Major Mitchell and the Maranoa

The Maranoa region of Queensland is far from Scotland but it was the fertile woody lands west of Roma that most appealed to the Stirlingshire-born surveyor-general of NSW, Thomas Mitchell.

Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell was a Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army who earned his stripes with Wellington in the 1811 Iberian Campaign against Napoleon. The Duke was so impressed by the young Scot, barely 19, he commissioned him to survey the battlefields. After 16 years of military service the Crown asked him to perform the same duties for the young colony of New South Wales as Deputy Surveyor-General.

Mitchell’s boss was John Oxley who opened up areas to white settlers including the Lachlan, Macquarie and Tweed Rivers. With botanist Allan Cunningham, Oxley beat an inland path to Queensland via the Brisbane River. But the rigours of explorations led to Oxley’s death in 1828 aged 45. Oxley’s ill-health was always in Mitchell’s mind and suddenly he was promoted into the role he would keep for the next 27 years and four major explorations. The first in 1831 took Mitchell directly north of Sydney towards Tamworth. He found the Gwydir River and turned inland till he found the Darling. After natives killed two of three helpers, Mitchell returned to Sydney to plan his next sortie. It took four years to return to the Darling but he was determined to find out where this long meandering river emptied into the sea. His botanist Richard Cunningham was killed by Aborigines and Mitchell had to withdraw again after a skirmish.

Undaunted, he was back a year later to try again. There was more battles with natives and he killed seven of a posse of 200 that attacked him. He followed the Darling until it joined the Murray near Wentworth. Mitchell saw the Grampians and followed the Glenelg River to the Bass Strait coast near Nelson. Mitchell returned to Sydney a hero after opening up this vast stretch of Australia Felix to Europeans.

Having mapped much of what would become Victoria, he would do the same for what would become Queensland. With fellow explorer Edmund Kennedy he set off north on December 15, 1845, aged 54. Mitchell called on familiar routines striking out north-west for the Darling, as he had done three times before. This time he continued north to the Narran River, the Balonne and the Culgoa. Near the junction of the Maranoa and Balonne rivers, Mitchell found a natural bridge on April 23, 1846. He named the bridge for the auspicious saint’s day, St George’s Bridge.

Mitchell followed the Cogoon Creek which he renamed what he thought the natives called it: Muckadilla Creek. This took him into great pastoral country west of what is now Roma. He named a hill in the region Mt Abundance and from its top, marvelled over what he called a “a champaign region, spotted with wood, stretching as far as human vision or even the telescope would reach.” Mitchell continued west to find the Warrego and Barcoo Rivers but it was his description of Mt Abundance that resonated. By champaign, Mitchell meant undulating country, but many who followed in his path were made drunk by his vision.

Back in Sydney, he told friend and fellow Scot William Macpherson about his discoveries. His son Allan Macpherson held lands at Keera in New England and Mitchell encouraged him to try his luck at Mount Abundance. Heading north-west and crossing St George’s Bridge in the path of Mitchell, Macpherson was the first white settler of the Maranoa in 1847 just a year after his mentor, bringing his workers, cattle and sheep.

Watched closely by the Mandandanji whose lands he craved, Macpherson was fearless and carried guns to enforce his law. Ultimately he was unsuccessful but he laid open the path for others to follow both from the south and from the east to the Darling Downs.

Thanks to Mitchell, Macpherson had changed the region forever.

A new news beast: Newsweek goes digital

In an interview that could easily have passed for Fox talking to Murdoch, the Newsweek Daily Beast Company sat down with its editor-and-chief and founder Tina Brown to discuss the end of print at the venerable magazine Newsweek.  Newsweek fell into the hands of Brown and Beast two years ago but have been unable to resist sliding circulation and rising costs. The last print edition will be December 31.

Brown was on “Newsbeast” this week with the company’s new CEO Baba Shetty dissecting the reasons why Newsweek was shedding staff and its print publication.  Brown spoke of the need for protection, of journalists and content. Senior columnist John Avlon was all suited up as he lollypopped his bosses with the opening question phrased as a statement: “So we are taking the bull by the horns, going all digital…”

“We are,” replied Brown.  “We must embrace the future.”  Brown said Newsweek was 80 years old and it was time to start looking at the next 80 years.

Brown, like many editors before her, conceded defeat for print. The industry has reached a tipping point and it was no longer a case if but when. And “when” said Brown, might as well be “now”.

“We decided to take away the when and…embrace it, be ready for it.”

Avlon turned the discussion to Shetty with management speak. “Being proactive not reactive is always a good idea…” “Yes,” replied Shetty, who unlike Avlon, was dressed down with a jumper and shirt.

The new CEO, a “brand guru”, said Newsweek was a great brand and a powerful media icon but was encumbered by “the form factor” and its economics. To take away issues of physical printing distribution and circulation, Shetty said, by porting the core product to digital would be “incredibly liberating”.

“Consumers were moving to digital and advertisers would want to be there to grab these audiences. Tablet devices, web usage for news, and social news meant it made perfect sense for Newsweek to now go completely native on digital.” he said.
Brown gave an economic rationale to back it up. She said it cost Newsweek $42m a year to print, manufacture and distribute before you’ve even paid one writer or one intern.

“That’s an enormous albatross,” Brown said.

“We thought it was more important to protect the journalists, the contents, the photographers, the ideas.”

Brown said she wanted a digital Newsweek to focus on the marketplace of ideas. But how then, would it be different to the Daily Beast, also entirely online, asked Avlon.

Shetty stepped in to say they were “incredibly complementary”.

In four years, the Beast had gone from a start-up to a site with 15 million visitors a month, up a 70 percent since 2011, a huge spike in readership and engagement.

Many were “lean forward, participatory, multiple visits a day,” Shetty said. “The Daily Beast is indispensable many people’s information diet.”

A healthy portion of this traffic was generated each week by Newsweek’s strong original journalism. Newsweek, said Shetty, “a step removed”,  offering more considered, thoughtful, long-form journalism.

Brown said the Daily Beast and Newsweek spoke to “the same reader in different moods”.  The Daily Beast offered news that was “hot and happening” while Newsweek appealed to the ipad reader on the train home. But, she said, they offered the same sensibility: reflection, context and “a thorough look at what was happening in the world”.
Avlon steered the conversation to the new brand: Newsweek Global.  CEO Shetty called it a terrific new perspective and described who the product would appeal to: “The mobile, highly informed, highly engaged, person very aware of what is happening over the globe.”

He said removing legacy print, meant Newsweek could re-interpret what it could be in pure digital form. Brown said the Daily Beast now appealed to a similar global reader who lived in India, London or Brazil.

Brown said one of the focuses was on “really powerful live events” including ones they had organised like Women in the World. which has an associated foundation which last week launched a campaign for education of girls in Pakistan with Angelina Jolie, hot on the heels of the shooting of 14-year-old education campaigner Malala Yousafzai.
All aspects of the company, said Brown were “now playing together” but print was the anomaly. Getting rid of it went with “enormous regret” as some “incredible brilliant talent” would be leaving the company but it was “the right decision for the company.” Avlon concluded that in terms of content that was “good news for journalists” and an exciting new opportunity” before nodding to the camera to end the interview.
The Daily Beast article that went with the video, gave some statistics to back up the “tipping point” : There are now 70m tablet users in the US, up from 13m in two years. A further explosion of use is likely, especially as two in five Americans get their news online, a number that is also growing.

“Exiting print is an extremely difficult moment for all of us who love the romance of print and the unique weekly camaraderie of those hectic hours before the close on Friday night,” the article concluded. “But as we head for the 80th anniversary of Newsweek next year we must sustain the journalism that gives the magazine its purpose—and embrace the all-digital future.”

Brand Branson

TWENTY-THREE Australians are among the 600 people who have stumped up $US200,000 each to be among the first space tourists with Virgin Galactic. The flights are expected to take place at the end of next year after Virgin test flights prove successful and the passengers undergo basic space training.

Flights on Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo will carry two pilots and six commercial passengers on a two and a half hour journey that will involve just six minutes of sub-orbital weightlessness 21,000m high. The idea is the latest brainwave of serial inventive British businessman Richard Branson who will be on the first scheduled flight with his family.
The entrepreneurial icon turned 62 in July but shows no sign of slowing down.
Where others see disaster, Branson sees opportunity. CNN called him part Warren Buffett, part PT Barnum and an “unflappable inventor and promoter”. He has interests on six continents, including airlines, express trains, mobile phones and credit cards.
Branson was always an independent sort. Aged 16 he set up a magazine to put out a student point of view. “I didn’t like the way I was being taught at school,” he said in 2006. “I didn’t like what was going on in the world, and I wanted to put it right.” Plenty of advertisers were willing to stump up to reach the cashed-up youngsters reading Branson’s mag and his career was up and running.
He advertised records in the magazine and started selling them himself at a London store at discounted rates under the brand “Virgin”. In 1972 he launched Virgin Records and was approached by a struggling artist called Mike Oldfield to listen to his demo. Other companies thought Oldfield’s instrumental work was unmarketable but Branson took a gamble. Oldfield’s Tubular Bells was the first record released by Virgin. The album took off after it was used as the theme music for the movie The Exorcist and by the end of 1973 it was a massive international success. Branson was always grateful to Oldfield and would later name one of his first Virgin America planes Tubular Belle.
Branson’s willingness to take a gamble paid off and he was at it again in 1976 when he signed the Sex Pistols. Johnny Rotten and his punk crew were controversial but they knew how to shift records. Though the band broke up before Branson made serious money out of them, they successfully changed Virgin’s old image as a hippie label. In their wake, he signed up XTC, The Skids, The Culture Club, The Human League, and Sting. Virgin’s income went from a loss of £900,000 in 1980 to a profit of £11 million in 1983. In 1992 Branson sold the music label to EMI for £0.5 billion.
By then, Branson had expensive airlines in his firing line. In his autobiography Losing My Virginity he explained why. “My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them,” he said. “From the perspective of wanting to live life to the full, I felt that I had to attempt it.” Just as his assault on the expensive record industry worked, the over-regulated airline market was also ripe for picking.
His Virgin Atlantic Airways was followed by Virgin Blue in Australia in 2000. Virgin Blue took full advantage of Ansett’s collapse a year later to become the country’s second largest airline. Internationally there was Virgin Trains and Virgin Mobile and even Virgin Comics as Branson spread his net far and wide. Meanwhile there was a succession of world record attempts, film appearances and humanitarian initiatives as Branson the man competed with Branson the brand.
He was knighted in 2000 for “services to entrepreneurship” and he now gets rock star treatment wherever he goes. Last year, stadiums in Sydney and Melbourne were filled with people who forked out $300 a ticket to attend a “financial education summit” where Sir Richard was the star speaker. At an age when many are reaching for the pipe and slippers, Branson is still reaching for the skies and beyond.

Australian Wheat Bickering

The Wheat Export Marketing Amendment Bill 2012 is one of many issues used as poorly understood political footballs in Canberra.  Wheat is important because it is a staple food of almost half the world’s population and is one of the most important commodities produced by the Australian agriculture industry. Australia produces 3% of the world’s wheat but its exports represent around 15% of the world wheat trade annually.

Yet there is little news about what this bill, currently staggering slowly through parliament, will do for the industry. Instead media commentary is all about the drama of who will cross the floor and whether the bill will get up. At its simplest, the bill is aimed at ending a compulsory 22c a tonne levy wheat growers pay to the Government export body for “accreditation”. It would seem a piece of de-regulation ideally suited to free market Liberal philosophies. But the Opposition is living up to its name and opposing the bill.

The obtuseness of their opposition is hidden behind a supposed need for a “well managed transition”. A joint statement released today by Tony Abbott and his deputy Warren Truss  tried to explain it away. “(The) Coalition in our first term will implement measures agreed by the industry to ensure a well-managed deregulation to free and open competition while maintaining our international reputation for quality and reliability,” they said. Abbott and Truss said deregulation must wait until they formed government to “safeguard” port access arrangements, transparency standards on stock information and minimum quality standards. It pointed to the Indonesian live export debacle and for good measure it threw in pink batts and over-priced school halls to show why Labor could not be trusted on this.

The pair denied they would bring back the “single desk”, which Truss managed during Coalition Government. The waters are muddied by several WA Nationals who have joined Labor in wanting industry intervention removed.  WA grows the most wheat, 11 million tonnes in 2003-2004 which amounts to over $2 mlllion dollars to the export agency, money the industry would rather keep. The Western Grain Growers’ Committee said Liberal policy was destroying its reputation in the bush. WGGC chair John Snooke said the bill would remove “a redundant bureaucratic body which has no purpose and imposes an unnecessary cost on wheat growers in Western Australia.” Snook said there was no need for legislation on issues such as wheat quality “because they already are being handled by the industry and by the market.”

The problem for Abbott and Truss is the industry is already deregulated. That happened in 2007 when the Wheat Export Authority was wound up. Set up in the shadow of World War II, the WEA had wide powers. The main ones in the 21st century were to monitor the Australian Wheat Board single desk and to manage any other party that wanted to export Australian wheat. When the WEA and the AWB were tarnished by the revelations of kickbacks to Saddam’s Iraq in Oil for Wheat the WEA was disbanded.

In 2006 PM John Howard stripped AWB of its monopoly. This was against the wishes of many of his Nationals who argued the single desk was the only way to give Australian wheat farmers bargaining clout in an unfairly-run international market. The AWB was privatised and later acquired by Canadian interests.

In 2008 Labor replaced the WEA with a new board with more limited power. It was supported by the Liberals but not the Nationals. Confusingly the new body Wheat Exports Australia had a similar name and the same acronym. But the new WEA was given just one role: set up an accreditation scheme for bulk wheat exports to ensure exporters met company standards. “The Scheme allows for the accreditation of bulk wheat exporters which meet the specified ‘fit and proper’ criteria and for WEA to exercise its monitoring and enforcement powers,” the (new WEA) says.

This accreditation costs money. The (new) WEA is funded by a compulsory 22c a tonne of wheat levy from grain growers, and grain growers don’t like it. As one grain grower told me “If the bill doesn’t pass we’ll effectively be operating in a pseudo partially deregulated market continuing to fund  the current WEA which is of no use to us that I can see.” In May, the levy, called a Wheat Export Charge was removed pending the passing of the bill. But it was automatically re-instated on October 1 when the bill had not passed through parliament.

The debate was adjourned again today with the Opposition divided and Labor wasting time on wedge politics. The wisest words were from former Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey, who lost his seat to Nationals wildcard Tony Crook who supports the bill. Tuckey also wants a free vote in the Opposition. ”In political terms, do you feed a boil, or do you lance it?” he said.

Goodbye Bussamarai: The Mandandanji Land Wars in the Maranoa

I have finished reading Goodbye Bussamarai, about how Europeans displaced the Aborigines in the part of Australia I live in. Subtitled less evocatively “The Mandandanji Land War Southern Queensland 1842-1852”, the book is simultaneously a work of great research, and a difficult, dense and sometimes dull read. Author Patrick Collins laments the fact most Australians have heard of the Apaches heroes like Cochise and Geronimo but few have heard of tribes such as the Mandandanji and their leaders such as Bussamarai.

However the record is patchy, written by whites and with the most awkward bits left out and unfortunately a sense of Bussamarai the man does not emerge from Collins’s book. What does emerge is that early Europeans were tolerated as adventurers but not as a permanent and disruptive presence. When explorers Mitchell and Leichhardt drifted into what Collins calls East Maranoa in the colony of NSW (the current Queensland local government region of Maranoa plus the Balonne shire north of St George), they were followed by a handful of whites determined to take advantage of the fertile lands suggested by Mitchell’s descriptions of “mount abundance” and a “champagne region”.

Mitchell and Leichhardt described their meetings with “the blacks” so the settlers knew the land weren’t empty. But it were not occupied in a way Europeans understood. So with a sense of entitlement allied to superior firepower, it led to mass murder as the competition for territory expanded. The whites brought with them “too many dreams and two many cows”. After NSW surveyor-general Thomas Mitchell came to East Maranoa in 1846, he recounted his adventures in Sydney to William Macpherson, secretary to the NSW parliament and his son grazier Allan Macpherson. Mitchell gave Allan maps and encouraged him to set up a land claim there. Allan Macpherson would be the first farmer in the Roma region setting off with men and livestock from his headstation in the Gwydir in 1847.

Without an inspection of the land, Macpherson was taking a large leap of faith with Mount Abundance near Muckadilla 200km from the nearest white settlement at Moonie. Mitchell and Macpherson weren’t the first whites in the area. Clarence River area squatter Finney Eldershaw described his search in 1842 for suitable land after he heard of “luxurious downs” in the region. But economic conditions weren’t right for Eldershaw. Australia was in depression and East Maranoa’s remoteness from white settlement made it a difficult financial prospect.

Five years later, conditions were better. While Macpherson was setting off, Mitchell’s deputy Edmund Kennedy was back in the region to do more exploration. He was joined by Archer, Blyth and Chauvel who explored the region from the north. Macpherson started his run in October 1847 with 20 men working the property. While we know a lot about the early whites, the Aborigines are more inscrutable. The character of “Bussamarai” is particularly problematic.

Collins claims a tribal leader called variously as Old Billy, Eaglehawk, Possum Murray and Bussamarai was the one and the same person but the evidence is not always convincing. Collins said the elder who helped Mitchell find Muckadilla Creek and the Maranoa River was “probably” Bussamarai but offers no proof. All Mitchell said was the natives were not covetous and asked for nothing. By the time Kennedy returned, relations had gone downhill and he had to use “one or two shots in the air” to frighten 200 Aborigines away from his camp. The Mandandanji lands became untenable as more whites entered the East Maranoa motivated less by fame and discovery then by land acquisition.

Macpherson recorded the first cattle killing at Warroo station near Surat in late 1847. By December 1848 there was war between the blacks and the settlers affecting every station between Roma and Chinchilla. Station hands working for absentee landholders retaliated attacks on their livestock while authorities in Sydney and London turned a blind eye.

A new force gradually restored “order” by 1851. This was NSW’s northern division of the Native Police, which served the economic ends of the pastoralists. Pastoral superintendent Frederick Walker led a team of 20 Aborigines up from the Macintyre River district dispensing rough justice wherever they went. Walker was renowned for his good relations with Aborigines but he showed no mercy in East Maranoa.

Scanty evidence exists of the genocide that followed. Gideon Lang testified to an 1854 parliamentary select committee on the native police he wanted them to protect his Darling River runs. Lang also knew of the “wholesale and indiscriminate killing” and “cold blooded cruelty on the part of the whites quite unparalleled in the history of these colonies”. Walker’s men used “fair means or foul” to bring about a lopsided peace in East Maranoa. There were significant massacres at Yuleba Creek in March 1850 and Yamboucal station near Surat in May 1852.

Collins said Bussamarai united the Bigambul people and two or three other groups with the Mandandanji to drive out the whites. They engaged in battles with the Native Police with inevitable conclusions. On November 1852 Sergeant Skelton noted a skirmish at Ukabulla between the Aboriginals led by Bussamarai and armed troops in daylight. Two Aboriginals were “shot in the attempt to apprehend them,” Skelton said. “Likewise four more of the Blacks were shot before I could drive them to the station.” Bussamarai was dead, the Maranoa front was “tamed” and the war moved on to other areas of Queensland.

The surviving Mandandanji became fringe dwellers in their own territory. Many were forcibly removed to settlements at Taroom and later at Woorabinda and Cherbourg, scattering the memory of their sacred link to the land. Goodbye to Bussamarai is a farewell to a warrior but also to a way of life that stood no chance against European weapons.

Ukraine challenges Australia’s cigarette plain packaging laws

While those who detest the loss of national power to international bodies usually blame the UN, a World Trade Organisation decision this week poses the most serious threat yet to Australian sovereignty. The high-stakes decision is about cigarettes smoking, a global pandemic that kills six million people a year. Accounting for one in every 10 adult deaths, smoking is the most widespread public health threat in the world and the single biggest preventable cause of cancer. At least 15,000 people die a year in Australia from smoking related causes.

Australia is now in the vanguard of public health initiatives against smoking.  Last year the Government passed ground-breaking legislation for cigarette plain packaging through a hostile parliament and then a high court challenge in August this year. The legislation requires tobacco products to feature standard olive-coloured plain packaging with large health warnings. Within hours of the court decision a challenge came from tobacco-producing country Ukraine in the WTO. According to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, trade with Ukraine is “modest” and favours Australia. In 2009 Australia exported $70m of goods and services to Ukraine while just half of that went the other way mainly for Ukrainian fertilisers and electrical circuits equipment. Ukraine exports cigarettes but little or none to Australia.Nevertheless Ukraine requested a WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) panel to look at the cigarette trademark restriction. After deferral last month, the DSB agreed to form a panel last week. They will determine if the measures “erode the protection of intellectual property rights” and “impose severe restrictions on the use of validly registered trademarks”. Ukraine explained why IP and trademarks trump public health policy: “Governments should pursue legitimate health policies through effective measures without unnecessarily restricting international trade and without nullifying intellectual property rights as guaranteed by international trade and investment rules”. Ukraine said the measures were “clearly more restrictive than necessary to achieve the stated objectives” and  an “unnecessary obstacle to trade”.

With so little trade at stake, it seems an absurd argument but as ABC Lateline discovered, Ukraine’s tobacco industry is powerful. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, production soared through conglomerates like Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and Philip Morris peaking at more than 130 billion cigarettes four years ago. JTI supports the challenge to Australia. “Put simply, if this measure is passed, Australia will be saying to the rest of the world, ‘we’re not open for business’,” JTI said. Ukraine challenges two key Australian measures, the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 and the Tobacco Plain Packaging Regulations 2011. It says these acts are inconsistent with articles of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, some of the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) agreement and one of the 1994 GATT agreements.

Australia said Ukraine had high death rates from tobacco and its actions were at odds with its own policies to comply with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Australia defended the tobacco plain packaging as a “sound, well-considered measure designed to achieve a legitimate objective — the protection of public health”. Australia said the WTO recognised public heath as a fundamental right of its members and the measure was non-discriminatory and not unnecessarily restrictive.

Uruguay agrees with Australian aims. Its WTO reps said Uruguay “could not remain silent in this fight against the most serious pandemic confronting humanity”. Uruguay said the Multilateral Trading System should not force members to allow a product that kills its citizens in large numbers “to be sold wrapped as candy to attract new victims.” New Zealand said it is also considering plain packaging measures and Norway said countries are under obligation to adopt measures to protect public health.

Zimbabwe, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Indonesia have backed Ukraine. Zimbabwe relies on tobacco taxes and has not forgiven Australia for its anti-Mugabe stance. It said 200,000 farmers and their families in Zimbabwe depend on tobacco. Honduras said the WHO Framework Convention is “indicative and non-binding” while Nicaragua said tobacco was one of their most important exports.

Fairfax economic correspondent Peter Martin said a Philip Morris International briefing note for the US trade representative in the Trans-Pacific Partnership wants an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, “including the right for investors to submit disputes to independent international tribunals.” Martin said the Howard Government FTA with the US resisted this notion but an Abbott Government might be more pliable.