Some bits kind of relevant to today in Illawarra…

Well, the first is. And I am ashamed to say I had clean forgotten about it. See Black Christmas 2001-2. Helensburgh is on the northern side of Illawarra, north of Otford, up against The Shire and the Royal National Park.

After lunch a dark brown cloud came out of the Appin, Darkes Forest area. At first it blanketed Stanwell Tops, sweeping down into Stanwell Park. As it thickened, the Burgh crew down at the Park realized they were in for a massive bushfire. By the time they got up to the Burgh, the fire had already jumped the F6, the Princes Highway, down past Binners, Symbio, the Hindu Temple and was racing toward Stanwell Tops.

By late afternoon the power was off and the fire had reached the Ampol service Station, Busy Bee and the Mower Shop. It worked through to Mrs Lawson’s industrial area and took out a number of sheds – Helensburgh Metal Fabrications, owned by Michael Brooks, and Kurt Martison’s car restoration business. Rajani Road was next to feel the force of the fire, with one house in Excelsia Avenue totally destroyed.

In the meantime the fire had reached Stanwell Tops, devastating the Tops Convention Centre, and taking out properties owned by the Gilmour, Parker, Host, Saverino, McWilliams, Price, Green and Armstrong families. Mrs Luck’s home next to the Hindu Temple was nearly lost. Trent Luck heard about the fire and tried to get home and protect the property, but was stopped at Waterfall. So he parked the car and with three police chasing him, ran through the bush to the Burgh. "Mosley", owned by Mrs. Loyd, was only just saved. The fire then moved to Otford.

That doco is well worth a look.

On days like today all kinds of things can start a true catastrophe. For example:

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Car accident – image from Helensburgh RFS Facebook page.

Not really related, except geographically,  but worth seeing is Alan Bond’s Ghost Tunnel.

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Thinking about The Shire–and Christmas Past…

Northern Hemisphere readers won’t find this Christmassy, but I sure do. It is also what Cronulla looked like when I was 21, and I’m afraid to say it looked much better than it does now. Overdeveloped to hell, in my opinion, though that process had begin by 1964 as you may see from that fugly unit block built far too close to the beach.

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The old Cecil, though – that was another matter.

Was the photographer just lucky, do you reckon, or did he place Bikini Girl there himself? I suspect the answer is rather obvious.

Return of the tram

Well, so it appears these tracks are about to come back!

BARRY O’FARRELL will gamble on returning Sydney to its past to head off a congestion-choked future, promising to run trams from the northern end of the central business district into the eastern suburbs half a century after they were ripped out.

The commitment to light rail from Circular Quay to Central Station, through Surry Hills and to Randwick and Kingsford was the main new element in the long-term transport master plan released on Thursday, a document intended to map out projects and policies for the next 20 years…

The track goes up Devonshire Street from Chalmers Street and then along the old tram corridor (seen above as I remember it in the 1950s) to Randwick and UNSW. What a bloody good thing! Why, we’ll be able to take the tram right to The Shakespeare Hotel and the Trinity Bar!

Given past plays between Lord Mayor Clover Moore and Barry O’Farrell – after all he engineered her departure from the NSW Parliament only to find her nominee replaced her, of course – it is nice and Christmassy to find them in such agreement on this one.

Sydney is continually recognised for its liveability and increasingly for its sustainability but we fall behind on transport – our congestion is deeply frustrating to the people who live and work here, as well as to those who visit.

The government’s decision to invest in light rail will transform Sydney – and not just the city centre. By creating a light rail network, which starts in the CBD and that could link up with Green Square, Barangaroo and to Parramatta Road, the government is addressing the decades of inaction that has crippled our state…

This transport plan shows the City of Sydney and state government can work together to solve our biggest challenges and to rebuild the trust Sydneysiders lost a long time ago in our city’s transport.

Clover Moore is the lord mayor of Sydney.

In The Gong–good news and bad news

Crown Street Mall yesterday experienced a visit from leafy Killara…

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Some of our students down here are, it seems, up against it. Consider this graphic from today’s Illawarra Mercury.

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Parts of the Illawarra are trailing badly behind the digital age, with more than a third of households in some suburbs still not connected to the internet.

The lag is creating a digital divide largely along postcode lines, according to latest Census data.

In Warrawong, more than 41 per cent of households are not connected to the internet, compared with 11.5 per cent in the 2508 postcode covering Coalcliff, Helensburgh, Otford, Stanwell Park and Stanwell Tops.

Barnardos community development worker Michelle Ridding believes the divide is creating a new "layer of disadvantage" among primary school-aged children…

In the Illawarra, broadband take-up is lowest in postcodes 2528 (Barrack Heights, Barrack Point, Lake Illawarra, Mount Warrigal, Warilla and Windang); 2506 (Berkeley) and 2505 (Kemblawarra, Port Kembla).

Australia-wide, 19.7 per cent of households have no internet, down from 35.4 per cent in 2006.

In the Illawarra, the average is 22.6 per cent, down from 39 per cent.

Some people in every Illawarra postcode – about 3.5 per cent – continue to use dial-up.

Work on the federal government’s National Broadband Network roll-out is expected to begin in Warrawong and surrounding suburbs within three years.

Kiama Downs and Minnamurra are already connected to the faster network and 44 per cent of eligible households have made use of it. Construction is under way in Wollongong, Dapto and elsewhere in the Illawarra, with Kiama next to be connected.

Meanwhile the local university has done rather well in a report into the quality of research taking place in Australian universities.

The Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) 2012 report takes into account more than 60,000 staff, $8.7 billion in external research funding and 413,000 publi-cations.

The report says that 90 per cent of the fields of research assessed at UOW delivered at or above world standard.

The assessment system confirmed UOW’s research excellence in areas including chemical sciences, geology, materials and interdisciplinary engineering, clinical sciences, tourism and human geography.

"These ERA outcomes recognise the research effort across all UOW faculties and areas of research strength," UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Judy Raper said yesterday.

"[These include] for example the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute, the Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials and Materials and Manufacturing Engineering," Professor Raper said.

"This collective effort has contributed to an outstanding success."

The University of Wollongong received the highest national rating in the broad discipline area of chemical sciences…

Another report in The Mercury has rather more mixed news even if the headline asserts: Illawarra set for better year: report.

IRIS’s September Profile Illawarra reflects a range of economic activity; some good, some not so good.

It showed export trade activity at Port Kembla grew by 6.1 per cent in the year to June, imports fell 20.2 per cent, job advertisements dropped 10.3 per cent, the region’s coal production increased by 16.1 per cent, and there was a fall in the number of land, house and unit sales.

During the financial year 2011-12 there were 3468 house sales, 1502 unit sales and 481 land-only sales.

At the end of the year 187,800 people were employed, down 2.6 per cent.

Unemployment was up 0.1 percentage points to 6.7 per cent and youth unemployment fell to 14.3 per cent from 15.1 per cent.

Labour force figures released yesterday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed the national unemployment rate fell from 5.4 per cent to 5.2 per cent in November.

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mais où est l’Albury d’antan?

Last night I confessed on Facebook:

Instead of watching what I intended on ABC2 I have found myself deep in memories thanks to Bruce Part’s photos of The Albury Hotel. This is a rendition of one of those photos.

And someone comments on Bruce’s album:

Such an beautiful original old pub destroyed! I was saddened when I finally moved to Syd and it was gone. I met a lovely guy there on my first visit around 1996 and didn’t leave empty handed….a big deal for a country boy!!!

“Such an beautiful original old pub destroyed!” indeed. I hope Bruce finds a few more to share in that “boot box full of photo memories.”

I have cropped a couple and given them the art makeover treatment.

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And see these searches of my blogs:

Yum Cha this morning was myself, The Empress, Clive, James, and eventually M, absolutely exhausted and needing the food. It was a good Yum Cha (The Emperor’s Garden service was friendly and excellent). After that M went home to sleep — he starts again tonight at 6 pm, and I went with James and The Empress to the Albury — yes, I was there this Sunday — where we surprised the bar staff by eating barbecued quail that Ian had purchased, and added a Chinese tonic to our beer (it said it could be used in beer) which caused the beer to look like some Jekyll-and-Hyde potion, but actually improved the taste!  — March 4 2001

Mad pollies: cut, cut and cut again, and hang the consequences…

Let’s hope they have more brains than that, but I am not holding my breath.

From The Illawarra Mercury.

Illawarra’s multicultural services will be forced to take up the slack if multicultural program staff are lost in a Department of Education and Communities restructure.

NSW Teachers Federation regional organiser Nicole Calnan said the multicultural support positions were not included in a draft proposal of the restructure sent to department offices this month.

Under the restructure – part of the NSW government’s plan to save $1.7 billion in education spending – Illawarra schools will be absorbed into a super region and support jobs will be cut.

"There is no provision for ensuring that the current level of multicultural program support for schools will continue," Ms Calnan said.

"Under this realignment, the positions of multicultural/ESL [English as a second language] consultant, community information officer, regional multicultural support officer and ESL/refugee- teacher mentors won’t even exist."

Ms Calnan said the multicultural program staff performed several roles, from providing professional learning and support for ESL teachers to running multicultural and anti-racism programs in schools.

Earlier this week, the Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra (MCCI) convened a meeting of all CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities) representatives from the region.

MCCI general manager Terrie Leoleos said the loss of these valuable school roles would adversely affect the region’s already disadvantaged communities.

"The Education Department’s multicultural support program has played an intricate and important role across the state in supporting migrants, refugees and humanitarian entrants and settlements into this country, particularly in regional areas," Ms Leoleos said.

"Cutting positions like these … will be detrimental not only to those communities but it will put a lot of pressure on multicultural services, which are already stretched and will have to take up the shortfall."

The MCCI this week sent a letter to the Education Department asking that they do a comprehensive review and engage multicultural services and communities in the process.

A department spokesman said a revised model of the restructure would be available on Monday, with a final model to be released on December 21.

Having been an ESL teacher in the not too distant past, I know just how much I valued, indeed needed, the services that it appears may be about to become victims of small government ideology/bean counting. They operated on a shoestring even back in the late 90s and early 2000s, but I can’t begin to tell you how good they are! Consider, for example:

Refugee support programs

A refugee is a person who has fled his or her country and cannot return because of a well-founded fear of persecution due to their race, religion, nationality or membership of a particular social group.

In recent years, increasing numbers of young refugees, in particular refugees from Africa and the Middle East, have enrolled in government schools in both metropolitan and country areas of NSW. About 1,600 enrol each year. At any time approximately 12,000 refugee students are enrolled in NSW government schools.

These students come from a number of countries in Africa, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Kenya, Congo, Uganda, Nigeria, Eritrea, Ivory Coast and Burundi, as well as countries in Asia and the Middle East, in particular Afghanistan and Iraq.

Many refugee families have lived in protracted refugee situations before coming to Australia. Some students were born and have lived all their lives in refugee camps. All have experienced disrupted schooling. Some may have had very limited schooling and, as a result, have few or no first language literacy skills.

Many of the recently arrived refugees have high resettlement and educational needs and may need high levels of support. However, it is important to avoid over-generalisation as this is not the case with all refugees. Conclusions about a refugee student’s capabilities and needs should be reached through careful assessment over a period of time.

Traumatic experiences that refugee students encounter before they start school in Australia may impact considerably on their learning and behaviour at school. In some cases, post traumatic stress and poor health due to refugee experiences can lead to absences from school, or manifest in poor behaviour in the classroom.

The safety, security and support provided by schools are critical factors in ensuring the adjustment of refugee children and adolescents to life and schooling in Australia. Officers at Multicultural Programs Unit can assist regions in planning and delivering successful refugee support programs.

I am not directly familiar with what is happening in schools down here in the Illawarra, where I now live, but one may get an idea from school sites such as Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts.

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Images from a Wollongong High Powerpoint presentation.

Recent developments in our asylum seeker policy continue to depress me. Some consolation may be found in seeing fellow feeling among the Herald cartoonists lately.

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