Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Going bush for city slickers - introduction

The desire to own a piece of bush as a retreat is still deeply felt by many Australians, recurring to many as a dream in the midst of a crowded city life. Often, it remains just that, a dream. In other cases, the step turns out to be a mistake, bringing problems to both the city dweller and their new neighbours. In still other cases, the result is great satisfaction.

The main reason for failure is simply failure to properly identify in advance all the issues that need to be considered. Take a simple example, weed control. Many weekend farmers let the land run wild, failing to recognise that things such as noxious weeds have to be controlled. This failure then creates difficulties for those around them.

Given the continuing interest, I can see this from some of the searches on this blog, I thought that I might start a new series pointing to some of the issues that need to be considered.

While I have been around farms all my life, I am not a farmer. So I am not going to tell you how to farm. But I thought that I could usefully give you some general hints to consider, focused especially on those who are looking for an escape, a retreat, rather than a permanent, full time, move.

In doing so, I will follow the structure that seems to work. This post will be the entry post. Then, as I add posts, I will put next posts, previous post, back to introduction at the bottom of each post to make navigation easier.

Next post.

Friday, August 24, 2007

University of New England scores high on student satisfaction rankings

In my last post I mentioned the problem of cheating by overseas students at the University of New England.

While the post focused on the general issue and was not negative about the university, this type of problem is still difficult to handle and can leave doubts in people's minds about the institution.

Given this, I thought that I should also record that UNE has, yet again, scored top marks in the latest national survey on student satisfaction.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

University of New England acts to stamp out cheating by overseas students

One thing that overseas students planning to study at Australian universities need to understand are the Australian rules on plagiarism. In essence, you must not use other people's work without attribution.

I mention this point for two reasons.

First, it is a breach of good academic practice that is banned in most universities. Secondly, and this is an important point for many overseas students studying in Australia looking to use their studies as a visa entry point, if you get caught you can lose your visa or chance at a visa.

The importance of both points has been highlighted by the firm action taken by the University of New England upon discovery of potential cheating. In the words of the University:

After suspicions regarding plagiarism by an individual student were raised and reported to UNE senior management in November 2006, a range of actions were swiftly undertaken by the University. Following confirmation that the initial allegation was indeed a case of plagiarism, a working party was formed. This working party commissioned a sample audit to determine if there were further cases of plagiarism within the unit. The results of this audit caused sufficient concern to warrant a full audit covering all students who completed the unit in question from 2004 – 2006.

These processes have revealed that, of the 210 theses involved in the unit under review, a significant proportion are alleged to be plagiarised. Having set out the allegations, these cases must now be the subject of fair process before the consideration of any penalties can be put to the University Council.

This is not the first such Australian case. The internet can make it very hard for a staff member to detect cheating on an individual basis. However, modern textual techniques do make it much easier to detect patterns of cheating once a University has been alerted.

Those who cheat not only damage themselves and their university, but also create problems for other students. The new techniques cannot always distinguish between deliberate cheating and inadvertent errors by other students in the way they present material.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Land Newspaper and Australian rural life

The Land began publication in 1911 as the journal of the NSW Farmers and Settlers Association. The FSA represented farmers in particular with a strong focus on the often struggling small farmer. This could put put it at odds with the more conservative Grazier's Association, the industry body representing the bigger pastoralists.

In time, the paper became an unlisted public company owned by farmers. From this point it turned into a company called Rural Press, in time becoming an Australian regional media conglomerate.

Despite all the changes, The Land itself has remained one of the best sources of information about rural life, especially in NSW. I do not read it all the time, but whenever I do I find something new.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Australia's Regional Differences - Melbourne vs Sydney

Photo: Hotel Windsor, Melbourne. This has been an all time favourite pub of ours for many years.

It may seem odd on a blog dedicated to non-metro Australia to use Melbourne and Sydney as examples to illustrate my continuing discussion about regional variation across Australia. However, this was such a nice example that I could not resist it.

The University of Melbourne maintains a blog documenting the experiences of its students abroad. Headed World's apart despite living so close, this particular entry describes the experiences of two students from different parts of Australia now studying in Montreal.

The writer is using the entry to make a point about the policies of the Howard Government, but in so doing she brings out regional differences in a very clear way. The story begins:

I never believed I lived a sheltered life in Melbourne, I went to a non-denominational, non religious school prominent with a variety of nationalities, races and religions and living in Melbourne I had come across a diversity of people. Despite the image, from many I have spoken to, that an Australians means someone who drinks beers, has long blond hair, is a surfer and wears only broad shorts and a necklace (well bikinis for females…of course) I have always been aware of the diversity of Australians. However, it was not until I came to Montreal and spent a good portion of my time with McBlonde that I realized how different we are within the one nation.

As happens to many of us when overseas, we have to explain Australia. She goes on:

As McBlonde and I were the only Australians in a large group of French we were constantly being questioned on what Australia was like in comparison to Canada, Montreal and the French lifestyle. However despite being good friends, McBlonde and I, were literally chalk and cheese.

She was from Sydney, I have forever lived in Melbourne, she was a country girl, I am a city girl, she does not think the coffee lifestyle is very big in Australia, I think coffee is a daily must, she is big on surfing and hanging out at the beach, I am big on eating at different restaurants and trying new cafes, she is into pubs and I am into bars. It did not matter what it was about McBlonde and I would disagree on all aspects of the lifestyle of Australians. We even had completely different vocabulary and accents…coming from the country McBlonde’s was much stronger and more apparent than mine.

So here we have a culture clash requiring two people from the same country with apparently similar backgrounds to get to know each other.

Through getting to know each we discovered while there are similarities about Australian lifestyle, the common bbq and cricket games, the trips to the beach and the knowledge that most Australia men indulge in endless hours of beer drinking, we realized that Sydney and Melbourne are completely different. We began to understand the reason why I thought a certain way was because I grew up in suburban Melbourne and McBlonde thought a certain way because she grew out in country NSW and attends university in Sydney.

Melbourne is multicultural, full of difference and very European in ambiance whereas Sydney is more American in appearance and lifestyle. It came to the point where when asked a question about what Australia was like in regards to renting an apartment, shopping, food, basically anything, the sentence would always start with “Well at least I know in Melbourne (Sydney when McBlonde was speaking) it is like this…”

Now there are aspects of this analysis that I would disagree with.

Melbourne is indeed a European city and becoming more so. By European I do not mean white, although Melbourne is less ethnically diverse than Sydney. But the city does have a cafe society and style that would be instantly familiar to anyone who knows Europe. Further, the buildings themselves such as the Hotel Windsor retain a European style.

Sydney, by contrast, is constantly reinventing itself, in some ways tearing down its past. Like McBlonde I grew up in country NSW, although I do not speak in the same way because the area that I came from had a far more "genteel" regional accent.

I am older than the writer and her friend McBlonde. The Sydney that I used to visit was far closer in visual feel to the Melbourne of today. In Melbourne the Hotel Windsor survives, whereas the Sydney equivalents such as the Metropole were torn down many years ago. Melbourne retains a visual unity, while Sydney has fragmented into multiple cities.

Where I part company with the writer to some degree is her assessment that Sydney is more American in appearance and lifestyle. Yes, it is more American in appearance than Melbourne, a charge levelled at the city for at least the last forty years. But Sydney is far more varied, more polyglot, than Melbourne, with a strong Asian-Pacific feel in parts contrasting to Melbourne's European style.

In all this, I regard Australia's regional diversity as one of the unsung life style strengths of the country.

Still using the Sydney/Melbourne example, I love visiting Melbourne with its cafe society because it is so different. For its part, Sydney is a wonderful city to visit because of its variety and the visual beauty of the Harbour backdrop. It's just an awful place in which to live!

When we extend this analysis across Australia, we are left with a smorgasbord of different life styles, cultures and attractions. Sometimes it can be difficult for those of us living here to see it. We actually have to leave the country to see the differences.


In the last few days, the airwaves and press in Sydney have been full of the attempts by the Lord Mayor to get licensing laws changed so that Sydney can have more small bars and cafes to rival Melbourne. It appears that Melbourne's social, cultural and tourist edge is getting just too great!

Since first adding this postcript I have found the story in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Introductory post in series. Next post. Previous Post.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Judith Wright's The Hawthorn Hedge - Regional Australia writers

Photo: Just about in the middle of nowhere, above the gorge, sits this orange tree. Presumably, once upon a time, a homestead once sat nearby. From Gordon Smith.

Across the Australian countryside you will find remnants of past settlement. Now they just sit there. Once they were a symbol of human hopes and dreams.

Judith Wright is one of Australia's premier regional writers. While she wrote on many things, her writing was formed by her early experiences in New England 's Northern Tablelands, the same area covered by Gordon Smith's photos.

Judith Wright's poem The Hawthorn Hedge captures one element of the New England experience. The very title is indicative of this, an English plant transplanted into an Australian environment to provide a feeling of home.

The poem begins:

How long ago she planted the hawthorn hedge -

she forgets how long ago -

that barrier thorn across the hungry ridge;

thorn and snow.

The phrase hungry ridge echoes another traditional Australian bush phrase, hungry country. This is country that has to be fed, but does not give a proper return for the effort. Snow, because snow is not uncommon in the high New England country where Judith grew up.

The poem goes on:

It is twice as tall as the rider on the tall mare

who draws his reins to peer

in through the bee-hung blossom. Let him stare.

No one is here;

We can see the hedge grown tall. However, it is not true that no one is there.

Only the mad old girl from the hut on the hill,

unkempt as an old tree.

She will hide away if you wave your hand or call;

she will not see.

Obviously the rider know that she is there. So we are left wondering why, how she came to this? Judith's next verse drives home the point:

Year-long, wind turns her grindstone heart and whets

a thornbranch like a knife,

shouting in winter "Death"; and when the white bud sets,

more loudly, "Life".

Now Judith contrasts present and past:

She has forgotten when she planted the hawthorn hedge,

that thorn, that green, that snow;

birdsong and sun dazzled across the ridge -

it was long ago.

She goes on:

Her hands were strong in the earth, her glance on the sky,

her song was sweet on the wind,

The hawthorn hedge took root, grew wild and high

to hide behind.

I grew up in this country. When Judith writes, I can see and understand.

Entry Page for Posts about Judith Wright's poetry

Monday, August 13, 2007

My thanks to the Australia Blog

It was nice of my colleagues at the Australia Blog to mention this blog as a source of good ideas for those wishing to visit Regional Australia. Especially nice because I like the Australia blog and use it as a source of ideas and information.

This blog is not a travel blog as such dealing as it does with the broad sweep of like across Regional Australia. But in so doing, I hope that it does wet interest in some of the magnificent things Australia has to offer outside the metro centres.

When i get a reference like this on, it inspires me to keep writing!

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Differing Cultures of Regional Australia - Polyculturalism

Photo: Gordon Smith, Tranquility. A gorge pool near Armidale in New England's Tablelands country.

One of the recent debates in Australia has been about the meaning and role of the word multiculturalism.

I really don't like this word. It implies, or seems to imply, that Australia is nothing but a series of different cultures living together in harmony. Now there is nothing necessarily wrong with this in itself. But Australia is more than that.

To begin with, we have a strong and vibrant core culture acting as a centre piece for all the different groups making up Australia. We fight about elements of this culture, but it exists.

Advertising agencies are one of the best signs because they focus on those things that will help them sell product. Here I found a story from last year that is good because it includes links through to video of some of Australia's best ads. I suspect that both Australian and international visitors will find these interesting.

From our core culture we move to Australia's increasing diversity. We can think of this in two ways.

The first way is the way the core culture itself varies across the country. Take language. Australia does not have the pronounced regional variation to be found in the UK or the US. But as I began to explore in an earlier post, the English language itself does vary across the country. Further, I suspect that these variations are increasing.

The second way is Australia's changing ethnic mix. Australia is still a land of migrants, with each new group adding something to the melting pot. In the beginning, each group stands out because of its different features, adding variety to the visible pattern of Australian life. Then, with time, they have an impact on the core culture itself.

Sometimes these changes are obvious and dramatic. Take what we eat and drink. Here each wave of migration has had an impact.

The most commonly cited example is the transformation in our diet associated with the mass migration program from Europe after the second world war. Prior to this, wine was very much a minority drink, concentrated in particular socio-economic classes or in particular regions such as the Barossa in South Australia or the lower Hunter. Now wine drinking is wide spread across Australia, helping fuel the spectacular growth of the Australian wine industry.

Sometimes the changes are less obvious. In NSW differing patterns of chain migration -Irish Catholics in the south, Scots Presbyterians in the north - in the early days of European settlement created different social and voting patterns that survive to this day.

Over the last three decades, the visible expression of change associated with migration has become more obvious simply because Australia has been admitting migrants from so many countries and different ethnic groups. I suspect that Australia now has a resident community from pretty much every ethnic group on the planet.

This change may not be as great, for example, as that in Auckland. I explored the New Zealand case in a post on my personal blog, Pasifika and New Zealand's Future. However, the effect has still been dramatic, in so doing further increasing regional variation across Australia.

Two factors are at work here.

The first is continuing chain overseas migration. Sydney in particular remains the main entry point, increasing the number and diversity of the overseas born in that city.

The second is internal migration. Again, Sydney in particular has been losing locally born to other parts of Australia.

The net effect of these changes have been changes in the look, feel and life of different parts of Australia. These changes add to the visitor fascination for Australians and overseas people alike.

I have started to use the word polycultural to describe this whole process in which we combine an evolving core culture with its own regional variations with a variety of other cultures, constantly creating new amalgams.

Introductory post. Next post.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Aboriginal Art - a personal note

Photo: Darwin Supreme Court: a group of nine larrakitj, or ceremonial log coffins presented by the Dhudi Djapu clan of Dhuruputjpi.

I hope that I have got the link right on this on.

One of my favourite blogs is Will Owen's Aboriginal Art and Culture: an American Eye.

Growing up, we painted stones in primary school in the Aboriginal style. There was a fair bit of Aboriginal material around.

Then in the seventies and eighties all this seemed to disappear as Australia focused instead on the wrongs of past Aboriginal/European relations rather then the Aborigines themselves.

Today in modern Australia with its multiple ethnic groups, Aboriginal art is coming back. To more traditional Australians such as myself, Aboriginal art resonates because it is an expression of the relationship between humankind and the Australian environment.

I wish I knew more about the different streams in Aboriginal art. One day I will learn. For the moment, I will simply enjoy.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Regional Living Australia - favourite entry pages

Photo: Rooms have views; so do farms. Gordon Smith

Every so often I look at the favourite entry points for visitors.

After the front page, the next favourite page is Australia's Indigenous Heritage - Big Sky Country. I am sure that peoples sorted on the first three words, whereas this post in fact dealt with Aboriginal tourist sites across New England. I probably need to include some better links to the various indigenous posts that I have written.

The next favourite post, Winifred West - Frensham, Gib Gate and Sturt, dealt with the remarkable story of Winifred West and the schools that she founded.

On equal ranking was Regional Australia's Universities - student satisfaction rankings. Nice to see this story still getting a run, because Australia's regional universities continue to score well on student satisfaction.

This was followed by a recent post, Aboriginal Art - a personal note. I would love to do a proper post helping people access a range of material in this area, but i fear that this will have to wait.

The last post in this top group was Kimberley Region WA 2 - The romance of pearls and pearling. Again I was pleased, because too few people know the place that pearls have played in Australian history.