June 27, 2012

Horse 1338 - News Corp. Snapped in Half?

The story which shot around the world last night was that News Corporation is toying with the idea of snapping the company in half; with the print section being in one company and moving pictures (sport, news, film, television) being in the other. No word was given as to what was going to happen to the online portions of the existing businesses, though you'd expect that they'd likely follow their current counterparts into the new companies.

Newspapers face the same sorts of overhead costs as books, magazines, CDs and DVDs have: the physical production of product and the distribution of product. The music industry seems to have survived quite happily without selling anywhere near as much physical product anymore and I'm sure that News Corp will have seen that and if it could would like to make its newspapers follow suit.

The big problem with moving to a digital only platform is something which I think scares News Corp. Although there is a physical cost in moving dead tree product around, the very fact that it appears at newsstands means that the messages which a newspaper wants to push, are seen by the general public. Remove that physical stimulus and to some degree, the reflex reaction which people are going to have which causes them to buy a newspaper is entirely snuffed out.

In the UK, newspaper circulation peaked in about 1977 and although The Sun has been topping the charts since about 1979 its 2011 sales were less than every year going back until 1975. Even so, to lose that sort of visibility altogether is probably going to make a very large dint in market power; other newspapers like the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror would only be too happy to fill the void.
In Australia where the newspaper market is more or less a duopoly (or in some cities an effective monopoly), the effect would be utterly devastating. In the cities where there are no Fairfax newspapers, a vacuum would be created and the cities where there are Fairfax newspapers, then Fairfax would either cover the hole left behind, or launch a new tabloid.

You could argue that news outlets like the ABC and the BBC effectively deliver news content far quicker and with a much wider scope of people on the ground than either Fairfax or News Corp. who largely buy overseas reports from AP or Reuters but there is still something tactile about reading a newspaper; even if the news is in some cases a few days old. The Financial Review shows in part that even with a digital alternative, people will still pay for quality journalism and the Fin which is a specialist publication and retails for $3.00 hasn't really seen a drop off in circulation numbers in the same way that dailies like the Sydney Morning Herald or the Daily Telegraph have.

Up until this point, printed newspapers in the News Corp stable have been subsidised by massive profits elsewhere in the group; Rupert has probably kept them on as some sort of plaything. To be perfectly honest, as we move further into the 21st Century and a new generation expects to find everything online, are they really going to bother going to a newsstand at all? Moreover do any of his six children actually want to inherit what will become an ever increasingly unprofitable business? Rupert himself has suggested that printed newspapers will cease to exist by the end of the decade and at least in the UK and Australia (the US is too far disjointed, as is Canada and neither South Africa or India which are the only other two Anglophone countries in the G20 have a tech dependent economy), I think that will probably ring true.

The underlying question that I have about snapping News Corp. in half is what happens to Fox News? Unlike the BBC which sends reporters out all over the world through the world service, Fox News doesn't to anywhere near a degree. Currently Fox News in theory has the ability to ride the same editorial and news networks as its print cousins but if the print division is cut off, what then happens to it? Probably a change in character and Fox News would become more like existing TV networks. I don't think that Fox News in the United States at least will magically cease to be the cesspool of right-wing nutjobs that it currently is because that's where it chooses to pitch itself.

I think what the snapping of News Corp. in half marks, is symbolically the undulation point which marks the beginning of the end. The top of the curve was reached some time ago, what we'll be seeing in future are accelerated declines as if newspapers are poor players who struts and fret their hour upon the stage and then are heard no more.

June 26, 2012

Horse 1337 - Ten Suburbs. No.10 Oatley 2223

If you look at a map of Oatley, three streets stand out immediately. Oatley Avenue and Oatley Parade could very well be the same street but are separated by a strip of park and Wonoona Parade East appears on the map as a double street because of a line of trees which form a line down the middle.
At the end of Frederick St, stands a clock tower made from red brick which looks like it could very well be a sewer chimney. The high street in Oatley is one of the prettiest in Sydney and the gentle hill sloping downwards towards the railway station makes it ideal to wander down.

The reason why I mention Oatley though is that once a upon a time, before there was television and when they used to walk faster in the movies, the Oatley Pleasure Grounds was home to a miniature zoo of sorts. I imagine that it must've been similar to Alexandra Park & Zoo in Bundaberg, Queensland, but the reason why the zoo was closed wasn't due to the animals, but the people. The Oatley Pleasure Grounds for a few mad seasons in the late 1920s gained a reputation for having a pretty wild Wine Bar. I found at least three headlines in the Sydney Morning Herald by accident when looking for something else entirely, that when Dame Nellie Melba performed operatic pieces in the park in supposedly "low-key affairs", the police were called in.

Just to the north of Oatley Station are a set of railway sheds. In 1926 when Sydney finally saw electric railways arrive, Oatley was the end of the electric lines and there still exists a crossover point. When the electric trains first saw operation, the very first services ran from Oatley and ran to Museum and St James. However unlike those two stations, Oatley never received any of the fancy tiling.

In the west of the suburb; beyond the line of houses, Oatley Park juts around Jew Fish Bay. What makes this patch of parkland interesting is that its probably one of the few refuges in suburbia where playtipii and echindnae are found in the wild. Traffic doesn't go through here and the Georges River is not as busy as either the Parramatta River, Port Jackson or Middle Harbour; so they're left more or less in relative tranquility.

Oatley has one rather remarkable hidden gem. Within the unassuming building of the Hurstville Christadelphian District Ecclesia, there sits a pipe organ dating from 1905. After the Grand Organ in the Sydney Town Hall was finished in 1890, the same company was comissioned to build a pipe organ in Wahroonga. That organ was moved and after rennovations, now occupies its current home.

June 22, 2012

Horse 1336 - Ten Suburbs. No.9 Narellan 2567

I suppose that including Narellan in the definition of a Sydney suburb is pushing it somewhat but the truth is that the connurbation of Sydney is so vast that in terms of sheer size, it eclipses other world class cities like London and what is loosely alled Tokyohama. Narellan is on the very fringes of this swirling metropolis and has its own problems that the people with money and power living in the inner suburbs do not know or care about.

For a start it takes so long to get anywhere. The M5 and M7 have helped I suppose but they've been built more with the motive of taking money from people's wallets, rather than making lives any easier. There are buses and schools which make feeble attempts to cling on but the only real concession to proper development is a Woolworths.

This tryanny of distace does come with certain benefits though and one of these is the tremendous space. Up the road the Mount Annan Botanic Gardens sprawl over a massive 416 hectares and if you just want to run headlong at the horizon and get totally lost in the countryside, then then this is the place for you.

I found myself wandering into the Mt Annan Club Hotel and unlike the pubs you get in the city, the locals seemed friendly and said hello. There would be a distinct oppotunity for them to regard outsiders with suspicion but I as with most of Australia, I find that the further you move away from postcodes 000 (2000, 3000, 5000 etc) the more likely you are to find real characters.

Traffic through Narellan has a strange habit of moving at only two speeds. Either it rips along at 100 clicks irrespective of whatever speed limits are posted, or else it crawls along; even on Camden Valley Way which mysteriously has been widened from a two lane road to a six-lane behemoth.

I that that people have a distinc trespect for speed out here. Maybe it's because they know only too well of the consequences. You don't have to drive too far to see fences made of barbed wire and hitting the scenery will more than likely put you face to face with livestock than a house. Get it wrong and you'll hit redgums.

I did notice whilst coming to one particular junction that I was being watched by three kids in a corner paddock. Being the beginning of ute country, I doubt that they'd have seen many French hatchbacks out here; maybe I was a novelty for them. This illustrates something that this unfortunately becoming very different these days. These kids had ventured into that strange land which few kids see now, that magic place called "Outside".
With the abundance of space out here, kids can kick the ever-loving uss out of a footy and not worry about bumping the furniture, hitting mum's car or going over the fence and into Mr Franklin's pool. "Outside" was a magical place which was burned into the childhood memories of generations in this wide brown land but is in danger of becomng mere just that...memories. We might remmeber doe-eyes about playing by the creek ad perhaps for many people reading this, it is just a stylised canvas but for these kids it's in 360° living colour, widescreen and full super hyper HD.

I guess that eventually even this too will be swallowed by he encroachment of cheaply built houses, owned by the people with money and power living in the inner suburbs and that this part of Sydney will look like places like Auburn and Summer Hill may have looked 30 years ago but for the moment, the tyranny of distance which causes an annoyance acts as both a safeguard and a theatre in which the memories of this generation will be played out and burned into minds for safekeeping.

June 14, 2012

Horse 1335 - Ten Suburbs. No.8 Tamarama 2026

Bondi Beach to the north is arguably the most famous beach in Australia. Bronte which is immediately to he south is a flat beach with excellent but hideously overpriced cafes. Tamarama which sits nicely between these two is in my opinion the nicest beach in Sydney.
Firstly, I have to open this account with one important and overarching statement: I hate going to the beach. That is, I hate going to the beach as a concept, not specifically any particular beach. If this is true, why then would I include Tamarama in the ten? I personally don't think that you can describe Sydney without doing so.

For many Sydneysiders, summers are marked with seemingly endless days burned into the memory, of swimming at the beach, surfing, developing skin cancers etc, and generally having a whale of a time. I can not   swim and rather do not like the idea of being pricked by a million small particles in the wind. For me, going to the beach is a tedious affair and to be perfectly frank, I'd rather be back in the pavillion with a copy of Ulysses by James Joyce, a cup of Russian Caravan and a nice buttery scone.

Tamarama is a quiet, tucked away beach. Although it has no largish pavillions, it has a bus stop and is very easily accessable by road. Also, because it's protected by two very big headlands on either side, the long sweeping winds that you get at Bondi or even South Steyne, never show up. Most of the time the windsocks hang limp.
If you do decide to walk from Bondi, you'll can walk all the way down past Tamarama, Bronte, Waverley Cemetery and end up in Clovelly. Incidentally, this walk also hosts "Sculpture By The Sea" in the springtime, which I'm led to believe is Australia's largest outdoor and most attended art exhibition in the country.
Being a rather narrow and funneled beach, the breakers come right up to the shoreline, which means that surfers get more value for their efforts than elsewhere. Actually I should point out here that on a per mile of beach basis, Tamarama is the most dangerous beach in the world. During heavy swells, it's probably best that most swimmers do not go out, because rips of up to 4 knots can develop and waves as high as 15 feet have been recorded.

If you intend to take your car, then park all the way back in Birrell St. The very steep walk down through Tamarama Park passes through a its own micro-climate and in doing the research for this I discovered that that small park has its very own sub-species of Soft Tree-Fern, the Dicksonia Antarctica Tamarama. Whether or not it is native to this particular micro-climate or from somewhere else (we will stop the boat ferns) is unknown.

Apart from that, there's little else to tell. Obviously the people that live there, moved in because they want to be close to the ocean. There aren't any real shops to speak of at all in the suburb, and the houses themselves are all either sitting on small blocks or are squished up apartment complexes.

Except maybe this:
Who put the bomp
In the bomp bah bomp bah bomp?
Who put the ram
In the Tamarama ding dong?

June 07, 2012

Horse 1334 - Ten Suburbs. No.7 Pennant Hills 2120

As I sit here and type this out into my phone (whilst struggling with the Sydney Morning Herald) in the Corner Cafe Pennant Hills, I really do get an idea of the comings and goings of this suburb. The people in this suburb on the whole drive nicer than normal motor cars, they wear nicer than normal clothes, even the coffee which is sitting in front of me is nicer than normal.
Pennant Hills (at least this side of the railway station) is the quiet, peaceful; almost Norman Rockwell-esque version of what a modern Australian suburb is like. Almost conspicuous by their absence, neither Coles or Woolworths have set up a supermarket in Pennant Hills. I imagine that if the locals want to do their shopping, they they do it in Thornleigh, which is one suburb to the north.

Perhaps Pennant Hills is most famous for the 6 lane arterial road which roars through it. On the other side of the railway line to where I'm currently seated, there are a number of car yards (which are also nicer than normal - being Toyota, Skoda, Holden, Hyundai and Audi), a KFC but the Hotel Pennant Hills has obviously given up and has decided to barricade itself against the noise by blocking up and covering over any trace of the windows of what I imagine would have been a Georgian style pub. I am assured that there is a 350 seat bistro somewhere behind the walls but from the outside it looks as inviting as a Soviet power station.

Head a little bit to the east though and instead of the maddening bustle, you find yourself in Lane Cove National Park. Two miles from Pennant Hills Station and a million miles from care. It's curious that apart from Pennant Hills Road, if you head eastwards, there are no north-south roads until you get to Lane Cove Road which is another 6 lane arterial.
At this point Lane Cove National Park's main features are Scout Creek and Camp Creek. They both cut very deeply into the landscape which has created an area of quite tense, temperate rainforest. Lane Cove Valley Walk is somewhere down below at the bottom and that in turn forms part of the Great North Walk which eventually ends some 250km away in Newcastle.
I find it extraordinary that Sydney keeps on playing this trick again and again. You don't have to go very far at all to find yourself completely surrounded by no buildings. A lot of cities are built on grids but Sydney had to contend with a very squiggly landscape and changes in height; it coped by having roads meander and leaving pockets of bushland very close to people's houses. Less than 2km in a straight line from the offices of some of the biggest technology companies in the world like Microsoft, Orix, Lucent Technologies etc. you can find wallabies and wallaroos, rainbow lorikeets, galahs and big lizards going about their business; completely oblivious to the industry going on around them.

Before I completely paint Pennant Hills in a rose wash, I should point out that this is the first of the ten suburbs that I've actively been made to feel unwelcome in. Whilst seated here, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said "You look like you don't belong here"; I really had no idea why, for I was clad in a plum-coloured collared shirt, a black crombie coat and a nice pair of jeans. Was it supposed to be a compliment to suggest that I was of a better quality than the suburb? Was it a put-down? Either way, who goes around saying stuff like that anyway?
I'll assume that Pennant Hills possibly has nicer than normal people, though immediate experience might lead me to believe otherwise.

NB: This post was mainly written on Saturday 2nd May, and would have appeared as Horse 1332

June 05, 2012

Horse 1333 - Ten Suburbs. No.6 Merrylands 2160

Merrylands which in Sydney's west has gained a fair amount of notoriety of late due to a spate of shootings in the area but is the notoriety deserved, or is it just a victim of circumstance?

Merrylands is the seat of Holroyd Council, the home of a largish Stockland shopping mall, at least four established churches and has a fairly vibrant town centre. The obvious tensions which the suburb is likely to hold are on ethnic lines with more than half of the suburb's inhabitants settling from overseas. The council's website suggests that there are Lebanese, Italian, Assyrian and sub-Saharan African peoples living in the area, but again that doesn't account for the violence which has happened on the streets.

No, I'm afraid that violence in the suburb of Merrylands has nothing whatsoever to do with the people of Merrylands no matter how much the media tries to paint this picture. Merrylands is in the grips of a turf war between motorcycle gangs.
This is one of the sad facts about Australia; although we'd like to think that we're a reasonably tolerant society, certain sectors of the community think themselves to be pseudo-superheroes and above the law. If you were to take an ethnic survey of members of bikie gangs, I bet that the vast majority of them would be white.

The truth is that walking around the centre of Merrylands is for the most part a completely dull sort of experience. The most offensive thing that I saw was a woodfired pizza restaurant with a meal deal for pizza and chardonnay and I'm sorry but there's just no excuse for white wine ever.

This week's Parramatta Advertiser quotes a Mr Tony Georgiou who at the age of 60 is ready to retire from working at his greeting card shop:

Mr Georgiou wants to trade cards for keys and finally learn how to play the piano, but he insists that the past 19 years have been the most satisfying of his life.
“I’ll miss the sense of community,”
- Parramatta Advertiser, 1st June 2012.

That there is the heart of Merrylands. It's a fairly normal, piece of suburbia. Head in any direction you like away from the centre of the suburb and you'll find people who go to work, send their kids to school, play in the various parks, do their shopping... whilst mostly living in free-standing, single storey, wood frame houses.

Although a friend of mine used to live in Guildford which is one suburb away (and which according to a piece of graffiti on Railway Terrace, Elvis is still purported to live), I would on occasion walk from Merrylands railway station simply because I liked the Al-Mouwal Chicken shop which is right on the corner when you get out. Their chicken Shish Tahouk was fantastic.

The more I walk around the various suburbs of Sydney expecting to find difference, the more I find that the vast majority are fairly much the same, even if the media doesn't think so.

June 02, 2012

Horse 1332 - Ten Suburbs. No.5 Rouse Hill 2155

The story of Rouse Hill is one marked with abject failure and probably 200 years of neglect by state governments because of a few historical events. Richard Rouse for whom the suburb is names after moved to the area in 1802, but it is the events of two years later which thrust this place into Australian history.

In 1798 Irish Catholic Republicans who were probably inspired by the American and French Revolutions rose up in bloody conflict against British Rule in Ireland. One such battle was the battle of Vinegar Hill in county Wexford and perhaps some of the veterans who were in that conflict eventually found their way to Australia as a result of being transported; most notably a Mr Phillip Cunningham who would lead a band of rebels.
Having settled in their new land, they were able to mobilise maybe a thousand convicts and between March 4 and about March 14, as many as 120 of them were killed by British troops once a state of martial law had been declared. Eventually nine would be sentenced with rebellion and summarily executed.
The place and the event would become known as the Second Battle of Vinegar Hill and probably took place where the current Mean Fiddler Hotel (which was also designed by an ex-convict Francis Greenway).

Rouse Hill was named in plans for an expansion of a railway line to service Castle Hill in 1932 to replace the existing tram service, however neither the trams were replaced and nor did the railway ever come to fruition.
In 1998 a proposed North West railway line was supposed to drive through the suburb, finally linking it to any sort of transport under the then transport minister Carl Scully, however the railway never came to fruition.
In 2008 a proposed North West Metro project would have linked the suburb to the city via Ryde, Gladesville and Drummoyne, however the project was cancelled forever and the railway never came to fruition.
Under the current O'Farrell government, plans are supposed to exist which would see the railway built by 2017, however given Infrastructure Australia's snubbing of the project and current transport minister Gladys Berejiklian's insistency to want to sell off te ferry network, I seriously doubt whether the current plan will ever come to fruition.

I digresss...

Rouse Hill is on the Windsor Road and grew up as a rest point for coaches and bullock trains servicing Windsor; hence the reason why the church and coachhouse in the area were built at all. However what really makes Rouse Hill interesting is a sterling piece of urban development that almost never happened at all.

It was only after repeated lobbying over a period of almost 25 years and the completion of the M2 that Windsor Road was improved from a narrow two lane road to a four lane arterial road. Trucks which used to travel down the road would often pass each other with only a few inches to spare and it was not uncommon to hear of cars which had been wiped out whilst trying to overtake.

Rouse Hill Town Centre is built on what used to be a 27 hole golf course. The first stage opened in 2007 and was finally completed in 2008.
Unlike any other shopping centre I have ever seen, the carparks are all under the facility and there is a criss-cross of streets meeting at a plaza on top. Quite literally the place has been designed as a fully functioning town centre where previously there was nothing. Unlike previous shopping centres which enclose everything inside a building, Rouse Hill Town Centre has streets open to the sky and proper fountains.
I'd go so far as to say that Rouse Hill Town Centre is probably the only embodiment of some of the ideas put forward for "the future" in the Life Science Library series book "Wheels" published in 1967. Admittedly Rouse Hill Town Centre exists purely because of the motor car, which I guess can't be helped that much.

Up the road is Rouse Hill Regional Park which is a portion of land which has been set aside for a time when the area is developed further. Currently it looks like open fields but I imagine once the bush has reclaimed some of the land and it starts to return to what it may have done in times past, that it will provide a nice contrast to the encroachment of housing which is inevitable.

The suburb of Rouse Hill generally gives you an idea of the potential of Sydney's suburbs; whilst sharing the flaws of the lack of inrastructure which is common of so many suburbs. I can only hope that proper investment happens which will turn the suburb into what it can truly be.

June 01, 2012

Horse 1331 - Ten Suburbs. No.4 Marrickville 2204

Newtown is often cited as the "trendy" area of Sydney but just one suburb to the south, Marrickville, is a far more livelier and experimental place. If Sydney is ever to be seen as a world centre for creativity then Marrickville will be the engine room of that creativity.
The little white sign at the end of the platform of Marrickville Station informs me that we're just 7km away from Central; keeping with its inner-city outlook Marrickville is a place of closely packed terrace houses, single storey and blocks of flats.

Usually when you bring a lot of people closer together, one of two things happens: either they start to display tensions between each other or they invariably start to produce more creative and innovative work. Marrickville it seems is possibly Sydney's greatest hotbed for the fine arts.
Marrickville Council last year hosted an event called MOST or the Marrickville Open Studio Tour, in which various artists, sculptors opened their houses and studios to the public. The council also runs such events as the Impossible Theatre in which short plays are performed in exceedingly small spaces like alleyways and the suburb holds a range of classes in oils, watercolours, the exploration of colour, light and dark and is also home to both The Pine Sreet Gallery and the Chrissie Cotter Gallery.
The neighbouring suburb of Enmore boasts the Enmore Theatre in which many many touring music acts from around the world have performed and The Factory Theatre in Marrickville proper, is more prodigious in the production of modern plays than any of Sydney's commerical theatre troops.

One of the jewels in the crown of Marrickville is a not-for-profit organisation called Reverse Garbage on Addison Rd. It is a place where industrial off-cuts, discards and things which would have otherwise have been wasted an be brought and resold to the public. It is something of an artists' treasure chest and is also a tremendous resource for craft supplies and schools.

However if you want a really fun night out in Marrickville, then head away from the centre of the suburb to the Alexander The Great - Greek and Macedonian Club on Livingstone Road. Although Melbourne is home to the largest Greek community outside of Greece, the Alexander The Great Club does its level best to distill everything Greek in one place. The music, the food and drink, the dancing; it's all there but all hidden away in a quiet part of the suburb on Livingstone Rd.

 Marrickville requires a little bit of exploration to enjoy properly but that's usually the case with everything worth finding.