Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Regional living - the lazy person's approach to gardening 2: planning the garden

Any new project should start with a plan.

Step one is to do some research. The easiest way of doing this is to buy a simple book on gardening. You need one with one of those charts that tell you when to plant things. There is a little point in putting something in if the growing season is wrong!

If you are feeling especially energetic, many regional areas have a local gardening club. These can be a valuable source of advice and inspiration, giving you information about things such as soil conditions.

Step two is to plan the garden. Most gardening books will talk about the need for detailed plans. Personally, I find a chair and a beer a great help here. The chair to sit on, the beer to drink while I study the back yard and sketch out an initial rough plan.

Now the point about the plan is not to make it too detailed. Remember, you are the lazy man (or person!). A rough guide will do just fine. And do have a beer after you have done all this work.

Introductory post. Next post.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Regional living - the lazy person's approach to gardening 1 introduction

A while ago in Australian Regional Food - Looking Back 2: The Home Garden I described with a degree of nostalgia the old style home garden. With international food prices rising to record levels, I thought it time to return to this topic.

I fear the old style home garden is no longer really possible in most metro areas. We live in flats or build huge houses on small blocks, with little room for home agriculture. It's not just space. Hear the neighbours complain if you keep chooks!

Yet this life style is still possible in most parts of Regional Australia. Of course there is a time cost. Yet the effort really pays back in terms of health, fresh food and lower food costs.

How long does it all take? Well, that depends on what you want to achieve. If you simply want to add your own fresh food to your diet, a couple of hours a week will do. For that, you can have a constant supply of fresh herbs and greens, with some tomatoes and other specials. I could not do without my own rosemary, oregano, mint, sage and marjoram. And that is just a start.

If you have more time, you can expand. Mind you, expand past a certain point and you need to start preserving or selling the surplus. Then you have fresh food the whole year round.

Over the next few posts I will outline the lazy person's approach to the home garden.

Posts in this series

Monday, March 17, 2008

West Australia's Pilbara region - introduction

The map shows WA's Pilbara region as defined by the state government.

According to Wikipedia, the Pilbara region covers an area of 507,896 km² (including offshore islands). It has a population of just under 40,000 people, most of whom live in the western third of the region.

Most Pilbara residents live in the region's towns, which include Port Hedland, Karratha, Wickham, Newman and Marble Bar. A substantial number of people also work in the region on a fly-in/fly-out basis.

The region has inland ranges - the dominant being the Hamersley Range which has a considerable number of mining towns, and natural attractions in the form of gorges. The region contains some of the world's oldest surface rocks, including the ancient fossilised remains known as stromatolites and rocks such as granites that are more than three billion years old. A detailed geological history and description is given in the Pilbara Craton article.

The climate of the Pilbara is semi-arid and arid, with high temperatures and low rainfall. During the summer months, maximum temperatures exceed 32°C (90°F) almost every day, and temperatures in excess of 45°C (113°F) are not uncommon. The Pilbara town of Marble Bar is claimed by some to be the world's hottest place, having once recorded 161 consecutive days in which the maximum temperature reached or exceeded 37.8°C (100°F).

Flooding is a major hazard in the Pilbara with periods of torrential rainfall between November and May. Like most of the north coast of Australia the coastal areas of the Pilbara experience frequent tropical cyclones. Due to the relatively low population density in the Pilbara region cyclones rarely cause large scale destruction or loss of life.

The Pilbara's economy is dominated by mining and petroleum industries. Most of Australia's iron ore is mined in the Pilbara, with mines mostly centred around Tom Price and Newman. The iron ore industry employs 9000 people from the Pilbara area. The Pilbara also has one of the world's major manganese mines, Woodie Woodie, situated 400 kilometres southeast of Port Hedland.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Australian Wool Fashion Awards - a few photos from 2007

Photo: 2007 Wool Fashion Awards Supreme-Award-&-1st--Collection

The 2008 Australian Wool Fashion Awards were held in Armidale (New England) in early March.

Growing up I loved wool. I loved the smell in the wool-sheds. I loved wool pull-overs, the feel of wool.

Not surprisingly, I still love wool! Armidale has always been a fine wool centre. While living there I really enjoyed the various activities centred around wool.

Photo: 2007 Wool Fashion Awards 1st-Mens-Wear.

Today it has become harder to buy decent wool clothing. Suits, for example, are nearly all blends.

I do not fully understand why wool should have fallen out of fashion in the way it has. It remains a magnificent natural fibre.

The Australian Wool Fashion Awards are a continuing attempt to redress the balance.

Photo: 2007 Wool Fashion awards 1st-2A-School,-1st-Secondary

Sponsored by Australian Wool Innovation Limited (AWI) the Awards are designed to showcase the use of Merino wool by national and international fashion designers and students.

The competition’s main aim is to educate and encourage young designers in the wonderful qualities of wool.

Secondary school students through to tertiary fashion students are enticed to use the many versatile wool and wool blend fabrics to create their entries.

The rewards include significant cash prizes, gifts of work experience with leading Australian fashion designers and Scholarships to study at recognised Fashion Institutes. Many entrants have gone onto careers in fashion.

The Awards are not just for the young, entrants of all ages vie for the prizes and prestige of a win in the competition that many say is the hardest to win.

Just one more photo.

Another first -Tropical-Honeymoon.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Review begins of Zinafex Agreement

ABC News reported that a review has begun into the landmark Agreement between Aborigines, the Zinifex mining company and the Queensland Government.

Zinifex's Century Mine operates under a unique tripartite agreement between Zinifex, the Queensland Government and local Native Title groups. The Gulf Communities Agreement (GCA) was negotiated under the Right to Negotiate provisions of the Native Title Act (1993) and was signed in February 1997.

The Native Title groups from the Gulf of Carpentaria involved in the agreement are the Waanyi, Mingginda, Gkuthaarn and Kukatj groups. The Agreement aimed at ensuring compensation, jobs and training opportunities for native title groups. Details of the Agreement can be found here and here.

David Hanlon from the review team says he will be visiting gulf communities to seek feedback on whether the agreement is working to help the region, in the state's far north, achieve economic self-sufficiency.

"I think it's really important for people to have their say on something that impacts on them," he said.

"In really crude terms, employment probably generates in the lower gulf somewhere about $9 or $10 million in revenue.

"When the mine shuts down, that's $9 or $10 million in revenue that goes."

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Housing Stress In Australia - the regional alternative

The National Housing Conference was held in Sydney on Thursday and Friday 21 and 22 February leading to major media coverage on housing stress in Australia. Housing stress is defined as rent or mortgage payments exceeding 30% of gross income.

According to a report (research paper 11) released by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, high house prices means that the number of Australians renting will increase from 1.8 million in 2006 to 3.3 million by 1045. During this period the number of Australians suffering rental stress is projected to increase by 77%.

Since the conference, the problem of affordable housing has become a national crisis.

I can understand the problem.

In the December quarter 1998, the median weekly rent for a three bedroom house in the Sydney statistical division was $240. On the basis that rents are 30% of gross income, you needed a family income of $800 per week to rent that house.

In the December quarter 2007, the equivalent median rent had risen to $350. Now you need family income of $1,166 per week to rent the same dwelling.

Rents vary greatly across Sydney. In much of Sydney you in fact need to pay a minimum of $500 per week, often a fair bit more, to rent a three bedroom house. On $500, you need a weekly income of $1,700 to avoid rental stress.

If you want to own your own home or, alternatively, avoid rental stress, you do have a choice. You can try the regional alternative.

Rents are not always lower in Regional Australia. There are pressure areas such as mining growth points where rents are higher than the metro equivalents. But in most cases both house prices and rents will be lower, often much lower, so you do not need the same income just to survive.

It really comes back to what you want from life.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Death of David Asimus - wool industry and regional development leader

Photo: David James Asimus

I began this post a little while ago, but was sidetracked.

The death of David Asimus at the age of 75 marks the end of an era. The post that follows is largely drawn from Malcolm Brown's obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Back in July 2006 in Why Wool? I talked about the importance of the wool industry to Australia's history.

While the modern wool industry is much diminished in importance, Australia's early economic development depended very heavily on the growth and success of the industry. Today it remains a substantial part of the Australian economy, a much larger part of Australian history.

David Asimus was one of the pioneers of the modern wool industry, as well as a leader in regional education, something I often write about on this blog.

A big man, 195.5 centimetres tall, he was born at Tumut from German stock who settled on the land in southern New South Wales. He attended Barker College (Sydney) and Sydney University, graduating in economics in 1953.

After a period farming, he became a Nuffield agricultural fellow in 1958, studying for 12 months in Britain. Back home, he returned to farming, but broader interests had been aroused, leading him to become active in industry matters.

The wool industry had boomed during the Second World War because of the demand for clothing and uniforms. In the period immediately following the War wool reached a pound a pound. Even small scale graziers made substantial profits.

This boom was followed by a long period of decline as wool came under competition from the new synthetic textiles. The industry responded by increasing productivity and by restructuring. Despite this, by 1970 it was at a low ebb.

In 1970, the Australian Government created the Australian Wool Commission to arrest the decline. Its first chairman was Sir William Vines, who appointed Asimus in 1972.

Vines later said of Asimus: "He had a practical background on the land as well as an economics degree, which helped him come to grips with the whole situation."

In 1973 the Commission became the Australian Wool Corporation, and in 1976 Asimus was appointed deputy chairman and, in 1979, chairman. He oversaw the early days of the wool price reserve scheme.

In the early 1980s, Asimus and family moved to a property near Wagga Wagga. But his time there was limited. His appointments, particularly as secretariat chairman, took him all over the world, dealing with the complexities of fashion, world markets, foreign policy. His positive approach to marketing, seeking to increase the trade to China and the United States, raised eyebrows and hopes in the troubled industry.

Asimus himself said of this time: "It is the very best job in the world, really. Where else in one week can you talk to fashion designers in Paris and Milan, an industrialist in New York, a top retailer in London and come back, head out to Bourke and talk to woolgrowers?"

His stamina was extraordinary. Under him, the wool corporation focused on quality, tailoring the product to the customer's needs, and spent heavily on promotion and market development.

Perhaps all those things on his mind proved distracting. Asimus could be absent-minded. More than once he extended dinner invitations to people, forgot to tell his wife, and then forgot about the invitations himself. The invitees would turn up, would always get a good meal, and Asimus would offer special wine.

When he retired from chairmanship of the wool corporation and the International Wool Secretariat in 1988, the number of Australian sheep had risen from 134 million at the start of his term to 163 million, wool production had reached an all-time record of 925 million kilograms and the value of the country's wool exports had tripled.

In 1989, by then having been made an honorary doctor of science by the University of New South Wales, he was appointed foundation chancellor of Charles Sturt University. He said the development of tertiary education in the regions was one of his proudest achievements.

He was a director of the Australian Trade Commission, member of the Australia-Japan Foundation and the Australia-Japan Consultation Committee, member of the government taskforce on liner shipping and the advisory council member of the CSIRO. His other directorships included board positions with BHP, the Industrial Bank of Japan, Wesfarmers, Rural Press and Delta Electricity. In 1997, he was made an honorary doctor of agricultural economics by the University of Sydney, and in 2002, Charles Sturt University made him a doctor of the university.

David Asimus is survived by his wife, Jane, his daughter, Heidi Sutherland, and five grandchildren. His son, Alexander, predeceased him.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Australian rainfall Projections March to May 2008

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

Continuing my climate series, the Bureau of Metereology has released its latest rolling three month projections on the probablities of rain across Australia.

According to the Bureau. the projections show a mixed autumn rainfall outlook: a wetter than normal season is favoured in northern Queensland and in parts of NSW and SA, while below-normal falls are more likely in parts of Victoria and Tasmania.

The pattern of seasonal rainfall odds across Australia is a result of cooler than average waters across the equatorial Pacific in association with La NiƱa, and continuing higher than average temperatures in the central to southeastern Indian Ocean.

The chances of exceeding the median rainfall over March to May are between 60 and 70% over most of north Queensland, and between 60 and 65% in a band extending from central SA to the far west of NSW (see map). So for every ten years with ocean patterns like the current, about six or seven autumns are expected to be wetter than average in these parts of the country, while about three or four are drier.

In contrast, areas in northern and central Tasmania together with parts of Victoria's coastal fringe have a 35 to 40% chance of exceeding the autumn median. This means that a drier than normal autumn is a 60 to 65% chance in these regions.

Over the rest of the country, the chances of exceeding the three-month median rainfall are between 40 and 60%. So the chances of being wetter than normal are about the same as the chances of being drier

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The ABC's New Regional Web Sites

With little fanfare, the ABC has launched new regional web sites. To find them, go to ABC, then click on radio and the town of your choice.

The thing that I really like about the sites is that you can search by clicking on tags. This allows you to browse stories that you might never otherwise have found. There is some great stuff there from my viewpoint.