Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Understanding Australia's regional differences - introduction

One thing I have noticed in examining the search engine listings that bring people to this site is the continuing interest in regional difference in Australia. I thought, therefore, that I might provide some clues to help visitors understand the differences.

The starting point is geography. Geography - landforms, soils, climate - affects every aspect of life. To start with a broad example.

In a coastal tropical region you are likely to find cyclone advice pinned to your door. You will find that you should not swim in the sea during parts of the year because of the presence of dangerous stingers. You may find warnings about crocodiles. You will find the architecture different - more open room, fans.

Compare this with arid Australia. There you will find warnings about driving without water, about what to do if you break down, about the need to let people know what your plans are so that you can be found if lost.

This type of broad difference cascades down into a variety of differences at regional and sub-regional level. Each area has its own pattern of life dictated by the seasons and by varying economic activity.

Then, too, each area has its own history and ethnic mix, again affected by geography. The look and feel of the streetscape varies, not just in terms of architecture but in the people themselves.

To get a feel for this, look first at the posts on New England, a major regional area centred on the New England Tablelands and the adjoining river valleys spreading to the east and west of the tablelands. This is a large area with its own diversity.

Photo: Hailstorm, Armidale, New England.

Now compare this with the posts on the Kimberley region, a major region on the other side of the continent. You could in fact be in a different country!

Photo: You never know who you'll meet on the Gibb River road. The Kimberleys. Photo by Vanessa Mills

To some degree, these regional differences are concealed by the presence of English as a core common language, although more than a hundred languages are spoken in Australia. They are also concealed by common institutions and a shared if sometimes divergent history. Yet they remain very real, if sometimes unseen.

In my next post in this series I will look at ways to identify and understand regional difference.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Australia rainfall projections - February to April 2008

Map: Bureau of Metereology rainfall projections February to April 2008.

The Bureau of Metereology has released its latest three month projections on the probablities of rain across Australia. The BOM does so on a rolling monthly basis.

Since the the December projections the proportion of the country likely to receive above average rain has shrunk to the south west of West Australia.

For the rest of the country the rainfall probabilities are 50/50, with equal probablities of above or below average rain. I shall be watching the next projections due to be released at end February with interest to to see if the slight worsening of the outlook has continued.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

In Praise of Picnic Races

Photo: Picnic Races, Dederang, Victoria

I love country race meetings. I especially love picnic races.

For the benefit of international readers, whereas conventional races generally involve professionally trained, grain fed horses, picnic races come from farming and grazing communities, generally involve grass fed animals, and are first and foremost social as well as racing occasions.

How to describe the flavour? Well, I used to be a member of the Armidale Picnic Race Club and for a number of years brought a group of friends up from Canberra to attend.

The day began with the Calcutta in which horses were essentially raffled off. This created a prize pool which was distributed at the end of the day.

Then to the race course for a chicken and champagne lunch followed by the races. The atmosphere here was strictly social. Most of us had no idea as to the quality of the horses beyond any previous results on the picnic races circuit, so we had to find out as best we could.

Late afternoon and we all adjoined for drinks before dressing for the Picnic Races Ball. In all, great fun.

For a period picnic races went into decline. Numbers in local farming and grazing communities had diminished, while those left simply did not have the cash to afford the costs of horses. Now the position appears to have stabilised, with increasing numbers of visitors coming from the city to enjoy the show.

Some people used to be reluctant to attend picnic races because they were seen, with some truth, as the preserve of the social elites. This is no longer true. My experience has been that all clubs welcome visitors.

While Victoria has its own web site, information about specific meets elsewhere can be a little hard to come by. However, a simple Google search will bring up most meets.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Annual Australia Climate Statement 2007

Earlier in January, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology released its annual climate statement. This particular map shows 2007 rainfall compared with historical averages.

Back in November I recorded that the drought was slowly easing. You can see from the map the big sweep where 2007 rainfall was average to well above average. Conversely, the proportion of the country experiencing well below average rainfall has shrunk.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bingara and the Lure of Gold

After a closure of six years, the Three Creeks Gold Mine at Bingara in northwestern New England is now open again to tourists.

Operator of the business, Paul Myer, has owned the lease on the crown land for 20 years. He has just returned from a six-year stint as a mines exploration officer to re-open his tourist attraction.

For a fee, people are invited to pan for gold from the rich red dirt taken from Lady Morgan’s Reef. This particular area has been mined since the 1800s.

“In 1887, there were 30,000 men on this field,” explains Paul.

“Below us is a caved in tunnel from that era. We don’t have to wander far to find old collection bottles or tools that were used at the time.”

Paul guarantees that every visitor who pans will find some gold. He provides instruction on panning for fine gold, which is prevalent in the area. Quartz crystals are also dominant here.

“Everyone is allowed to keep whatever they find. Of course if they find a big nugget, I just get out a hacksaw and we cut it in half!” he jokes.

Paul has also developed, produced and patented a device called a Panner’s Mate, which basically makes panning easier and more efficient. Visitors are welcome to try the Panner’s Mate out, under Paul’s supervision.

The set up at Three Creeks enables people to sit down in comfort to pan for gold or garnets, and spend as long as they like at the mine.

Paul and his partner Joy have set up an extensive display of gold, gems, crystals and rock minerals, mining artifacts and other historic items. There are also plenty of samples for sale.

Should you wish to stay overnight, there are four unpowered van sites and tent sites. There is also an onsite powered caravan available that sleeps up to eight people. A community kitchen is accessible for all visitors, as well as an open fireplace for those late night conversations!

Three Creeks Gold Mine is 25kms from Bingara on the Upper Bingara Road. The fee for people wishing to pan for gold, garnets or crystals is $25 for adults and $15 for children 12 and under. For anyone wishing just to visit the mine the fee is $15 for adults and $10 for children.

Visitors should remember to bring their own food, drink, sunscreen, hat and sensible shoes.

For more information or bookings please phone Paul Myer on 02 6783 2224.

For further information on Bingara phone Bingara Visitor Information Centre 02 6724 0066

Friday, January 11, 2008

Maclean's problems with flying foxes

Photo: Piper, Clarence River, Maclean.

Fascinating short piece in the Grafton Daily Examiner (10 January 2008) on Maclean's problems with its flying foxes.

For those who do not know Maclean, it is a town of 3,254 people on the Clarence River in the Northern Rivers district of New England/New South Wales.

More normally know for fish and its Scottish Festival, Maclean has a problem with its flying foxes. They keep on roosting in the wrong spot!

The town fathers have tried to move the colony, but they persist in trying to do their own thing. Pesky varmints!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Wine Industry Outlook - January 2008

Photo: Grape Vines, Margaret River, WA

Regional Australia has benefited enormously from the growth of the Australian wine industry. Driven over time by people such as Len Evans, the expanding wine industry has created direct and indirect jobs while enriching local life.

As an industry, wine making has proved especially attractive to city professionals attracted by the combination of tax benefits with the romance attached to the sector. This, together with commercial plantings, has driven enormous expansion.

The Australian wine industry has always been marked by a history of glut and then boom. Back in the late 1960s, for example, the Australian Government was paying grape growers to pull vines out.

Most recently, we have had boom followed by a huge wine glut in 2006 into 2007 as major plantings came to full fruit. Great for people like me who love wine, but hard on producers. How quickly things change.

In 2007, the drought in Southern Australia reduced yield because of its effects on bud formation. Then came the irrigation cut-backs in the Murray-Darling Basin. By September last year, the Federal Government's Wine and Brandy Corporation was forecasting a grape harvest as low as 800,000 tonnes as compared to the average of 1.9 million tonnes. This was disaster territory.

Things have improved with subsequent rains, with the harvest now projected at 1.2 million tonnes. Better, but the Australian industry will still need to import bulk wine from overseas to fill orders.

This is not the only problem faced by the industry.

The rising value of the Australian dollar is squeezing export margins, making imports cheaper. The previous spread of New Zealand wines through Australian bottle shops is now being followed by wines from a variety of countries.

Wine grape growers who might have expected to benefit from significant increases in grape prices are not getting the benefits they expected from reduced supply because of growing concentration in the wine industry.

The Australian wine industry is really a story of two industries.

At the big end of town, there has been increasing concentration. The number of listed wine makers has shrunk from 13 at the end of 1998 to 6 today. These bigger entities have the capacity to squeeze grape producers on one side, to contend to some degree with the buying power of supermarkets on the other.

Then there are the thousands of smaller boutique wine producers. Generally unable to access supermarket shelves, these have to rely on other sales and distribution methods including cellar door, other local sales and mail order. A number of moved into related tourism activities.

Wine remains an emotionally attractive option for many city professionals. However, they need a very clear business idea together with the capacity to ride through fluctuations if they are to succeed.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Aboriginal art - relevant blogs

Photo: Will Owen Pansy Napangardi (at Ngurratjuta, Alice Springs)

Back in August 07, I carried an introductory post on Aboriginal art referring to Will Owen's Aboriginal Art & Culture: an American eye as a valuable entry point.

Aboriginal art, especially Top End art, has become very popular in Australia and internationally in part because of its designs and use of colour. This captures some of the essence of this part of Australia.

Will's blog, itself a valuable source of information, recently carried some links to other relevant blogs.

Edwina Circuitt's Thriving in the Desert deals especially with the Warakurna Artists Aboriginal Corporation in Western Australia and related topics. The blog's sidebar gas a series of very useful links.

Dianna Mary has been posting on Remote Life since the beginning of 2007 on day to day life as art centre manager in Central Australia.

Durrmu Arts, written by Harriet Fesq out of the newly reconstituted art centre serving the Peppimenarti community is newer, making its debut in September 2007.

Remotely Convinced is the latest entry into the art centre blogosphere that Will is aware of. He notes that Sara Twigg-Patterson recently left Tjala Arts in Amata, South Australia, to take on the daunting task of building a functioning art centre in Papunya.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Blog Traffic Report December 2007

Looking back at the country of origin of visitors to this blog, I see that Australia still dominates with 54% of visitors, followed by the US 0n 12%, the UK on 7%, Canada 5% and then New Zealand and South Africa each on 3%. Then come a dozen or so countries with smaller numbers.

Looking at the overall stats, the number of visits in December was, by a small margin, a new record.

Looking at the most popular entry pages after the front page, I suppose the thing that stands out over the recent period is the number of pages involved. Eighteen pages had two or more entry visits.

The most popular entry page after the front page was Tree Change and the Job Search Process - the story of Katrina and Tom continues.

After this came no less than eight posts with equal ranking:

In all, a very mixed lot!