - Petersons Winery, Kevin Abey - Armidale Dumaresq Council, Stuart Allardice - Armidale Dumaresq Council, Joan Dunn - Jobs Australia, Marina Schiender - University of New England, Keren Brown - New England Girls School and Peter Georkis - Hutchinson and Harlow.
I had been going to continue my posts on understanding the regional alternative with a look at Wagga Wagga, but in preparing another story I found some material relevant to an earlier story.
In my post of 12 August I reported on my attendance at Country Week 06, a high intensity promotion intended to sell the virtues of life in regional NSW to Sydney audiences.
I complained in that post about the decision of the Queensland Government to run a rival expo at the same time, together with the refusal of certain NSW regional cities to participate this year.
I am pleased to report that Country Week appears to have been a considerable success for at least some centres.
The NSW regional city of Armidale has run a major coordinated stand at each of the three Country Weeks held so far. At the team debrief (photo) held soon after Country Week, team members reported:
- Jobs Australia reported a keen interest from people in trades, including plumbers, gas fitters, carpenters and truck drivers. Stuart George from Petersons Armidale Winery (see story on Petersons Armidale on the New England, Australia blog) had been approached by a chef seeking to relocate.
- The Armidale School, Presbyterian Ladies College and New England Girls school had received applications from prospective teachers (The Armidale School had recruited a teacher at the previous Country Week) as well as applications for enrollment. The University of New England had received a number of enquiries from prospective students at all levels as well as enquiries for general and academic staff positions.
- The Council had already received a visit from one couple wishing to establish a business in Armidale and were following up two others. Hutchinson and Harlow were working on five firm enquiries for houses and were following up 138 people who had expressed interest in relocation.
I think that this really is a key point, the city has been organised and persistent. In this context, team members reported that most people who called at the Armidale Dumaresq stand this year knew about the city and were making specific enquiries. Many were young professionals with families and a large number came from the Hills district in Sydney. IT professionals, lawyers, teachers, accountants, doctors and nurses all visited the stand to make enquiries.
"I think we've exploded the myth that people have to leave their city lifestyle behind when they come to Armidale," said Economic Development Officer, Kevin Abey. "Most I spoke to have the financial resources to move and a lot of them told me their motive was to buy back their travelling time and spend it with their kids."
According to Hutchinson and Harlowe's Peter Georkis: "Ninety nine percent of the people we spoke to want to move out of Sydney. They find Armidale attractive because we have a university, people from 63 different nationalities, a youthful demographic, a food and wine culture, good schools and so many sporting and cultural activities."
Exhibiting for the first time, the Australian Capital Territory was also satisfied with the initial outcomes.
According to Chief Minister Jon Stanhope, 200 people, mostly young couples with children, had expressed strong interest in moving to Canberra. Mr Stanhope believed that the Live in Canberra team's three-day visit to the Country Week expo in Sydney had been a success.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
People who live in one of the metros actually think of their life in terms of a series of overlapping geographic circles with boundaries determined by home location, interests, work, family circumstances all tempered by travel time. So depending on precise circumstances we might find:
- one circle around home where people in fact spend much of their time. Boundaries vary, but are generally set by 10-15 minutes driving time one way
- a much bigger circle set by the maximum amount of time people are prepared to spend travelling to do something a little special. If you live in Rosebery in Sydney, for example, you are likely to eat out in the Spot (5 minutes) far more than at Bondi (17-30 minutes depending on traffic)
- another small circle around your working location generally linked to walking times. This circle may be geographically distant from the home circle, involving considerable travel time
- another and often large circle (up to 80 plus minutes) linked to school and especially sporting activities given that venues are geographically dispersed
- another still larger circle set by the distance people are prepared to travel for a weekend away. So again in the Sydney case popular destinations include the Hunter Valley vineyards (2 hours driving time plus or minus depending on where you are in Sydney), the Blue Mountains (2 hours driving time plus or minus) or the snow fields (6-7 hours depending on start point and traffic).
Anybody who lives in a metro city will understand this and know their own patterns.
But the thing that I find odd is that when it comes to comparing their city with a regional alternative, people seem somehow to think in terms of the city as a unit and compare it with the regional centre as a unit instead of thinking of their real lifestyle and then using that to analyse the regional option.
In the next post I will tease this out taking the NSW city of Wagga Wagga as an example.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
We began the Regional Living Australia journey with the simple objective of providing people with easier access to information about work, life or play in Regional Australia. This has now broadened to making the regional experience itself more accessible.
This is a vast canvass, one really beyond the capacity of any single site. We need far more regional sites and especially regionally focused blogs if the varying regional experience is to be properly captured and presented. Here our experience with Regional Australia Living on one side, the New England, Australia blog on the other, is instructive. Regional Living allows us to present material across a broad canvas, while New England, Australia drills down into the detail of the regional experience in one Australian region.
We have continued to experiment since this post.
I am very happy with the development of the New England Australia blog. It sits nicely in the gap between broader state or national sites and the narrower regional or local sites. While a big area, depending on the way the area is defined New England is about the size of England with considerable diversity, there is a historical and geographical unity. All this makes it easy to write, creating what has (in my view) become a very good blog from a reader interest perspective.
I am far less happy with progress on the Regional Living Australia blog. It is still far too bitsy, lacking in coherence. The differences between the two blogs are reflected in the traffic patterns, with New England Australia presently attracting twice as many readers.
The problems with the Regional Living Australia blog can be considered along two dimensions.
The first is the target audience. This is quite broad including:
- overseas people interested in Regional Australia for migration or investment, education, tourism or simply out of curiosity
- metro dwellers interested in Regional Australia for work, life or simply play
- those living in Regional Australia interested because the blog is about them and their experiences or because of the picture it provides about life elsewhere in Regional Australia.
The second problem area is the one I have mentioned in my previous post, the sheer diversity of the Regional Australia experience. This difficulty is compounded by information gaps.
Yesterday I spent an hour in an Angus & Robertson branch working my way through sections from wine to food to travel to Australian history, looking for material that might give me ideas.
Wine is easy. Australian wine is synonomous with Regional Australia. The geographic structure adopted makes it easy to look at wine in the context of different regions. There is a wealth of on-line and printed material
Food is more complicated. Food in Regional Australia has changed dramatically in ways still dimly perceived. Part of these changes reflect national trends, part international trends such as the slow and local food movements. But part also reflect specific on-ground developments including the growing nexus between food and wine in specific areas, the bush foods movement, the development of a range of speciality products. These changes are still poorly documented.
Similar changes can be seen in entertainment. Again wine has had a major influence because of the growth of entertainment linked to the vineyards. But the same trend can be seen in the thousands of local festivals, many now incorporating food components. These festivals have always had a local focus, but there is more variety and that variety reflects local interests. The growth of Tamworth and country music is a dramatic example, but is a tip of a much larger iceberg ranging from the Part Fairy Folk Festival down to small local events. Again the changes appear poorly documented.
There have also been major linked changes in both tourism related activities and the pattern of visitor traffic. I say linked, because the two feed on each other. Some of these, backpacker traffic along the eastern seaboard for example, are well known. Others, such as the spread of tourism facilities and activities in inland Australia, are less well known.
From my viewpoint, one of the most interesting things is the way these changes are increasing local and regional differences as areas seek to differentiate themselves. Locals may not always like the changes, but they are making for an increasingly diversified regional experience.
Linking this back to my starting point, the challenge remains to find the best way of presenting all this diversity to a varied audience without becoming fragmented and bitsy. We want to entice, but also inform.
I suppose the point we are at at the moment in our thinking is that we need to combine a focus on themes with more general interest items that can also be used to illustrate particular themes.
There is a chicken and egg problem here in selecting themes. We need feedback from our readers to help us select and focus. But we won't get the feedback unless we attract sufficient readers in the first place!
Still, a journey begins with a single step. Watch this space for developments!
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Originally a historian by training, I was reminded of work that I read many years ago on the discovery of childhood. This work argued that childhood as such was a modern concept, dating from the days when incomes in European countries at last increased to the point that children no longer had to work from an early age. Prior to that there were essentially infants and then young adults so far the bulk of the population was concerned.
Today, the commentators argued, we have turned the extended schooling period into just another work phase during which we try to prepare children for competition in the later paid work phase. All from metro areas, they pointed to the travel time associated with activities as a major contributing factor.
Well, there is in fact a choice here.
In my post on Sydney or the Bush I compared life in Rosebery, a Sydney suburb with many positive features, with Armidale, a regional centre offering access to at least equivalent if not better facilities. I concluded that Sydney life involved each family member in between ten and twenty hours extra travel time per week. This was time not available to other activities.
We all make life style choices. This holds for what we want to give to our kids as well as where we want to live.
We presently live in Sydney for family reasons. Having moved here for those reasons we are locked in because it would be very disruptive for kids in late secondary school or early university if we did move. But for those with young children who can move and who want both closeness to kids and an active life with less stress, then the regional living option is potentially very attractive.
I suppose the thing that makes me saddest with my own children is that they do not know what they have missed. They are happy and appear well adjusted, and that's good. But the actual texture of life is so different, so much busier for the same activities, that the regional living experience is an alien world.
Friday, September 15, 2006
Photo: Gordon Smith, Look and See: a pictorial journal of life in rural Australia, Afghan cemetery, Maree
The Ghan (and here) is one of Australia's most famous and iconic trains, travelling the 2979 kilometres between Adelaide and Darwin twice weekly.
Ghan is short for Afghan and is named after the cameleers who helped open up the Australian outback.
From the mid 1880s, thousands of camels were imported into Australia to provide transport. Today the Australian camels reckoned to number between 500,000 and 700,000 are the only feral herds of their kind in the world.
These camels were often guided and cared for by Muslim cameleers. These came from lands as far away as Egypt, Turkey and Persia though most came from from northern India and what today is Pakistan. However, the men were all, almost always incorrectly, called Afghans or simply "Ghans."
Men came on two or three years contracts, but often lived out the rest of their lives in Australia. While some became wealthy, most worked long hours for low pay, forming enclaves in outback towns such as Maree. There they quickly built mosques. Marked by their tin minarets, these became the centre of community life.
The name Ghan came to be applied the trains travelling the line between Port Augusta in the south to Alice Springs in the centre. Construction of this line began in 1879, using camels to carry material and supplies to the men building the line. Following completion of the north-south transcontinental railway between Adelaide and Darwin, the name was transferred to the new passenger service.
The journey between Adelaide and Darwin takes two days, with the train offering a variety of accommodation and seating. I was especially attracted to the special carriages on offer, the Chairman's Carriage, the Prince of Wales Carriage, the Governor's Lounge and the Sir John Forrest Carriage.
As a historian I was also especially attracted to the historic Prince of Wales Carriage, originally built in 1919 to accommodate a royal visit from Edward, Prince of Wales. This beautifully crafted timber carriage was recently refurbished and maintains many original features, including high ceilings of Wunderlich pressed metal and cathedral glass doors. Features include:
- Accommodates up to 10 guests, allowing for that special occasion or different business meeting
- 4 Twin Cabins and 2 large single cabins which comprise to form the Mountbatten Suite
- Lounge featuring ornate wood carvings
- Full size main bathroom
- Guests dine in the Gold Kangaroo Restaurant at no extra cost
- Private charters can be arranged between Adelaide and Darwin.
The cost? A very reasonable $21,300 dollars one way for the full trip! Oh well, I can dream.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Photo: Gordon Smith, Diamantina River
When I was growing up one of my favourite books was Ion Idriess's The Cattle King (1936).
I was reminded of this by Gordon Smith's superb pictorial story (the story starts here) of his journey through outback Australia. Gordon's photos are central, each accompanied by a terse description with supporting links that somehow captures the interest and even romance of the journey.
The Cattle King is the story of Sidney Kidman. Born in 1857, Kidman built a huge pastoral empire. Central to this was the concept of a chain of cattle stations that would allow Kidman to move stock across Australia from property to property as climatic conditions changed. By the time of World War I he controlled station country considerably greater in area than England or Tasmania and nearly as great as Victoria.
The Channel Country, the vast area of the country including the Diamantina River (photo) draining into Lake Eyre, was central to Kidman's plans. While Lake Eyre itself is normally a dry salt lake, the Channel Country rivers carry water from the far north of Australia and often have some water even in dry times.
As an aside, I was interested to see that the Australian Dictionary of Biography story was wriiten by Russell Ward. Russell was one of Australia's most famous historians and one of my teachers at the University of New England. He had been a communist and was blacklisted during the cold war. He was offered a job at UNE with my father's support (Dad was then a senior academic there) to the immense benefit of the University.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Photo: Gourmet cooking class, Chapel Hill Gourmet Retreat
Two years I went to a BBQ put on by the NSW National Party in support of Country Week, an annual promotion designed to sell the virtues to Sydney dwellers of Regional NSW for life, work and play.
It was without a doubt the greatest BBQ I have ever been to. The venue - an upstairs garden area at Parliament House overlooking Macquarie Street - was superb. But what was far better was the food and wine carefully selected by each National Party member to showcase their electorate. I had no idea of the standard and variety on show.
Since then I have been monitoring Australian regional food. In this context, I am pleased to report that Regional Food Australia should soon be back in regular publication. The magazine together with its associated blog are on my personal favourite list.
It's never easy doing something new. Fred Harden, Jan O'Connell and Mark Kelly have struggled to bring out a publication that will properly showcase the enormous variety in food offered by Regional Australia. Well, they are getting there!
In my post on McLaren Vale and the Fleurieu Peninsula I mentioned as an introduction that I was in loco parentis to two elderly cats whose UK owners, Alison and Geoff, had decided to migrate to McLaren Vale in South Australia. This provided an excuse for a story on the Fleurieu Peninsula.
Alison and Geoff have now been in Australia for a week. Their overwhelming first impression, one that pleases me enormously, is the friendliness of the people they have met. This has made their initial adjustment to a new country very easy.
Now there is a link between Alison and Geoff, food in Regional Australia and the Fleurieu Peninsular.
In the story on McLaren Vale and the Fleurieu Peninsula I mentioned moves to develop food and cooking on the Peninsula to compliment the wine. Following my latest visit to the Regional Food Australia web site I can now report that Pip Forrester, one of the heroines of Australian regional food, was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the 2006 Restaurant and Catering South Australia Annual Awards for Excellence.
Pip Forrester is presently managing the beautiful Chapel Hill Gourmet Retreat. This provides a variety of experiences including cooking classes (photo). Why go to Tuscany when you can experience Australia's equivalent?
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Photo: Frensham School, Kate Holcombe
This morning I had to drive my youngest daughter to a hockey game at Frensham. Frensham and its associated schools Gib Gate and Sturt (the Frensham link covers all three schools) are located in Mittagong in the beautiful southern highlands of New South Wales, a bit over an hour's drive from Sydney south east along the Expressway.
I got lost getting to the sports fields and therefore had an unexpected tour of the extensive and attractive school grounds that would have been very interesting had I not been worried about getting Clare to the game on time.
It had been raining heavily when we left Sydney and was still misting when we arrived at the driveway that took us down through the bush to the hockey fields, parking in a paddock nearby marked out with streamers as a car park. Being in the highlands, Mittagong is a lot colder than Sydney, so I clustered with the other parents on the sideline in the cool and misting rain to watch the game. The open fire in the canteen was a welcome and civilised touch at half time. The game itself was a good, free flowing game finally won 2-0 by Frensham.
I had always known that Frensham was a Winifred West school, but had no idea who Winifred West was, so I did some research when I got home. The West story is a remarkable one, one that illustrates both the diversity of life in Regional Australia and its excellence, while also having an unexpected but somehow satisfying link to hockey. The material that follows is drawn especially from Priscilla Kennedy's article in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.
Winifred West (1881-1971) was born in the village of Frensham in Surrey, England on 21 December 1881. She was educated at Queen Anne's School, Caversham, and Newnham College, Cambridge, where she read Medieval and Modern Languages.
After leaving the University in 1903, Miss West taught at Guernsey Ladies' College. While teaching at Guernsey, she became engaged to an Australian and followed him to New South Wales in 1907: on the voyage she fell in love with an explorer in the British Antarctic Expedition and broke her engagement. Staying in Sydney, she taught private pupils, studied painting with Julian Ashton and played hockey at Rushcutters Bay where she met Phyllis (d.1973), daughter of (Sir) Charles Clubbe. In 1908 they founded the New South Wales Women's Hockey Association and then in the following year an interstate women's competition. Both played for NSW.
A critic of contemporary education, Miss West was persuaded to implement her own ideas. She and Miss Clubbe decided to return to England so that Miss Clubbe could gain teaching qualifications at the Bergman Osterberg Physical Training College and to enable Miss West to gain further teaching experience at Harrogate Ladies' College. This completed they returned to Australia in 1912 to begin their quest for a suitable site.
Believing that children should be taught in rural surrounds, Miss West selected Mittagong as an attractive rural location while still being relatively close to Sydney via a direct train route. In July 1913 they opened Frensham as a girls' boarding-school, with a borrowed £A1000 and the help of Winifred's mother, sister Frances and friend Margaret Hartfield who had all arrived in New South Wales. Later, in 1920 Winifred's other sister Margaret and her husband Arthur Topp, who became school secretary, would also settle at Mittagong.
The school began with just three pupils outnumbered by the five mistresses! It quickly became known as an unusual school with a family atmosphere: with non-denominational religion, few rules, and no competitions, marks or prizes, it emphasized music, art and drama, as well as academic subjects and sport. There was always provision for examination and non-examination courses. Stressing self-discipline and flexibility, Miss West aimed to develop the whole nature, aesthetic and spiritual, intellectual and physical. Numbers grew steadily, passing the 100 student mark by 1925.
Throughout the 1920s and 30s, Miss West played an active role in discussions on educational issues. A member of the British Music Society, she was a vice-president of the New Education Fellowship in the 1930s. With Phil Clubbe she travelled abroad in 1921, 1927 and 1931, and visited the Soviet Union in 1935.
Few Australians now will understand the degree of isolation felt by many Australians during this period with a small European population located on the edge of Asia and at the end of long steamer routes from the mother country, Europe or North America. The New Education Fellowship Conferences held throughout Australia in 1937 played a major role in bringing new ideas to Australia. David Drummond (here and here), the NSW Minister for Education and a leading educational reformer, described the Sydney Conference as "one of the finest things that has happened to education in this state for many years".
Laying foundations for the future, Miss West insisted on the involvement of staff, past and present girls, parents and friends. She lived simply and could be shrewd with money. When a suitable house or piece of land came on the market, she bought, confident that funds would be forthcoming.
By the time she retired formally as head of Frensham in 1938, Miss West had laid solid foundations. I have used the word "formally" to describe retirement because she continued to live nearby with Miss Clubbe and remained Governing Director until 1971.
In 1941 Winifred opened Sturt in Frensham's grounds to provide spinning, weaving and carpentry for 14-year-olds from Mittagong Public School. Professional production began in 1951 with the arrival of a German master weaver and in 1954 a pottery was established.
By the time I first came in contact with Sturt in the late 1960s, it was recognised was one of if not the leading Australian centre in ceramics due partly to the presence of high profile potters such as Les Blakebrough, John Edye, Ian McKay and Campbell Hegan. Today Sturt continues this tradition under Paul Davis (photo), while also playing a significant role in other craft areas.
The third school in the Winifred West Group, Gib Gate, was founded in 1953 as a primary boarding school for girls, again with Miss West's support and encouragement.
Winifred West died on 26 September 1971, leaving a very substantial legacy.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
At the end of my first post on Cultural Activities in Regional Australia I said that I would devote some posts to a preliminary look at cultural activities across Regional Australia.
This first post simply provides a few information sources.
Regional Arts Australia On Line provides a national entry point for arts activities across Regional Australia. It includes a range of useful links. ABC Arts On Line also provides national stories across Regional Australia.
Another national site is the Australia Council's Arts in Regional Australia. Craft Australia provides information on regional galleries supporting craft activities. CAN (Collections Australia Network) provides a valuable entry point for musuems and collections across Australia.
At state level, there are various arts bodies with a regional focus. An initial list follows:
- Regional Arts NSW provides an entry point for cultutal activities across regional NSW. Its e-bulletin provides regular updates. The Regional Galleries Association of NSW provides an entry point for the various regional art galleries spread across NSW.
- Regional Arts Victoria provides a similar service for that state.
- The Queensland Arts Council claims to be Australia's largest regional arts network. The Regional Galleries Association of Queensland provides information about Queensland's regional galleries.
- Country Arts SA provides the same service to regional South Australia.
- Arts NT provides some information about activities in the Northern Territory. Artback also provides NT information.
Monday, September 04, 2006
Gordon Smith wrote: On route from Windorah to Birdsville we stopped by the JC Hotel. It’s now 50 years since it was abandoned, and nothing much is left.
I feel incredibly pleased. In my post on Queensland Trains I referred to Gordon Smith's rather nice photographic blog called A pictorial journal of life in rural Australia.
Gordon has just given me approval to use his photographs on the various blogs that I am involved with. I feel so pleased. He has some great shots. I cannot do full credit to Gordon's photos in the e-blogger format, but I can give a taste.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
Photo: Painting of Chaney Coventry, New England Regional Art Museum
One of the things that worries some in our big metro centres like Sydney or Melbourne in considering a move to Regional Australia is that they will lose access to cultural activities like art, opera, concerts or drama. The reality is different, but also quite complicated.
I think that it has certainly been true in the past that certain cultural activities have not been available in regional areas simply because the population has not been there to support them. If you look at the post on my personal blog, Personal Reflections, on Brian D Barnes and the New England Theatre Centre, you will see that this mid sixties attempt to establish a fully professional theatre company in a regional area failed largely because the population was too small to support it. But you will also see that, at least so far as I was concerned, it provided an intensity of experience that would probably not have been available in a metro area.
Things have changed enormously since the sixties. The development of major regional centres means that a greater variety is now available to those within a reasonable drive of such centres. The internet itself has changed things by making information about activities and events more readily available. Governments have helped as well through the provision of various cultural support activities.
While this may be a contentious argument, I suspect that it has always been the case that Regional Australia has contributed more to Australian cultural activities relative to size of population than the bigger metros. I am not talking here about the dominance of country themes in our cultural history, but about people.
I think that the size of this contribution has been concealed in part by the fact that so many of these people have moved to metro centres or overseas to pursue their careers. I also think that it has been concealed because unlike Tasmania, many of our major regions like New England, Riverina or Capricornia failed to achieve statehood and the trappings and focus that went with statehood.
As a case in point, I read and enjoyed Patrice Newell's book the River (Penguin 2003). Patrice is a tree changer who moved to Gundy in the Hunter Valley and has written a series of best selling books around the experience. Patrice's book triggered an initial post on my New England, Australia blog on New England - Writers.
Since then I have written six more posts on New England writers and barely scratched the surface. I feel that I have unleashed a tiger that might consume me. Yet if I were to ask any of my Sydney or Melbourne friends to name one New England writer I doubt that they could.
I am sure that the New England case is duplicated across Regional Australia. For that reason, I am going to devote my next few posts to providing at least an overview of cultural activities across Regional Australia.