Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Friday, November 30, 2007

Country Shows - Dorrigo Show 08

Twelve months ago I carried a story on country shows triggered by Gordon Smith's great photos of the Dorrigo Show in New England. Now Gordon has visited the show again, with more photos.

This photo is of the lady doing the cattle judging. It somehow fits with my perceptions.

The judging is a formal occasion, so she is wearing a hat that would go well on a race course, along with what looks like a rather nice set of pearls. Then there is the coat. But if you went down, I bet you would find something like a pair of riding boots. So a mix of the formal and informal.

A confession.

Growing up, I was a rather bookish kid from an academic family. The country girls with their practical approaches, pearls and style used to terrify me. It took me years to realise that they were in some ways as insecure as me!

Monday, November 26, 2007

The drought is slowly easing

This graphic of the medium term rainfall forecasts from the Bureau of Meteorology suggests the drought that has gripped parts of Southern Australia is slowly easing.

Dam storage levels in many places are still very low simply because the long drought means that only a small proportion of initial rain runs off. Still, some regional centres such as Goulburn in NSW that have been on very tight water restrictions have been able to ease them.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Northern Myths - or a new reality?

The vast expanses of Northern Australia have long been seen as an un-tapped territory with huge potential. Yet the reality has been far from this - the North is littered with failed dreams.

Slowly, the old myths may be becoming a reality. Mining, tourism and defence have provided key economic drivers, leading to considerable if still patchy development. Now, partially influenced by debate about climate change, the expansion of agricultural activities has again emerged as a topic of debate.

Again, this is not new. What is new, to my mind, is the way in which supporting infrastructure has slowly evolved. This should not be over-stated. The North is still remote to those in the deep south. However, development tends to build on itself, creating further building blocks. I can see this happening.

As it does, new opportunities open up. Without being too prescriptive about it, my feeling is that the next two decades will come to be seen as the Northern development decades, the period in which Australia's focus shifted in part from south to north.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Rain Shadow ends - and what is Yonees disease?

I really have been enjoying the Australian Broadcasting Commission's Rain Shadow. Sadly, the last episode is on Sunday.

The story line is simple enough. An enthusiastic young city vet Jill Blake (Victoria Thaine) arrives in the small drought stricken South Australian town of Paringa to work with notoriously "difficult" Kate McDonald (Rachel Ward).

Set to work, Jill immediately encounters many of the problems of dry-land farming in stark relief: a farmer who can cope with neither the drought nor his mounting debts; another forced off his land by the bank; and a third confronting the vexed issues of succession and future planning. Then there's the spectre of a notifiable sheep disease, the mere mention of which turns Kate's prickly attitude to open hostility.

While initially criticised by some critics as too slow moving, the program has evolved into a gripping six part mini-series that has become compulsive watching for my wife and I. However, one thing puzzled me. What was this mysterious "yonees disease"?

Now I grew up in a fine wool merino region and I had never heard of it. Finally, I got so annoyed that I went searching. As best I can work out, it is in fact Ovine Johne’s disease (OJD), a chronic wasting disease of sheep caused by the sheep strain of the bacterium, Mycobacterium paratuberculosis, which grows mainly in the small intestine.

The intestine wall slowly thickens and the animal has increasing trouble absorbing nutrition from its food. A sheep with clinical OJD usually continues to eat and remains bright, but slowly loses condition. There is no cure - the animal usually dies within 3 to 6 months. According to the NSW Department of Primary Production:

Since it was first found in Australia in 1980, Ovine Johne’s Disease (OJD) has proven to be a costly disease in Australia. It spreads slowly, is difficult to detect early on, causes lower weight gain and wool production and can kill about 10% of adult sheep each year if left unmanaged. Recent NZ research has been reported as showing losses of 17% of weaner weight and 10% of wool cut in sub-clinical cases in crossbreds. Once it gets into an area all flocks are at risk. The earlier you act, the less the impact of OJD on your business. Assuring sheep buyers about the OJD status of your sheep is becoming the norm.

Now I feel a little better about not recognising it since it did not exist in Australia when I was growing up.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Australia's Lobster Shortgage

Graphic: Western Rock Lobster Development Association

WA produces something like 80 per cent of Australia's lobster catch. The industry with its 500 boats justly prides itself on running an environmentally sustainable fishery.

This year the combination of economics with nature has worked against the industry. Rising fuel prices together with the rising Australian dollar has combined with a reduction in the projected catch from 10,500 to 9,400 tonnes to place pressure on the industry.

The loser? The Australian consumer who can expect to pay Christmas prices of $20 per piece as compared with $10 a few years ago.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Victorian Wine Regions - Rutherglen

Photo: All Saints Winery, Rutherglen

I really do like the old gold mining and wine center of Rutherglen in North Eastern Victoria.

I first went there many years ago. I had a small station wagon at the time, and came back loaded with crates of wine.

Rutherglen is located 283k (3 hours) from Melbourne by road. There are nineteen or twenty vineyards in close location to the town, vineyards that are especially famous for their fortified wines. I have two of these in my cupboard for immediate drinking as I write.

The last time I was there I did not have time to do more than go from vineyard to vineyard trying the wine. Now some might say that that was no hardship, and that would be right. But still, I did not get to properly experience the district's history. Or food!

So of you are going, allow plenty of time to explore. If you are interested you can find out more here,

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Victorian Tourism's cheeky Sydney move

Photo: Ballarat street scape

Victoria really does a better job than NSW in marketing the state's various attractions.

Both states are dominated by the state capital. Yet while Victoria does promote Melbourne as a centre piece, it also markets the state's attractions in an integrated way.

By contrast, Tourism NSW has two different brands, Brand Sydney and Brand NSW. The second is always submerged by the first.

This is partially a matter of size: Victoria is simply a more compact state than NSW. But it also represents long standing differences in approach between the two.

While Sydney and the NSW Government were obsessed with Sydney's potential role as a global city, Melbourne and the Victorian Government were quietly reinventing Melbourne as a life style city. Now, with Melbourne out-performing Sydney in economic terms, Sydney's local press and especially the Sydney Morning Herald is obsessing about the need to reinvent and recreate Sydney.

In the midst of this, the Victorian Government paid for a glossy edition of the Victorian Wine Guide to be included in the Herald. Cheeky, really.

Still, its great from my viewpoint because it gives me lot of new material to write about. By contrast, I have to individually research NSW stories.

Friday, November 09, 2007

University of New England re-organises - 10 new professorial heads of schools to be appointed

I was fascinated to read that the University of New England, the oldest university located in Regional Australia, is advertising no less than 10 professorial heads of schools.

The move is one outcome from the University's latest strategic review during which it redefined its role as "achieving regional and global impact", thus trying bridge and integrate two key elements that have always existed within the institution.

All of Australia's universities have been, to use the old quote, "living in interesting times." Because of demographic change, numbers in the traditional feeder cohorts are down from their peak, increasing competition for students. Funding has been squeezed, making universities more reliant on international full fee paying students. There is also more competition for research dollars.

In all this, Regional Australia's universities continue to offer a more personalised alternative than many of the metros.

Part of the reason for this lies in size. Some of the major metro universities are simply huge.

According to the latest stats that I could find, in 2006 the University of Sydney had 45,848 students, UNSW 38,776 and UTS (Sydney) 32,712. In theory, size allows the universities to offer a wide range of courses. In practice, size often translates to bigger classes and tutorials, to remoteness, to lack of contact with staff.

Overseas, full fee paying students, is another variable. In 2006, Sydney had 9,680 overseas students, UTS 8,954 and UNSW 8,618. These are big groups. In theory, the presence of overseas students should enrich campus life, and indeed it does in some cases. The problem in practice, however, is that the very large number of overseas students makes for lack of integration and interaction between them and local students.

In all this, the University of New England faces a particular challenge because of the small size of the immediate population base surrounding the University. New England has to persuade its internal students to move from home to live on or near the main Armidale campus. While this makes for an intense student experience, the University still faces a significant challenge because of the stay at home nature of a high proportion of the nation's metro young.

Despite the problems, the University's collegiate, residential, feel remains one of its greatest strengths because it clearly differentiates the University from its metro rivals.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Golf Touring under a Big Sky

Photo: Golf at Gunnedah

My thanks to Niki Payne from John Campbell Communication & Marketing for bringing this to my attention.

Now I am not a golfer. More precisely, I enjoy golf but rarely get to play it. So I would never have thought of golf tourism.

Well, it's not quite golf tourism as such. More an excuse to move from one golf course to another while having some bloody good fun!

Now here Niki pointed out that New England's Big Sky Country - the Northern Tablelands, Western Slopes and Plains - has a golf course in almost every town.

A round of golf is not only an essential holiday activity, it‘s an easy way to meet some of the locals.

Remember that while golf is fun, allow some time to sample some of the other attractions. The individual towns are not too far apart, there is a range of things to see and do, while the countryside itself varies in interesting ways. While travelling, do also drop in at some of the growing number of local vineyards.

So rough guide to the golf courses follows, Tamworth north to Tenterfield and west to Moree, along with some recommended attractions while you’re there.

Golf Links Road
(02) 6772 5837
Holes 18 Par 72
Busiest day: Saturday

The only course in the city known for its four distinct seasons is particularly spectacular in autumn and spring, with its mix of native and exotic trees. Its own water supply, from two dams, ensures the course always looks in lush condition. Snow can blanket the course occasionally in the winter. Locals say the 14th hole is one of the most difficult Par 3 holes in the district.

Essential activity for visitors: Armidale, long the prospective capital of the proposed New England new state, is a historic grazing and education centre with a range of attractions. Free heritage bus tour of the city; for the non-golfing partners, the shopping is appealing here.

Hutchinsons Road
(02) 6732 1555
Holes 18 Par 71
Busiest day: Weekends

Glen Innes is located in the heart of Celtic Country, given this name because of the number of Scottish settlers. The Glen Innes course is well set out with consistently green fairways that are often home to resident wallabies and roos. As in Armidale, each Glen Innes season is special, so the course is most appealing in autumn and spring. The sixth and tenth holes, both Par 4s, are the most challenging.

Essential activity for visitors: Among other things, the Australian Standing Stones, the national Celtic monument dedicated to the pioneers of the region.

Plane Avenue
Holes 18 Par 70
02 6778 4059
Busiest day: Weekends

Uralla is located 20 kilometres south of Armidale and grew with the nearby Rocky River goldfields. , the Uralla Golf Course is set in natural bushland and looks sensational in autumn. Reputed to be one of the best courses in the district, there’s three dams and well maintained greens. The 16th hole with a Par 5 is the challenging one.

Essential activity for visitors: Visit the unique McCrossins Mill Museum including its Chinese Joss House; try a Thunderbolt Pie, made to the recipe that bushranger Captain Thunderbolt apparently liked when he roamed these parts in the 1860s.

George Street
(02) 6742 2111
Holes 18 Par 70
Busiest day: Saturday

Located in the centre of Gunnedah, the golf course’s koala population makes it a bit of an unofficial tourist destination. The course is reasonably green most of the year, although in summer the fairways can dry off, making red earth a common sight. There’s a nice gentle slope away from the clubhouse and the trickiest hole is the fifth – a Par 4 with a couple of trees and dams to negotiate.

Essential activity for visitors: Koala spotting; self-guided Poet’s Drive and the Lyrical Loos.

McKie Parkway
Holes 18 Par 73
(02) 6779 1015
Busiest days: Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday

Situated around the Mother of Ducks Lagoon, a wetland reserve for birdlife that measures 14km in diameter, the Guyra course offers plenty of watery challenges. The Par 5 14th hole, an uphill dogleg over a dam, is usually cause for concern. Guyra is the highest town in the New England region, so wind can be a factor when playing here. The course is green year–round.

Essential activity for visitors: Trout fishing in one of the local rivers; visit one of the nearby national parks.

Bombelli Street
Holes 9 Par 66
(02) 6724 1206
Busiest day: Sunday

Bingara is located on the Gwydir River. The course is a long and narrow riverside course that is well maintained year-round by a band of local volunteers. The Par 4 fifth hole with a narrow approach to the green guarded by a river red gum causes a few headaches. There’s a honesty box at the front gate for players, as the club house is only staffed most week days after 4pm and on weekends after 12noon. The Bingara course hosts a Veterans Week of Golf in the first week of October each year.

Essential activity for visitors: Tour of the art-deco Roxy Theatre; Rocky Creek Glacial Area.

Tingha Road
Holes 18 Par 70
(02) 6722 1574
Busiest day: Saturday

Home of the Sapphire Cup, a two-day competition held each January, the Inverell course offers undulating hills on the front nine and a flatter back nine, with water hazards on the last seven holes. The greens are relatively fast.

Essential activity for visitors: Fossicking for sapphires; Inverell Transport Museum

Greenbah Road
Holes 18 Par 72
(02) 6752 1405
Busiest day: Weekends and Thursday.

In the western-most town of Big Sky Country, Moree’s golf course is a green retreat, with tree-lined fairways and the Mehi River running through the back nine. The recently renovated clubhouse offers some good views and the 17th and 18th holes are the most picturesque. This club offers regular competitions for all levels of player, including nine-hole contests on Tuesdays.

Essential activity for visitors: Swim or soak your post-golf aching muscles in the thermal Artesian water at the public pool or at one of the many hotels with a pool tapped directly into the thermal water supply.

Gibbons Street
Holes 18 Par 71
(02) 6792 2344
Busiest day: Saturday, but this course is very accessible seven days a week.

Narrabri is known as Australia’s sportiest shire and its golf course welcomes all visitors with open arms. It’s a fairly straightforward course with a challenging back nine, the most difficult of these being the Par 4 15th. Narrabri hosts a Veterans Week of Golf each May.

Essential activity for visitors: Mt Kaputar National Park and its geographical icon, Sawn Rocks.

Mahoney Street
Holes 18 Par 70
02 6765 9393
Busiest days: Wednesday and Saturday

A traditional course with tree-lined fairways, plenty of bunkers and some water hazards. Look out for the Par 4 second hole, with water on the left hand side and out of bounds of the right; and the sixth, with the large dam.

Bear in mind that during the Country Music Festival in January, it can be difficult to get a game.

Greg Norman Drive
Holes 18 Par 72
02 6765 2988
Busiest days: Wednesday and Saturday

Designed by Greg Norman, Longyard is gaining a reputation for being somewhat testing. With a flat front nine, a hilly back nine lined with mature olive trees and Moreton Bay figs, the links style course has 59 bunkers. The par 3 16th, over water and surrounded by bunkers, will be your biggest challenge.

Wildlife is abundant here.

Essential activity for visitors: Tamworth is a major regional centre with a wide range of attractions - A photo at the Golden Guitar: Walk A Country Mile Interpretive Centre at the Tamworth Visitor Information Centre; a night of live music at one of the pubs.

Werris Creek Road
Holes 9 Par 72
02 6746 1209
Busiest day: Saturday

The Quirindi course is a softly undulating course with two dams and two bunkers, this nine-hole course has grass greens and a tricky third hole where the ball often finds the water. The clubhouse is only open on Saturdays so the rest of the week it’s an honesty box system.

Essential activity for visitors: First Fleet Memorial Gardens; Australian Railway Monument in nearby Werris Creek.

Pelham Street
02 6736 1480
Holes 18 Par 71
Busiest day: Saturday

The Tenterfield course gets some glowing reviews on for its condition and views, and justifiably so. This is a superbly maintained course that is never crowded, with tree-lined fairways that look their most spectacular in autumn and views towards the mountains. The Par 4 10th hole is the most difficult and there’s a dam on the 7th to look out for. A motel on the course provides views from your verandah and offers “stay and play“ options.

Essential activity for visitors: The Tenterfield Saddlery, the inspiration for the Peter Allen song; a tour of the local wineries.

Oxley Highway
Holes 18 Par 70
02 6777 2143
Busiest day: Sunday

A hilly, rain-watered course with views to the mountains, Walcha is sometimes the host course for the NSW sand green titles. There are a few dams and only the one bunker. The Par 5 12th hole with a dog leg and dam running beside it might frustrate you. An honesty box operates during the week, with the clubhouse open on weekends.

Essential activity for visitors: Sculpture walk; Apsley Falls and Apsley Gorge in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park.

Crosby Street
Holes 9 Par 70
02 67693268
Busiest day: Sunday

In the historic village of Nundle, this course is long, at 5,660 metres, with synthetic greens, no bunkers and no water hazards. The Par 4 third hole is a slight dog leg with a man made rise at the front of the green that creates some challenges. An honesty box system operates here through the week, with the clubhouse open for dinner on weekend nights. The course is amalgamated with the Bowls Club.

Essential activity for visitors: Lunch at the Peel Inn; a tour of the Nundle Woollen Mill.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Cloncurry Qld - a new type of solar power

Photo; Airport, Cloncurry, the start of QANTAS

Cloncurry (and here) in north west Queensland has the honour of holding the record for the highest recorded temperature in Australia - 53.1c in 1889. Now that's hot.

I mention this because Cloncurry is to be the site for a new type of solar power station in which 8,000 mirrors will focus sunlight onto graphite blocks. Water pumped through the blocks will turn to steam, driving a turbine generator.

When fully functional, the new power station is expected to generate 10 megawatts of electricity, enough power for 3,500 people.

Cloncurry has a rich history.

In 1861 Burke and Wills with King and Gray, were the first Europeans to come into the area on their ill fated expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Burke named the river “Cloncurry” for his cousin, Lady Elizabeth Cloncurry of County Galway in Ireland.

In May 1867, Ernest Henry (honored as town founder), came searching for grazing land. Instead he discovered copper, the start of great mineral wealth that continues until today.

Cloncurry has been the focal point for a number of Australia’s greatest innovations.

On 3 November 1922, what is now QANTAS flew its first passenger (Alexander Kennedy) from Longreach to Cloncurry on November 3rd 1922 at a cost of 11 pounds 2 shillings. The original QANTAS Hanger is still in use at the aerodrome, with “Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service” still displayed above the hanger door The airport was also on route for early planes coming from overseas and a stopping point for contestants in the great air races of 1919 and 1934.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service was founded here in 1928, now recognized the world over for its delivery of medical services across the vast outback. Cloncurry has a museum dedicated to the Service's history. The airport was also on route for early planes coming from overseas and a stopping point for contestants in the great air races of 1919 and 1934. During the Second World War, Cloncurry was the site of a major United States of America Air Base.

In all, a rich history.

Cloncurry is also on The Inlander, one of Queensland's great rail routes.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Regional Living Australia - end month review October 2007

In my last end month review I commented that I was getting back to regular posting and that, consequently, September traffic was well up.

Maintaining this in October proved a bit more difficult than I expected. At 9, the number of posts was one down. Further, posting was a bit irregular. As a result, October traffic was a little bit down from September.

What did people look at?

The most popular entry page after the front page was Tree Change, Sea Change Stories, a very short post giving a link through to another site.

This was followed by two equal stories. The first was the Land Newspaper and Australian Rural Life, the second the archive for August 2007. I am not sure just what brought visitors to the archive page, but there were some good posts in August.

Then came another archive page, this time for July 2006. Again I do not know what people searched on, but this one really took me back because July 2006 was this blog's first ever month.

This archive page ranked equally with three others.

The first was Kimberley Region WA 2 - the romance of pearls and pearling, a post that features regularly in the top group. Equal with this was Australia's Indigenous Heritage - Big Sky Country, another post often in the top group. also equal was another archive post, this time for April 2007.

Then came six equal posts:

The list this time is far more diverse, and brings out some of the diversity of this blog.

Where to next?

I want this blog to be both enjoyable and useful. On the first, I need to have regular posts with variety. On the second, I need more cross-links together with a greater focus on themes to avoid becoming to itsy bitsy. Let's see how I go over November!