Inbox and Environment News: Issue 396

March 10 - 16, 2019: Issue 396

School Strikers Welcome The Australian Education Union’s Support For Our #ClimateStrike

Friday 8th March: Media Release - School Strike 4 Climate, Australia
The school strikers for climate action welcome the Australian Education Union’s (AEU) support of our March 15 #ClimateStrike 

In a statement issued today, Federal President Correna Haythorpe from The Australian Education Union, who represent 190,000 education workers, said:

“The AEU supports the democratic right of students to take direct action, giving voice to their real concerns about the impacts of climate change, and protesting the inaction by the federal government.” 

“We commend the actions of students who participated in the climate strike in November 2018 to build pressure on the Morrison government to enact laws and policy that would place Australia at the international forefront on proper action to tackle climate change.”

“The AEU stands in solidarity with students and will work with education departments to ensure that students who wish to participate in the student strike planned for 15 March 2019 are afforded their democratic rights and can do so safely.” Ms Haythorpe said.

The Australian Education Union joins over 15 unions who have endorsed the strike so far, including the National Union of Workers, the Community and Public Sector Union, the Australian Services Union, United Voice, the National Tertiary Education Union, the General & Construction Division of the Construction Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (Vic/Tas), the Australian Nurses and Midwives Federation (Vic/Tas), Education International, a global federation of unions representing 30 million educators worldwide, Public Services International representing 20 million workers worldwide, and more. 

Responding to the AEU’s statement of support, Western Sydney school striker Adrian Wildhaber said: 

“It’s wonderful that teachers and education bodies like the Australian Education Union are supporting our school strike movement. Support like this helps push our movement forward, igniting further momentum to fight for urgent climate action. 

"The widespread support we are receiving shows just how deeply concerned people are about climate change. Climate change is already shaping up to be the number one issue in the 2019 Federal Election. We need politicians to do what it takes to keep fossil fuels in the ground and move Australia to 100% renewable energy. Our future is at stake if they don’t.”   
On March 15, tens of thousands of students will strike from school to demand urgent climate action in almost 50 locations across Australia and over 70 countries worldwide.

Australian strikes are listed here (Sydney @ Town Hall at 12 Noon)

School strikers are calling on all politicians to treat climate change as a crisis and take urgent action to: 
  1. #StopAdani 
  2. Stop all new fossil fuel projects and 
  3. Commit to 100% renewable energy by 2030. 

Liberal And Labor Must Rule Out New Hunter Valley Coal Power Plant Proposals

March 7th, 2019: Nature Conservation Council
The Nature Conservation Council calls on all parties to use state planning powers to block two 1000MW coal-fired power stations proposed for former Hunter Economic Zone near Kurri Kurri.

The Guardian reported today that Parramatta businessman Frank Cavasinni and Chinese investors were planning to lodge an application to build the facilities. [1]

“Ms Berejiklian and Mr Daley must both rule out approving any new coal fired power stations in NSW,” Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said.

“If a new coal power plant was built it would blow the government’s target of making NSW carbon neutral by 2050.

“While the state is gripped by drought and people are crying out for leadership, the Coalition still lacks a plan to slash our emissions even after eight years in power.

“The ALP has unveiled ambitious plans to ramp up renewables, but the Coalition still has not stated how it plans to transform our electricity from coal to clean energy.

“The way Ms Berejiklian and Mr Daley respond to this latest threat will be a test of their commitment to a forward-looking climate and energy policy.”

Recent polling found 96% of people want renewables to be our main source of energy and more than 69% think governments should plan for the orderly closure of coal-fired power stations and their replacement with clean energy. [2]


[1] 7-3-19 The Guardian -

[2] Climate of the Nation 2017: Australian attitudes on climate change

Thousands Of Ducks Set To Be Killed

By BirdLife Australia
All native birds are protected equally, it’s just that some are protected more equally than others. There are stiff penalties for killing native birds in all of Australia’s states, yet when the calendar flicks over to March, the State Governments of Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia decide it’s suddenly okay to kill native birds after all, just as long as they are ducks.

Somehow, ducks are considered to be different from all our other native birds and don’t require protection from people with guns for several weeks between March and June every year. Even when long-running surveys show that waterfowl numbers are at their lowest for decades, shotguns are still allowed to spray across the wetlands. And even when the drought causes surviving waterbirds to crowd into great concentrations on the few refuge wetlands with water, the hunters are still allowed to shoot them. And despite news of massacres of flocks of Freckled Ducks surfacing every so often, still they blast away.

Just how many ducks are shot each year is a surprise. Although figures from Tasmania and South Australia are unavailable at the moment, the number of waterfowl shot during last year’s open season in Victoria have been published, and they are shocking, to say the least.

According to official estimates by the Victorian Government’s Game Management Authority (which oversees the annual duck shooting season), nearly 400,000 ducks were ‘harvested’ in Victoria during the 2018 duck shooting season — 396,708, to be exact. That’s an astonishing number of native birds killed for no reason other than the enjoyment of a dwindling number of hunters. Add to that the number of native ducks shot across South Australia and Tasmania and the figure will be even more staggering.

This figure comprised nearly 133,000 Pacific Black Ducks, 123,000 Grey Teal and 89,000 Australian Wood Ducks, with the balance made up of thousands of Australasian Shovelers, Chestnut Teal, Hardheads, Australian Shelducks and Pink-eared Ducks, all killed over a period of just a few weeks. Given the current drought conditions and the historically low number of waterbirds in eastern Australia, how sustainable can this be? And yet the hunters complain about a season that is shortened ever so slightly, and slightly reduced bag limits.

With a vast majority of Australians opposing the idea of shooting ducks for fun, how long can this outdated blood-‘sport’ persist?

Premier Says ‘See The Outback Before It’s Gassed’

March 8th, 2019: Media Release - Lock the Gate
Lock the Gate Alliance has condemned the move by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to sell out the bush one week, then try to sell it to the city the next.

Ms Palaszczuk this morning promoted Western Queensland’s Cobb & Co historical sites at Brisbane’s Radacliff Place as part of the Year of the Outback tourism campaign.

St George resident Leanne Brummell said it was unlikely many tourists from the city would want to visit the Cobb & Co sites if the coal seam gas industry was allowed to drill on top of them as planned.

“Armour Energy and Santos Shell JV want to further pierce the Surat region like a pin cushion with CSG wells - Surat hosts one of the most famous Cobb and Co sites on the Balonne River.

“What tourist is going to want to come and visit a gasfield?

“As it stands, there are gas wells within 30km of the Surat village, and much of the Western Downs has been pockmarked thanks to this invasive polluting industry.

“Armour energy’s closest approval is now 10km from Surat.

“The Premier also just last week announced the go ahead for the massive Arrow Energy project, which will further condemn the Western Downs to a death by a thousand cuts.

“While it’s great the Premier is encouraging city people to visit the bush, this campaign feels like a ‘see it before it’s gone forever’ push.”

Ms Brummell will join the knitting nannas for a protest outside Santos' head office at Santos Place, 32 Turbot St, Brisbane CBD, tomorrow (Friday) from 11am.

Human 'Footprint' On Antarctica Measured For First Time

March 4, 2019: University of Tasmania
Buildings alone cover more than 390,000 square metres of land while the visual footprint -- the areas from which human activity can be seen -- extends to more than 93,000 square kilometres.

The lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Sustainability, IMAS PhD student Shaun Brooks, said measuring the area impacted by humans was important for Antarctic conservation and environmental management.

"Although the 53 countries that have signed the Antarctic Treaty agreed to protect the Antarctic environment, until now there has been only limited data on the spatial extent of human activity on the continent," Mr Brooks said.

"Our research shows that human impacts are the greatest on land that is also the most environmentally sensitive -- ice free areas within a few kilometres of the coast.

"Ice-free land supports the continent's greatest diversity of flora and fauna, including iconic species such as Adelie penguins, and provides the most accessible areas for marine animals that breed on land.

"We found that 81 per cent of the buildings in the Antarctic are located within just 0.44 per cent of the land that is free of ice."

Mr Brooks said future increases in research activity and tourism were expected to put further human pressure on the continent in coming years.

"The data we have collected can be used to inform decision-making on Antarctic conservation and environmental management, as well as to track future impacts and changes.

"It may also serve to encourage greater coordination and sharing of facilities between nations and users accessing Antarctica, to help limit the human footprint.

"There is a growing tension between the increasing pressure for access to the continent and international commitments to protect the Antarctic environment.

"Hopefully our research can help to inform a sustainable balance between these competing imperatives," Mr Brooks said.

Shaun T. Brooks, Julia Jabour, John van den Hoff, Dana M. Bergstrom. Our footprint on Antarctica competes with nature for rare ice-free land. Nature Sustainability, 2019; DOI: 10.1038/s41893-019-0237-y

Smart Energy Conference & Exhibition 2019

Starts: 8:30am Tuesday, 2 April 2019
Ends: 5:30pm Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Location: International Convention Centre Sydney
14 Darling Drive, Darling Harbour, New South Wales 2000

The Smart Energy Conference and Exhibition is one of Australia’s biggest solar, storage and smart energy conference and exhibition.

Powered by the Smart Energy Council – incorporating the Australian Solar Council and Energy Storage Council, this is our 57th annual FREE-TO-ATTEND conference and exhibition.

  • Over 6,000 delegates, 120 exhibitors and partners
  • A showcase of the latest technology, demonstration of new business models and innovation
  • Outstanding knowledge sharing and networking
  • 3 Conference and information sessions with over 100 presenters
  • CPD points for installers

Destruction Of Koala Habitat Now Widespread In NSW

March 1st, 2019: Nature Conservation Council
Destruction of koala habitat has nearly doubled across three regions of NSW since the axing of the state’s Native Vegetation Act in August 2017, a new report has shown.

A study by WWF-Australia and Nature Conservation Council found more than 3,000 ha of koala habitat was destroyed in the Central West, Hunter and North West regions in the 12 months following the repeal of strong deforestation controls. 

  • Bulldozing of native bushland nearly doubled in North West, Central West and Hunter regions in 2017-18.
  • Deforestation rates increased 2.5x in the Central West, 2.3x in the Hunter Region and 1.6x in the North West.
  • 3,079 ha of koala habitat was bulldozed in these regions in 2017-18, almost double the 1,600 ha destroyed in 2016-17. 
Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said: “The NSW Government is responsible for opening the floodgates to the destruction of koala forests and woodlands on a scale we have not seen for more than 20 years.

“More than 61 football fields of koala forest were wiped off the map every week in these regions. We could only guess the total losses across the whole of the state.

“This report confirms the devastating spike in deforestation we detected in the Collarenebri-Moree region last year was just the tip of the iceberg and is now widespread. The NSW Government must ban the clearing of koala habitat and other sensitive natural areas as a matter of urgency.”

WWF-Australia conservationist Stuart Blanch said: “The destruction of koala habitat is accelerating in NSW, where there are likely less than 20,000 koalas left in the wild.

“At the current rate, they are on track to be extinct in the state by as early as 2050.  We have to stop this excessive tree-clearing if we want to keep koalas alive in the wild for future generations.

“The clearing destroyed habitat for 71 threatened species, including koalas. The forests that were bulldozed meant there are now fewer trees to make rain, cool the weather and store carbon.

“We are calling in on the NSW Government to urgently strengthen the laws to ensure koalas and other threatened native animals are given the protections they need.”


New South Wales Deforestation Data Analysis: Three Case Studies 2016-2018, (2019) WWF-Australia and NSW Nature Conservation Council.

Bulldozing of bushland nearly trebles around Moree and Collarenebri after safeguards repealed in NSW, (2018) WWF-Australia and NSW Nature Conservation Council.

What can Australians do to help protect koalas?

WWF-Australia and the Nature Conservation Council have launched petitions calling all parties to take action to protect koalas in NSW for future generations.

Farmers Slam Minister Roberts’ Dodgy Special Rules For Gas Companies

March 8th, 2019: Media Release - Lock the Gate
Farmers from North West NSW have slammed the actions of Planning Minister Anthony Roberts after he flaunted established planning processes in favour of a pipeline company, which could carry gas from the Santos Narrabri CSG project.

The Hunter Queensland Gas Pipeline was approved over ten years ago but did not commence. In November the company applied for an extension for another five years, but the approval lapsed on February 11th this year without an extension being granted.

However, on the very last day before the caretaker periodcommenced ahead of the NSW election, Minister Roberts made a new regulation which appears specifically designed to extend the lapsed deadline on the pipeline by 12 months.

Scott McCalman, a farmer near Mullaley said, “Anthony Roberts has flaunted the proper NSW planning process, changing the rules for the convenience of the CSG industry and leaving farmers and landholders in agonising limbo.

“Roberts has abused his power and shown contempt for the public and the farmers of North West NSW by backdating this extension after it had already lapsed."

Last year, over one hundred objections were lodged against the proposal to extend the approval.

Submitters argued that the ten year deadline for approved projects was important to provide certainty to local communities and currency to the planning process.

“The effect of this dodgy extension for a CSG pipeline is to extend uncertainty for landholders along the pipeline route, bending and making new rules for the benefit of the proponent, the Hunter Gas Pipeline Pty Ltd,” Mr McCalman said.

“This pipeline has been directly linked to the proposed Santos Narrabri CSG project that farmers in North West NSW have fought tooth and nail against for nine years.

“Coal seam gas puts our precious groundwater at risk and to see the NSW Government bending the rules for a gas company when we’re at our wits end with the threat of CSG is a real kick in the teeth."

The new Regulation is specifically for “transitional Part 3A projects that have been designated as state significant infrastructure” as the Hunter Gas pipeline is, and specifically contains a retrospective provision applying the extension to development approvals that have already lapsed.

City Of Hobart First In Australia To Ban Plastics

March 5th, 2019
The City of Hobart (Council) is taking the lead to reduce the human impact on our environment by banning single-use plastics within our Local Government Area.

What does this mean?
Retailers will be advised to change their current single-use plastic containers which are smaller than one litre in volume or an area equivalent to A4 (210 mm by 297 mm) in size, to more environmentally friendly options.

This change will only affect packaging that is provided at the point of sale, such as when food is prepared onsite then packaged for takeaway. Prepackaged food (that is food that is already packaged like chocolate bars and soft drinks) will not be affected. Pre-packaged fruit and vegetables from the supermarket, will also not be affected.

Kepco’s Bylong Mine Can’t Escape Climate Reality Any Longer

March 8th, 2019: Media Release - Lock the Gate
Mining company KEPCO’s new submission to the Independent Planning Commission on its proposed Bylong Valley coal project is recognition the Rocky Hill judgement changed the way the IPC should consider new coal mines in New South Wales, according to Lock the Gate Alliance. 1.

KEPCO has submitted new information to the Commission this week confirming that “Scope 3” (downstream burning) emissions from the Bylong proposal, which would destroy farmland in the picturesque Bylong Valley, will be 197.4 Mt - more than five times the Scope 3 emissions the Rocky Hill coal mine would have produced.

“Rocky Hill was in part rejected by the Land and Environment Court on the grounds it would contribute to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and would not be consistent with efforts to achieve the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees,” Lock the Gate spokesperson Georgina Woods said.

"Given the downstream emissions from Bylong coal mine would be five times that of the Rocky Hill mine, refusing the Bylong coal mine project will make a meaningful contribution to remaining within the carbon budget for achieving the long term temperature goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and that's what the Independent Planning Commission needs to do.

"Australians are already suffering the impacts of climate change and there is so little time left to prevent the problem escalating beyond our control. 

“The public expects all responsible agencies to use the powers available to them to act. 

"The Independent Planning Commission cannot in good conscience let the Bylong Valley be opened up to coal mining. It's a coal mine in the wrong place and at the wrong time. 

"Meeting the Paris climate agreement goals means both Australia and the Republic of Korea will need to phase out coal use in the next decade. 

"We need to be honest about the incompatibility of continued coal exports from New South Wales and our shared goal to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees, and we need a ten year plan to help the Hunter region adjust to a necessary decline in coal use."

KEPCO’s greenhouse gas submission can be found here:

1. Scope 3 emissions from Rocky Hill would have been 37.8Mt over the projected life of the proposed Rocky Hill mine (at [515] of the judgment in Gloucester Resources v Minister for Planning).

EPA Fines AGL Macquarie $30,000 After Diesel Spill

March 5th, 2019: EPA Media Release
The NSW Environment Protection Authority has fined AGL Macquarie Pty Ltd (AGL) $30,000 following a diesel spill from Bayswater Power Station in to Tinkers Creek in 2018.

EPA Director Hunter Karen Marler said two fines of $15,000 each and two official cautions were issued after diesel overflowed from an onsite storage tank, due to an alleged valve failure, despite alarms being sounded.

It is believed that between 45,000 to 70,000 litres of diesel overflowed from the tank with a small amount of diesel making its way to Tinkers Creek,” Ms Marler said.

The diesel was not contained by the tank’s bund due to the company’s failure to maintain the bund.

“The issue was amplified by the way the internal alarm system was managed. Multiple alarms masked the alert caused by the diesel overflow and led to a delayed response.”

Since the incident, AGL has addressed deficiencies with their alarm system.

The EPA acknowledges that AGL implemented measures to swiftly clean up the spill, including installing booms in Tinkers Creek and engaging suction truck contractors to clean up.

The NSW EPA encourage the community to report any concerns about environmental pollution to the EPA’s environment line on 131 555. The EPA takes all reports seriously and will investigate.

Penalty notices are one of several tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance including formal warnings, official cautions, licence conditions, notices and directions and prosecutions. For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy at

A Survey On Ticks And Wildlife In The Northern Beaches

The University of Sydney is conducting a study to better understand how residents and their pets are encountering ticks and wildlife in their backyards. We invite all Northern Beaches residents to participate in our survey.

Coastal bushland remnants and other green spaces across the Northern Beaches are home to a variety of native plants and animals. They also provide a place for residents to enjoy their favourite outdoor pastimes. Paralysis ticks (Ixodes holocyclus) are common in the Northern Beaches and feed on a wide range of animal hosts during their life cycle. Understanding the complex relationship between ticks and their host species is an essential part of our research. The information we gain will contribute to our growing knowledge of ticks and will guide future research efforts.

We aim to identify:
  • Areas where people are encountering ticks more than others (tick 'hotspots'),
  • Backyard and landscape features that may influence tick presence, and
  • Wildlife using backyards and how this might or might not influence tick occurrence
To meet these aims, it is important for you to provide a street address. If you would prefer not to, we ask that you provide your street name and nearest cross street. It is important for us to create a map of tick encounters to understand what landscape features might influence tick presence and where to target future research.

All identifying information will be removed from any data presentations.

The survey should only take approximately 10 minutes to complete and is voluntary. 

If you have any questions about the project, please contact PhD candidate Casey Taylor on 02 9351 3189 or This project is being undertaken by the University of Sydney in association with Northern Beaches Council.

Your participation is greatly appreciated.

This research has been approved by the University of Sydney Human Ethics committee. (Approval no: 2018/157)

Thirteen Mammal Extinctions Prevented By Havens, Study

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019
Havens - islands and fenced conservation areas that are free of feral cats and foxes - have already prevented 13 mammal extinctions in Australia, and supported improved conservation for many other species. 

A stocktake of where Australia’s havens are, what native mammal species are in them, and where future havens need to go to prevent further extinctions has been released by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub. 

Boodies used to occur across two-thirds of Australia, but now only exist within havens. Image: Hugh McGregor / Arid Recovery 

Professor Sarah Legge from the University of Queensland led the team of 28 scientists and conservation managers from universities, government conservation agencies and NGOs, who collaborated to undertake the audit.  
“Predation by feral cats and foxes is the main reason that Australia has the worst mammal extinction record over the last 250 years,’ said Prof Legge. 

“At least 80 Australian islands are naturally cat- and fox-free havens which prevented extinctions. 

“For example, the greater stick-nest rat became extinct on mainland Australia, but survived on the Franklin Islands off South Australia, which were not reached by foxes or cats. 

“Since the 1980’s additional havens have been created in Australia by eradicating feral animals from islands or from within large fenced areas on the mainland. 

Woylies are found in seven fenced havens and on three island havens. Nationally woylies have declined from over 200,000 to less than 20,000 in the last 15 years. Predation by foxes and cats is considered the major cause. Once widespread across southern Australia, outside havens, there are now only three small wild populations in Western Australia remaining. Image: Australian Wildlife Conservancy

“Threatened animals have then been moved to these havens to put them out of reach of introduced predators. 

“We now have 101 island havens covering 2152 km2 and 17 fenced havens covering 346 km2. 

“A key finding of our review was that while more than half of the mammal species in Australia that are vulnerable to cats and foxes have the protection of being in a haven, 29 species are not yet in a single haven.” 

According to Dr Jeremy Ringma, a lead researcher on the project, if we want to prevent future extinctions we need to get more strategic about where new havens are located, and which species go into them. 

“The 11 most recently created havens have not added any new species to the haven network,” said Dr Ringma.  

“Protection is also uneven. Woylies are now found in 10 havens, but the central rock rat, the Australian mammal at greatest risk of extinction in the next 20 years, is not protected in a single haven. 

“Havens are being created by a diverse range of groups, including local and state governments, non-government groups and even private individuals. 

“This diversity brings resilience to the growing network, but means that the network growth isn’t always optimal when viewed at a national scale.” 

This graph shows the Australian mammals that are most vulnerable to foxes and cats and how many populations they have in havens. At the top, the pale field rat is found in over 30 havens. At the bottom, many species are found in no havens. Image: Threatened Species Recovery Hub

Dr Michael Bode from QUT said that to prevent future mammal extinctions we have to increase national collaboration and coordination and be more strategic about where new havens are created. 

“We have identified where new havens need to go to get every threatened mammal species that is vulnerable to predation by cats and foxes into at least one haven,” said Dr Bode. 

“If we put havens in the right places, we can achieve this with just 12 new havens. 

“With 39 new havens, we could protect at least three populations of every threatened predator-susceptible native mammal species.” 

Prof Legge concluded, “Cat- and fox-free havens cover tiny fractions of the original distributions of our native species. 

“Longer term, we are still seeking ways of reducing fox and cat impacts across the landscape so that native mammals can be restored at bigger scales. 

“Until then, cat- and fox-free havens will continue to be a critical tool in preventing extinctions.” 

Dr Sally Box, Australia’s Threatened Species Commissioner, welcomed the research and said that understanding where safe havens are needed and identifying species that require protection will be vital for avoiding future extinctions. 

“The Australian Government’s Threatened Species Strategy recognises the important role that islands and mainland safe havens play in the fight against extinction”, said Dr Box. 

“This science is building a clearer picture of where best to create safe havens that deliver exceptional conservation benefits and protect a wide range of species.” 

This map shows existing and planned havens as circles. In order to get every mammal that is vulnerable to cats and foxes into at least one haven, new havens should be prioritised for the 12 regions highlighted. Image: Threatened Species Recovery Hub 

The research was undertaken by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program, in collaboration with government and non-government conservation agencies.  
It has been published in Wildlife Research, Nature Ecology and Evolution, and Conservation Letters

The Hub is a collaboration of 10 leading Australian universities and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy to undertake research to support the recovery of Australia’s threatened species. 

Above image: The first stage of Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Newhaven Sanctuary nearing completion in Central Australia. Once all stages are complete, Newhaven Sanctuary will be a 650 square kilometres (65,000 hectares) cat- and fox-free haven for wildlife. Image: Australian Wildlife Conservancy 

Stop Wasteful Water Infrastructure Subsidies For MDB – Study

March 6th, 2019: ANU
A study from ANU has found billions of dollars are being wasted in water recovery subsidies to increase irrigation efficiency across the Murray-Darling Basin.

The Australian Government estimates $3.5 billion in subsidised on- and off-farm water infrastructure has achieved some 700 gigalitres per year increases to stream and river flows across the Murray-Darling Basin. A gigalitre (GL) equals a billion litres. 

Based on a calculation from a range of estimates, the ANU study found the subsidised water infrastructure may have only delivered 70 GL/year increases to stream and river flows - 630 GL/year less than the Government's estimate.

Professor John Williams, one of the researchers, said 630 GL is more water than is in Sydney Harbour.

"Simply put, without independent and comprehensive water accounting, including what is happening to return flows and the effects of multi-billion dollar subsidies for irrigation infrastructure on stream flows, expect more fish kills, a continuing environmental crisis, and no peace in the Murray-Darling Basin," said Professor Williams from the Centre for Water Economics, Environment & Policy at ANU.

"The Government should halt any further subsidies until their water accounting adds up properly.

"These subsidies should not resume until it can be scientifically determined by how much they increase net stream and river flows, if at all, and at what cost. This requires comprehensive water accounting that was promised in 2004 by Australian governments, that still hasn't been delivered.

"Our study has undergone a comprehensive peer-review process and our findings marry up very well with those in the recent Royal Commission report and the Australian Academy of Science report - we are all singing from the same songbook."

Co-researcher Professor Quentin Grafton said their analysis showed the average cost of water recovery for infrastructure subsidies could be as much as $50 million per GL returned to the Murray-Darling Basin every year.

"We calculate that the actual average cost of increasing stream and river flows from subsidies to increase irrigation efficiency infrastructure in the Murray-Darling Basin could be 10 times more expensive than what is estimated by the Australian Government and 25 times more expensive per litre of water recovered than buying back water entitlements from willing sellers," Professor Grafton said.

"There is too much uncertainty about the actual effect on return flows from increases in irrigation efficiency in the Murray-Darling Basin," Professor Grafton said.

"We acknowledge that there is uncertainty in our own estimates as well, but it only strengthens the case for the long-promised, but never delivered, comprehensive water accounting system to be set up for the Murray-Darling Basin.

"When there is published evidence in peer-reviewed scientific journals of deterioration of key aspects of the ecology in the Basin, ongoing failures of water reform, and misguided policies that are not increasing stream flows, the Australian Government needs to sit up and pay attention and actually deliver what was promised in the Basin Plan.

"There is an urgent need, especially given the drought and the mismanagement of water demonstrated by the Menindee fish kill, to have a much better understanding of where water is, how it is being used, and how we can best recover water to ensure the long-term sustainability of communities, agriculture and the environment in the Basin. Without it, we are flying blind and will not deliver on the key objects of the Water Act."

The peer-review study is published in Australasian Journal of Water Resources.

Missing in action: possible effects of water recovery on stream and river flows in the Murray–Darling Basin, Australia
John Williams & R. Quentin Grafton. Received 14 Jul 2018, Accepted 28 Jan 2019, Published online: 04 Mar 2019

Hume Dam is a major dam across the Murray River - photo by Tim J Keegan - Flickr

Culling Noisy Miners Fails In NSW Trial, Study

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019
The noisy miner is a threat to many other bird species, but culling them is no solution, according to new research by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub of the National Environmental Science Program.

Lead researcher Richard Beggs from the Australian National University said that noisy miner numbers are now greater than before Europeans arrived in Australia, and on top of the loss of 80% of southern temperate woodlands, this is having a devastating impact on many other species of woodland birds. 

Noisy Miner. Land clearing for agriculture has suited this native honey eater, and numbers are now higher than prior to European arrival. They work in groups to drive other birds out of their territory. Photo: Pete Richman CC BY 2.0 Flickr 

“The shrubby understory has also been lost from most remaining woodland areas due to things like grazing. This has created the perfect conditions for this aggressive native honeyeater,” said Mr Beggs, a PhD Candidate at the Fenner School of Environment and Society.

“Noisy miners work together to defend their territory and drive other birds out of their habitat.

“It is such a problem for many species of woodland birds already threatened by habitat loss, that noisy miner aggression is now listed as a Key Threatening Process under Australian environmental law.

“Culling may seem an obvious solution, but before investing precious conservation resources into this activity it is important to test if it will work. 

The crested shrike-tit is one of many woodland bird species that is aggressively driven away from open woodland habitat by groups of noisy miners. Photo: JJ Harrison CC BY SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons  

“We used a licensed shooter to cull all noisy miners in eight areas of woodland on farmland between Gundagai and Junee in New South Wales, that totalled 208 ha.

“We checked that the noisy miners were completely removed from the sites using a 45-minute playback of a variety of noisy miner calls until there was no response.

“We twice removed all noisy miners from all eight sites, but each cull created a ‘vacuum effect’. Noisy miners from surrounding areas simply moved into the area after the culling stopped.

“Monitoring took place before and for 12 months after culling. Before the culls we counted 510 noisy miners across the sites, and after the culls there were 512.

The red-capped robin is one of many woodland bird species that is aggressively driven away from open woodland habitat by groups of noisy miners. Photo: Patrick Kavanagh CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

“This is clear evidence that culling noisy miners doesn’t work in this particular landscape.

“The result was unexpected, as noisy miners are generally thought to have a small home range and do not travel very far.

To a community grappling with what to do about the noisy miner, research showing culling to be ineffective is important news. Attention must now move to other approaches to help threatened woodland birds to cope with the pressure of noisy miners.

“Restoring the understory vegetation that is important to so many bird species, calls for more investigation as a potential solution,” said Mr Beggs. 

Researcher Richard Beggs installing monitoring cameras. Photo: Richard Beggs 

The research has been published in Ecological Applications.

How Did Plants Conquer Land?

March 5, 2019: ANU
An international study has found a drought alarm system that first appeared in freshwater algae may have enabled plants to move from water to land more than 450 million years ago - a big evolutionary step that led to the emergence of land animals, including humans. 

Professor Barry Pogson, from The Australian National University (ANU) and one of the study's senior researchers, said humans and other animals would not have evolved if there were no plants on land because they need oxygen to breathe.

"Land plants play that vital role of releasing oxygen into the atmosphere," said Professor Pogson from the ANU Research School of Biology.

Professor Pogson said the team had found the drought alarm system in all land plants they examined.

Members of Professor Barry Pogson's team at ANU, including Dr. Kai Xun Chan (second from left), in the lab. Image credit: Stuart Hay, ANU

"We first found this alarm system in a model laboratory plant a few years ago, but the significance of this most recent discovery is that we have been able to trace this system back to a time before plants were on land," he said.

The team's experiments on species of land plants and algae indicate this alarm system helps plant species protect against drought by triggering the closure of stomata, which are pores that release water vapor and take in carbon dioxide.

The other two senior researchers are Associate Professor Zhonghua Chen from Western Sydney University in Australia and Professor Doug Soltis from Florida Museum of Natural History in the US.

Associate Professor Chen said the alarm system, which he describes as a molecular signalling and protection system, was first assembled in the ancestor algae about 580 million years ago before being passed on to land plants.

"In plants, the same molecular signalling and protection system found in this algae appears to have played a really important role in helping plants endure drought and other harsh conditions as they colonised land," he said.

Professor Soltis said the system that evolved in algae was like building blocks which were used to help make land plants tolerant to drought.

"The same system in the algae did not protect against drought as the algae were in water - the system likely served another important purpose in the survival of those species," he said.

Professor Pogson and ANU colleagues, including co-lead author Dr Kai Xun Chan, are working on helping plants to survive longer in drought conditions, which could eventually benefit major food crops such as barley, rice and wheat.

"Intriguingly, this warning and protection system is activated by a part of the plant and algal cell called chloroplasts, which perform photosynthesis," said Dr Chan from the ANU Research School of Biology.

"This raises new questions on how photosynthesis and chloroplasts might have shaped the evolution of plants. We will capitalise on the widespread functionality of this warning and protection system in all land plants to try to find a way to engineer drought tolerant crops."

The research is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS):


This May, Pittwater YHA opens its doors to green-hearted and green-thumbed guests who'll save the gorgeous Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park from imminent asparagus fern invasion. Yes, seriously.

Bush Regeneration sees eco-conscious, kind hearted humans restore and rehabilitate the gorgeous, sprawling Aussie bush from its weed-infested, degraded state into a healthy, thriving plant community, which will prosper and delight forevermore. Far from just weed removal; Regenerators focus on habitat, drainage, weed sources and establishing native communities. These are big words which probably don’t make much sense – but we have an interactive learning opportunity for you!

Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Sydney’s protected north coast, is home to rock engravings, red ochre rock paintings, the fuzziest wildlife you ever did see and the most breathtaking views a Sydneysider or visitor could comprehend; and is currently under threat from invasive asparagus fern; which needs removing. Who knew your Aunty’s fave veggie could be so aggressive?

The blissed-out, babbling-brooked, spectacular-viewed, fresh-aired oasis that is our Pittwater YHA, alongside the Northern Beaches Council, are offering you fine green-thumbed and hearted folk the opportunity to volunteer alongside professional Regenerators for a weekend of Pittwater Restoration from May 3 - 5, 2019. Spend two mornings of tending to the gorgeous surrounds and you’ll be rewarded with two nights’ accommodation, two days of meals (morning teas, BBQ lunches and evening dinners) and kayak use throughout your stay. Plus, you’ll be chuffed with yourself for doing your bit for the planet and our futures.  

Along with your towels, two sheets, a pillowcase and, sturdy shoes, sunscreen and your breakfasts; you’ll need a $20 contribution for the weekend. For all the T&Cs; head to Pittwater YHA, shoot them an email (Subject: 'Bush Regeneration Weekend') or give them a ring on (02 9999-5748) – the only thing those guys love more than a regenerated bushland is chatting to ladies and gentleman who are keen on the idea!  

Archie's Pittwater Clean Up

My name is Archie Mandin 
I am a Seabin Ambassador, I started this campaign because I want to take a stand against ocean plastics!

My goal is to raise enough money to bring a minimum of 20 Seabins to Pittwater NSW as I want to give The Northern Beaches the opportunity to reduce its plastic pollution impact on the ocean. Its amazing how much accidental rubbish comes down our creeks and into our waterways 

I need your help to raise money to buy the Seabins a revolutionary ocean cleaning technology which is essentially a floating rubbish bin that operates 24/7 catching all floating debris in the water.

The Seabin helps clean the ocean of floating debris which in turn creates cleaner oceans and we all benefit from this in one way or another. I mean, who really wants to swim in pollution? Not me that’s for sure!

Did you know that 300 million tons of plastic are produced in the world every year, half of which is for single use products, from this more than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year. We need to do something about it and now with the purchase of a Seabin we can all participate and make a difference! 

Join me and my campaign to help ensure cleaner oceans!

What’s a Seabin? 
The Seabin is a floating rubbish bin that is located in the water at marinas, docks, yacht clubs and commercial ports.

The Seabin can catch an average of 3.9kgs of floating debris per day which adds up to 1.4 tons per year. (depending on weather conditions and debris volumes) The Seabins is catching large plastic bags, bottles, plastic straws, coffee cups, food wrappers, surface oils and micro plastics down to 2 mm small. 

How can a Seabin contribute to cleaner oceans?
The Seabin contributes to cleaner oceans by removing 1.4 tons of floating debris per unit per year. The location of the Seabin in marinas is ideal and where it matters most, close to the source of entry for floating debris. Ports and Marinas are perfect locations to stop floating debris from entering the open ocean and ocean plastics are also brought in by wind and currents.

Are the Seabins a danger to marine life?
The fish According to the team at Seabin, stay away from the surface of the water where the Seabin sucks in the water. They are deterred by the force of the water current. If there are swarms of jellyfish or bait fish it is recommended that the Seabins are turned off until the swarms pass. If a fish was to accidentally go into the Seabin, it would be caught in the Seabin and stay submerged in water until the marina staff retrieve the filter and throw the fish still alive back into the water.

How does it work? 
Water is sucked in from the surface and passes through a catch bag inside the Seabin, with a submersible water pump capable of displacing 25.000 LPH (liters per hour). The water is then pumped back into the marina leaving litter and debris trapped in the catch bag to be disposed of properly.

Who is responsible for the Seabin?
This is the best part of it all, the marina will be the one responsible for the upkeep of the Seabins and also they will be paying for the energy consumption of the Seabin which is around $2 - $3 a day.

The marina enjoys a cleaner marina and the rest of us and the marine life enjoy cleaner oceans with less floating debris polluting our oceans!

Seabins part of a whole solution
Seabins whole solution is Technology, Education, Science, Research and Community. The reason for this is that Technology alone is not the solution to stopping ocean plastics, education is the real solution.

Great! Can our local community be involved also?
Yes! The team at Seabin have interactive programs and lessons designed for schools, community and youth to interact with the Seabins and have over 2000 school students engaged around the world, this is something that we can do locally also with support from the team at Seabin Project.

What will we be doing if we participate in these programs?
You would be joining an international community contributing important data and feedback on ocean plastics to the Seabin central data base. Renowned scientists, universities and environmental agencies are all a part of the programs also.

The lessons range from identifying ocean plastics to data collection of what the Seabins are catching weekly. The data collection is a very easy activity and where we can all see the measurable impact of debris the Seabins are taking out of the water in all weather conditions.

It’s as simple as counting how many plastic bags, plastic particles, food wrappers and then noting it down on a spreadsheet or app. Weather conditions and location information is also entered into the data base.

How can you help our campaign and make a difference in the world?
Every contribution to this crowdfunding campaign helps, be it $1 or $50 dollars, it all adds up and bring us closer to our goal.

Even if you cannot afford a donation, please help by sharing this campaign with your friends and family on social media. The more people that know about the campaign the better!

Thanks everyone for taking the time to check out our campaign!



Seabin Project FAQs

Q: Can someone pay out the crowdfunding campaign goal?
A: Yes! We need help! The more money we can raise, the more Seabins we can buy. 

Q: Why crowdfund a Seabin?
A: Until now, the Seabins were not for the everyday person to purchase because marinas ports and yacht clubs are the target market for Seabin Group. This is a way where everyday people can give something back to the oceans.  

Q: How do Seabins work in tidal areas?
A: Seabins at present are designed for floating docks and pontoons. The Seabins move up and down with the tide on the floating dock.

 Q. How are the pumps run? 
A. The pumps are currently electric, and around $2-$3 a day to run.

Q: When are the Seabins available?
A: Depending on your countries location, Seabins will be available Feb 2019.

Q: Do any fish get sucked into the Seabins? What about smaller marine life?
A: There is a possibility of fish to enter the Seabins, however in the last 2 years of development, the Seabins have only caught a handful of small bait fish. Most of which have been thrown back into the water alive. The fish simply stay away from the flow of water entering the Seabin and with the current fine tuning of the Seabin, the risk is now minimal.

Q: I don’t have any money to donate, how can I help?
A: Don’t worry! Your amazing anyways and thanks for even contacting us. We need help to share this project around with any media we can. Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, websites, bloggers. Also with newspapers, magazines, tv, radio and journalists. Also friends and family!
Crosswaves - Newport Reef

HIV Remission Achieved In Second Patient

March 5, 2019: University College London
A second person has experienced sustained remission from HIV-1 after ceasing treatment, reports a paper led by researchers at UCL and Imperial College London.

The case report, published in Nature and carried out with partners at the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford, comes ten years after the first such case, known as the 'Berlin Patient.'

Both patients were treated with stem cell transplants from donors carrying a genetic mutation that prevents expression of an HIV receptor CCR5.

The subject of the new study has been in remission for 18 months after his antiretroviral therapy (ARV) was discontinued. The authors say it is too early to say with certainty that he has been cured of HIV, and will continue to monitor his condition.

"At the moment the only way to treat HIV is with medications that suppress the virus, which people need to take for their entire lives, posing a particular challenge in developing countries," said the study's lead author, Professor Ravindra Gupta (UCL, UCLH and University of Cambridge).

"Finding a way to eliminate the virus entirely is an urgent global priority, but is particularly difficult because the virus integrates into the white blood cells of its host."

Close to 37 million people are living with HIV worldwide, but only 59% are receiving ARV, and drug-resistant HIV is a growing concern. Almost one million people die annually from HIV-related causes.

The report describes a male patient in the UK, who prefers to remain anonymous, and was diagnosed with HIV infection in 2003 and on antiretroviral therapy since 2012.

Later in 2012, he was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin's Lymphoma. In addition to chemotherapy, he underwent a haematopoietic stem cell transplant from a donor with two copies of the CCR5Δ32 allele in 2016.

CCR5 is the most commonly used receptor by HIV-1. People who have two mutated copies of the CCR5 allele are resistant to the HIV-1 virus strain that uses this receptor, as the virus cannot enter host cells.

Chemotherapy can be effective against HIV as it kills cells that are dividing. Replacing immune cells with those that don't have the CCR5 receptor appears to be key in preventing HIV from rebounding after the treatment.

The transplant was relatively uncomplicated, but with some side effects including mild graft-versus-host disease, a complication of transplants wherein the donor immune cells attack the recipient's immune cells.

The patient remained on ARV for 16 months after the transplant, at which point the clinical team and the patient decided to interrupt ARV therapy to test if the patient was truly in HIV-1 remission.

Regular testing confirmed that the patient's viral load remained undetectable, and he has been in remission for 18 months since ceasing ARV therapy (35 months post-transplant). The patient's immune cells remain unable to express the CCR5 receptor.

He is only the second person documented to be in sustained remission without ARV. The first, the Berlin Patient, also received a stem cell transplant from a donor with two CCR5Δ32 alleles, but to treat leukaemia. Notable differences were that the Berlin Patient was given two transplants, and underwent total body irradiation, while the UK patient received just one transplant and less intensive chemotherapy.

Both patients experienced mild graft-versus-host disease, which may also have played a role in the loss of HIV-infected cells.

"By achieving remission in a second patient using a similar approach, we have shown that the Berlin Patient was not an anomaly, and that it really was the treatment approaches that eliminated HIV in these two people," said Professor Gupta.

The researchers caution that the approach is not appropriate as a standard HIV treatment due to the toxicity of chemotherapy, but it offers hope for new treatment strategies that might eliminate HIV altogether.

"Continuing our research, we need to understand if we could knock out this receptor in people with HIV, which may be possible with gene therapy," said Professor Gupta.

"The treatment we used was different from that used on the Berlin Patient, because it did not involve radiotherapy. Its effectiveness underlines the importance of developing new strategies based on preventing CCR5 expression," said co-author Dr Ian Gabriel (Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust).

"While it is too early to say with certainty that our patient is now cured of HIV, and doctors will continue to monitor his condition, the apparent success of haematopoietic stem cell transplantation offers hope in the search for a long-awaited cure for HIV/AIDS," said Professor Eduardo Olavarria (Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Imperial College London).

The research was funded by Wellcome, the Medical Research Council, the Foundation for AIDS Research, and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centres at University College London Hospitals, Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial.

The research team is presenting the findings today (March 5) at the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Seattle.

Ravindra K Gupta, Sultan Abdul-jawad, Laura E McCoy, Hoi Ping Mok, Dimitra Peppa, Maria Salgado, Javier Martinez-Picado, Monique Nijhuis, Annemarie M. J. Wensing, Helen Lee, Paul Grant, Eleni Nastouli, Jonathan Lambert, Matthew Pace, Fanny Salasc, Christopher Monit, Andrew Innes, Luke Muir, Laura Waters, John Frater, Andrew M. L. Lever, S. G. Edwards, Ian H. Gabriel & Eduardo Olavarria Ravindra K Gupta, Sultan Abdul-jawad, Laura E McCoy, Hoi Ping Mok, Dimitra Peppa, Maria Salgado, Javier Martinez-Picado, Monique Nijhuis, Annemarie M. J. Wensing, Helen Lee, Paul Grant, Eleni Nastouli, Jonathan Lambert, Matthew Pace, Fanny Salasc, Christopher Monit, Andrew Innes, Luke Muir, Laura Waters, John Frater, Andrew M. L. Lever, S. G. Edwards, Ian H. Gabriel & Eduardo Olavarria. HIV-1 remission following CCR5Δ32/Δ32 haematopoietic stem-cell transplantation.Nature, 2019 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1027-4

Self-Sterilising  Microneedles Revolution In Vaccination And Drug Delivery

March 5, 2019: University of South Australia
Vaccinations are the world's frontline defence against infectious diseases yet despite decades of interventions, unsafe injection practices continue to expose billions of people to serious infection and disease.

Now, new technology from the University of South Australia is revolutionising safe vaccination practices through antibacterial, silver-loaded dissolvable microneedle patches, which not only sterilise the injection site to inhibit the growth of bacteria, but also physically dissolve after administration.

Lead researcher, Professor Krasimir Vasilev says these first generation microneedles have the potential to transform the safe administration of transdermal vaccinations and drug delivery.

"Injections are one of the most common health care procedures used for vaccinations and curative care around the world," Prof Vasilev says.

"But up to 40 per cent of injections are given with improperly sterilised syringes and needles, placing millions of people at risk of contracting a range of illnesses or diseases.

"Our silver-loaded microneedles have inherently potent antibacterial properties which inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria and reduce the chance of infection."

The UniSA study tested the antibacterial efficacy of silver-loaded microneedles against bacteria associated with common skin infections -- Golden staph, Staphylococcus epidermis, Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa -- and found that the silver-loaded microneedle patches created a 24-hour bacteria-free zone around the patch administration site, a feature unique to the new technology.

The silver-loaded microneedles comprise an array of 15 x 15 needles each 700 micron in length, which pierce only the top layer of the skin without reaching the underlying nerves, making them 100 per cent painless.

The microneedles are made from a safe, biocompatible and highly water-soluble polymer that completely dissolve within one minute of application, leaving behind no sharp waste.

The World Health Organization says that using the same syringe or needle to give injections to more than one person is driving the spread of deadly infectious diseases worldwide, estimating that this may cause up to 1.7 million people to be infected with hepatitis B, 315,000 with hepatitis C, and as many as 33,800 with HIV each year.

Prof Vasilev says the dissolvable feature of the microneedles will significantly improve injection safety.

"Infection from unsafe injection practices occurs all over the world," Prof Vasilev says, "so technologies that protect people from unnecessary infection are critical.

"The dissolvable feature of our silver-loaded microneedles ensures absolutely no risk of reuse, removing one of the greatest causes of infection.

"And by incorporating the antibacterial silver nano-particles into the dissolvable microneedles, we've created a very promising vehicle for safe vaccine and drug delivery around the world."

Laura E. González García, Melanie N. MacGregor, Rahul Madathiparambil Visalakshan, Neethu Ninan, Alex A. Cavallaro, Abigail D. Trinidad, Yunpeng Zhao, A John D. Hayball, Krasimir Vasilev. Self-sterilizing antibacterial silver-loaded microneedles. Chemical Communications, 2019; 55 (2): 171 DOI: 10.1039/C8CC06035E

Chemical Pollutants In The Home Degrade Fertility In Both Men And Dogs

March 4, 2019: University of Nottingham
New research by scientists at the University of Nottingham suggests that environmental contaminants found in the home and diet have the same adverse effects on male fertility in both humans and in domestic dogs.

There has been increasing concern over declining human male fertility in recent decades with studies showing a 50% global reduction in sperm quality in the past 80 years. A previous study by the Nottingham experts showed that sperm quality in domestic dogs has also sharply declined, raising the question of whether modern day chemicals in the home environment could be at least partly to blame.

In a new paper published in Scientific Reports, the Nottingham team set out to test the effects of two specific human-made chemicals namely the common plasticizer DEHP, widely abundant in the home (e.g. carpets, flooring, upholstery, clothes, wires, toys) and the persistent industrial chemical polychlorinated biphenyl 153, which although banned globally, remains widely detectable in the environment including food.

The researchers carried out identical experiments in both species using samples of sperm from donor men and stud dogs living in the same region of the UK. The results show that the chemicals, at concentrations relevant to environmental exposure, have the same damaging effect on sperm from both man and dog.

Leading the work, Associate Professor and Reader in Reproductive Biology at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, Richard Lea, said: "This new study supports our theory that the domestic dog is indeed a 'sentinel' or mirror for human male reproductive decline and our findings suggest that human-made chemicals that have been widely used in the home and working environment may be responsible for the fall in sperm quality reported in both man and dog that share the same environment."

"Our previous study in dogs showed that the chemical pollutants found in the sperm of adult dogs, and in some pet foods, had a detrimental effect on sperm function at the concentrations previously found in the male reproductive tract. This new study is the first to test the effect of two known environmental contaminants, DEHP and PCB153, on both dog and human sperm in vitro, in the same concentrations as found in vivo.

Rebecca Sumner, who carried out the experimental work as part of her PhD, said "In both cases and in both subjects, the effect was reduced sperm motility and increased fragmentation of DNA.

Dr Sumner added: "We know that when human sperm motility is poor, DNA fragmentation is increased and that human male infertility is linked to increased levels of DNA damage in sperm. We now believe this is the same in pet dogs because they live in the same domestic environment and are exposed to the same household contaminants. This means that dogs may be an effective model for future research into the effects of pollutants on declining fertility, particularly because external influences such as diet are more easily controlled than in humans."

Professor Gary England, Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science and Professor of Comparative Veterinary Reproduction said: "Since environmental pollutants largely reflect a Western way of life such as the effects of industry, the chemicals present in the environment are likely to depend on the location. An important area of future study is to determine how the region in which we live may effect sperm quality in both man and dog."

Rebecca N. Sumner, Mathew Tomlinson, Jim Craigon, Gary C. W. England, Richard G. Lea. Independent and combined effects of diethylhexyl phthalate and polychlorinated biphenyl 153 on sperm quality in the human and dog. Scientific Reports, 2019; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-39913-9

Australian Dingo Is A Unique Australian Species In Its Own Right

March 5, 2019: Flinders University
Since the arrival of British settlers over 230 years ago, most Australians have assumed dingoes are a breed of wild dog. But 20 leading researchers have confirmed in a new study that the dingo is actually a unique, Australian species in its own right.

Following previous analyses of dingo skull and skin specimens to come to the same conclusion, these latest findings provide further evidence of specific characteristics that differentiate dingoes from domestic dogs, feral dogs, and other wild canids such as wolves.

The finding that a dingo is a dingo, and not a dog, offers an opposing view compared to a another recent study that the Government of Western Australia used to justify its attempt to declare the dingo as 'non-fauna', which would have given more freedom to landowners to kill them anywhere without a license.

Co-author Professor Corey Bradshaw of Flinders University in South Australia says the classification of dingoes has serious consequences for the fragile ecosystems they inhabit, and state governments are required to develop and implement management strategies for species considered native fauna.

"In fact, dingoes play a vital ecological role in Australia by outcompeting and displacing noxious introduced predators like feral cats and foxes. When dingoes are left alone, there are fewer feral predators eating native marsupials, birds and lizards."

"Dingoes can also increase profits for cattle graziers, because they target and eat kangaroos that otherwise compete with cattle for grass in semi-arid pasture lands,," says Professor Bradshaw.

Lead author, Dr Bradley Smith from Central Queensland University, says the scientific status of the dingo has remained contentious, resulting in inconsistency in government policy.

"The dingo has been geographically isolated from all other canids, and genetic mixing driven mainly by human interventions has only been occurring recently," Dr Smith says.

"Further evidence in support of dingoes being considered a 'wild type' capable of surviving in the absence of human intervention and under natural selection is demonstrated by the consistent return of dog-dingo hybrids to a dingo-like canid throughout the Australian mainland and on several islands."

"We have presented scientifically valid arguments to support the ongoing recognition of the dingo as a distinct species (Canis dingo), as was originally proposed by Meyer in 1793."

Dr Smith says little evidence exists to support the notion that any canid species are interchangeable with dingoes, despite the fact that most canids can successfully interbreed.

"There is no historical evidence of domestication once the dingo arrived in Australia, and the degree of domestication prior to arrival is uncertain and likely to be low, certainly compared to modern domestic dogs."

"We show that dingoes have survived in Australia for thousands of years, subject to the rigours of natural selection, thriving in all terrestrial habitats, and largely in the absence of human intervention or aid.

"The dingo is without doubt a native Australian species," concludes Professor Bradshaw.

Bradley P. Smith, Kylie M. Cairns, Justin W. Adams, Thomas M. Newsome, Melanie Fillios, Eloïse C. Déaux, William C. H. Parr, Mike Letnic, Lily M. Van Eeden, Robert G. Appleby, Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Peter Savolainen, Euan G. Ritchie, Dale G. Nimmo, Clare Archer-Lean, Aaron C. Greenville, Christopher R. Dickman, Lyn Watson, Katherine E. Moseby, Tim S. Doherty, Arian D. Wallach, Damian S. Morrant, Mathew S. Crowther. Taxonomic status of the Australian dingo: the case for Canis dingo Meyer, 1793. Zootaxa, 2019; 4564 (1): 173 DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.4564.1.6

Our Brains Reveal Our Choices Before We’re Even Aware Of Them: Study

March 6, 2019: written by Lachlan Gilbert, UNSW Media
We like to think that we are in the driver’s seat when it comes to the choice and strength of our everyday thoughts, but new research from UNSW suggests they might be more automatic and unconscious than we think.

A new UNSW study suggests we have less control over our personal choices than we think, and that unconscious brain activity determines our choices well before we are aware of them.

Published in the prestigious Nature journal today, an experiment carried out in the Future Minds Lab at UNSW School of Psychology showed that free choices about what to think can be predicted from patterns of brain activity 11 seconds before people consciously chose what to think about.

The experiment consisted of asking people to freely choose between two visual patterns of red and green stripes – one of them running horizontally, the other vertically – before consciously imagining them while being observed in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine.

The participants were also asked to rate how strongly they felt their visualisations of the patterns were after choosing them, again while researchers recorded their brain activity during the process.
Not only could the researchers predict which pattern they would choose, they could also predict how strongly the participants were to rate their visualisations. With the assistance of machine learning, the researchers were successful at making above-chance predictions of the participants’ volitional choices at an average of 11 seconds before the thoughts became conscious.

The brain areas that revealed information about the future choices were located in executive areas of the brain – where our conscious decision-making is made – as well as visual and subcortical structures, suggesting an extended network of areas responsible for the birth of thoughts.

Lab director Professor Joel Pearson believes what could be happening in the brain is that we may have thoughts on ‘standby’ based on previous brain activity, which then influences the final decision without us being aware.

“We believe that when we are faced with the choice between two or more options of what to think about, non-conscious traces of the thoughts are there already, a bit like unconscious hallucinations,” Professor Pearson says.

“As the decision of what to think about is made, executive areas of the brain choose the thought-trace which is stronger. In, other words, if any pre-existing brain activity matches one of your choices, then your brain will be more likely to pick that option as it gets boosted by the pre-existing brain activity.

“This would explain, for example, why thinking over and over about something leads to ever more thoughts about it, as it occurs in a positive feedback loop.”

Interestingly, the subjective strength of the future thoughts was also dependent on activity housed in the early visual cortex, an area in the brain that receives visual information from the outside world. The researchers say this suggests that the current state of activity in perceptual areas (which are believed to change randomly) has an influence in how strongly we think about things.

These results raise questions about our sense of volition for our own private and personal mental visual images. This study is the first to capture the origins and content of involuntary visual thoughts and how they might bias subsequent voluntary conscious imagery.

The insight gained with this experiment may also have implications for mental disorders involving thought intrusions that use mental imagery, such as PTSD, the authors say.

However, the researchers caution against assuming that all choices are by nature predetermined by pre-existing brain activity.

“Our results cannot guarantee that all choices are preceded by involuntary images, but it shows that this mechanism exists, and it potentially biases our everyday choices,” Professor Pearson says.

Scientists Levitate Particles With Sound To Find Out How They Cluster Together

March 5, 2019: University of Chicago
Scientists from the University of Chicago and the University of Bath used sound waves to levitate particles, revealing new insights about how materials cluster together in the absence of gravity -- principles which underlie everything from how molecules assemble to the very early stages of planet formation from space dust.

"Much of the universe is made up of particles assembling," said Heinrich Jaeger, the Sewell Avery Distinguished Service Professor of Physics, who co-authored a new study that appears in Nature Physics. "With acoustic levitation, we have a beautiful model system to study assembly at scales visible to the human eye, where we can track each particle with precision, and then relate the results to a wide range of often much more microscopic phenomena."

University of Chicago and the University of Bath scientists revealed new insights about how materials cluster together in the absence of gravity. Credit: Melody Lim

Jaeger's lab conducts innovative studies of the laws governing the interactions of particles -- which they've used to create a robotic gripper to pick up almost any object and to explain a long-standing physics mystery that lets you run across the surface of a pool filled with water and corn starch.

In this case, the team was interested in the shape of prototypical clusters that form when, starting from a single particle, more are added one by one. They used sound waves to levitate plastic particles in midair -- each about one millimeter in diameter, about the thickness of a penny -- and studied how these particles interact with each other as they formed clusters, broke up and then reassembling into different configurations.

When there are five particles or fewer, they found, the particles cluster densely in only one configuration. However, when there are at least six particles, there are a number of different shapes they could assemble into when brought together tightly.

By using high-speed cameras to track the levitated particles, the researchers were able to capture these various configurations. They found that groups of six particles can form three distinct compact shapes: parallelogram, chevron and triangle. Adding one more particle to make seven meant that particles clustered together in one of four shapes, which scientists termed a flower, a turtle, a tree or a boat.

"Six particles is the minimum needed to change between different shapes, which is where things get interesting," said co-first author Anton Souslov, then a UChicago postdoctoral researcher and now on the faculty at the University of Bath. "For us scientists, defying gravity to levitate dust also has this more fundamental interest of developing Earth-based experiments to understand how bodies in space like planets start to form." This would be the very earliest stages, the scientists added, when the future planet is just a clump of space dust perhaps a centimeter across -- before gravity starts to become a factor.

One unique aspect of the experiments is that the sound not only levitates the particles, but can also be used to affect how they interact as they float.

"A surprise was that by changing the sound wave frequency, we could manipulate the clusters and influence the shape that emerged," said graduate student Melody Lim, the first author on the paper. Modelling the physics behind such acoustic forces, which was done by Souslov and professor of physics Vincenzo Vitelli, gives scientists a new means to control the assembly process.

They found that rearranging the shapes often depends on one particle acting as a "hinge" and swinging around the others to reconfigure, which could be very useful in a range of potential applications.

The research team now intends to look at how acoustic levitation can bring together larger numbers of particles to assemble more complex structures.

Melody X. Lim, Anton Souslov, Vincenzo Vitelli, Heinrich M. Jaeger. Cluster formation by acoustic forces and active fluctuations in levitated granular matter. Nature Physics, 2019; DOI: 10.1038/s41567-019-0440-9

Deakin Economist: Raising Retirement Age Could Harm Worker Health

Media release
March 7th, 2019
A new study from Deakin University and French economists has found increasing the retirement age could leave workers more vulnerable to unexpected health shocks with negative consequences.

The study reveals that postponing pension access also could delay the beneficial effects of retirement on people's health, regardless of other factors such as worker occupation or marital status.

Dr Cahit Guven, a behavioural economist within the Deakin Business School, collaborated with the Paris School of Economics' Professor Bénédicte Apouey and Professor Claudia Senik on the study.

Dr Guven said while retirement was sometimes thought to lead to a loss of purpose and lack of socialisation, workers still generally planned to retire as soon as they are entitled to receive full pension benefits, and the positive health impact of leaving the workforce was now clear.

"Men especially are more likely to believe that their health will deteriorate once they retire, but our study shows retirement actually comes with unexpected improvements in general, physical, and mental health," he said.

"We found that men and women are up to around 24 per cent less likely to experience unexpected bad health after retirement.

"Conversely, men and women are up to around 14 per cent more likely to experience good health unexpectedly after retirement, compared to beforehand."

In Australia, the pension eligibility age is currently at least 65 years and six months. That figure will be incrementally raised to 67 years by 1 July 2023.

Dr Guven and his colleagues compiled their study using extensive data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey 2001 to 2014, covering 51,000 observations and more than 1600 transitions to retirement.

He said the results showed representatives should think twice before raising the retirement age. Recent changes to pension eligibility have spurred protest movements and arrests in the UK, Belgium and Russia.

"Many developed countries have recently increased pension eligibility age, leading to massive protests," he said.

"Our paper implies that even if such reforms seem necessary, they may postpone the beneficial effects that retirement has on people's health. Policymakers should take this factor into account when deciding whether or not there should be compulsory or voluntary retirement and whether or not we should increase the official retirement age."

"By making people work even longer into their old age, you could be increasing their likelihood of poor health, and denying them the health benefits and higher level of life satisfaction that retirement brings," Dr Guven said.

The full findings "Retirement and Unexpected Health Shocks" have been accepted for publication in the Economics & Human Biology journal, and are now available online.

National Seniors Welcomes Specialist Fees Website

4 March 2019: Media Release
National Seniors Australia has welcomed a new federal government website that will allow patients to identify the true cost of specialist fees, announced just days after the advocacy group called for greater transparency around out-of-pocket expenses.

Health Minister Greg Hunt announced the searchable website at the weekend after a Ministerial Advisory Committee found more than one-in-three patients were experiencing out-of-pocket costs varying from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands.

The committee also found more than a quarter of patients said they had incurred an out-of-pocket cost of more than $10,000 for breast cancer treatment.

National Seniors Chief Advocate Ian Henschke said a survey of its members had established their biggest worry was the out-of-pocket expenses they faced for services and procedures not fully reimbursed by Medicare or private health insurance.

“We welcome the government’s commitment to make specialists’ fees more transparent, but we want to be assured all specialists will be obliged to list their fees on the website,” Mr Henschke said.

“We know gap costs are a major contributor to rising out-of-pocket expenses. Seniors, who are often on low and fixed incomes, are particularly hard hit and are forced to put off medical treatment or cut their private health cover.

“And sometimes it’s not a case of a single specialist charging exorbitant fees that is bringing seniors to this point, but the cumulative effect of numerous ‘extra’ fees.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said specialists would “initially be expected to show their fees” on the website to allow patients and GPs to consider costs when determining their choice of specialists. An education initiative would increase understanding of out-of-pocket costs among consumers, their families and GPs, highlighting that higher fees did not necessarily mean higher quality of care.

Mr Henschke said if the website was to be of real benefit to consumers and GPs, it was essential it was not an ‘opt-in’ for specialists and National Seniors would be seeking government clarification on how it would work.

“The Minister also said the website would make available existing de-identified data showing the range of fees and related -out-pocket costs charged by specialists for the same treatments,” Mr Henschke said.

“The government says the website will show data aggregated with the range of costs charged within a particular area. We would like to see more detail on how this will work to help patients avoid high-cost specialists.”

Mr Henschke said National Seniors also wanted to see GPs offering patients alternatives when they were referring to specialists.

“Too often, GPs make a recommendation to their patients and don’t consider the costs involved,” Mr Henschke said. “It should be standard practice to use this new website in consultation with their patients to identify a specialist who offers the necessary expertise at a price affordable to the patient.

“Higher fees do not necessarily mean better quality care. Its time to fix the systemic problems leading to higher costs in the health system.”

Record $967 Million Commitment To Expand Residential Aged Care

March 5th, 2019: Media Release - The Hon Ken Wyatt AM, MP
Minister for Indigenous Health
Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care
The Australian Government is providing Australians with more choices for longer lives, with a record 13,500 new residential aged care places across Australia, along with a $60 million capital works investment to finance construction of new and extended aged care homes.

The $967 million expansion is part of our Government’s $5 billion aged care boost and is Australia’s largest ever allocation of residential aged care places.

It represents an increase of more than 36 per cent on the 9,911 Aged Care Approvals Round (ACAR) places announced in 2016–17. 

Metropolitan allocations are at record levels but rural, regional and remote areas are significant winners because of a focus on improving aged care access and services in country communities. 

The number of new places allocated outside major cities has almost doubled from the previous round, with over 5,000 allocated to regional areas.

Allocating these new places to regional areas is part of our strategy to combat the challenges faced by these communities. 

I am passionate about ensuring all Australians have access to quality aged care services regardless of where they live. 

Every one of these new places will mean senior Australians can age with more confidence, knowing they have future care options in locations as close as possible to their families and communities, whether in the city of the country. 

Older Australians who are financially or socially challenged, who are from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander or LGBTI communities or who are veterans, are among those who will have priority access to more than 23 per cent of the new places. 

The $60 million capital works investment will provide 28 grants to establish, extend and refurbish new and existing homes in priority areas of rural and regional Australia. 

Projects will include renovations, extensions, improved kitchens, gardens and recreation facilities, solar power additions and better security and fire protection systems. 

Our Government is also focused on supporting senior Australians with special or complex needs.

Projects funded include:
  • More than $4.7 million to be invested in Shepparton, Victoria, to build a 20-bed residential aged care facility exclusively for disadvantaged older Australians who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
  • More than $5.9 million to extend and upgrade two facilities in Queensland to better support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander seniors in need of dedicated, culturally appropriate aged care.

The Aged Care Approvals Round is a highly competitive process.

I thank every organisation that submitted applications and look forward to seeing the benefits of this funding for our aged care services, senior Australians and communities throughout Australia.

The Morrison Government is investing record funding in aged care, with annual funding to grow by $5 billion over four years. Under our Government, aged care places are up and home care packages are up, demonstrating our absolute commitment to the wellbeing of senior Australians.

Information about the 2018–19 Aged Care Approvals Round outcomes, including details of the successful providers, is available at the Department of Health's website.

Exercise Can Improve Non-Motor Symptoms Of Parkinson's Disease

March 4, 2019
Exercise has potential to improve non-motor as well as motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease (PD), including cognitive function, report investigators in a review published in the Journal of Parkinson's Disease.

PD is a slowly progressive disorder that affects movement, muscle control, and balance. While traditionally regarded as a movement disorder, it is now known to be a heterogeneous multisystem disorder -- in recognition of the significant impact that non-motor symptoms have on the quality of life of individuals affected by PD. It is widely acknowledged that physical exercise improves motor symptoms such as tremor, gait disturbances, and postural instability. However, the effect of exercise on non-motor symptoms in PD, especially cognitive function, is less clear.

The number of older people with and without PD that experience cognitive impairment is steadily increasing worldwide. It is associated not only with a substantial rise in healthcare costs, but also affects the quality of life of both patients and relatives or carers. Up to 57% of patients suffering from PD develop mild cognitive impairment within five years of their initial diagnosis, and if they survive more than ten years, the majority will eventually develop dementia. The underlying neurophysiological mechanisms for cognitive decline in PD are not completely understood, but an accumulation of amyloid plaques, mitochondrial dysfunction, and neurotransmitter changes are all suggested to contribute.

A comprehensive literature review was conducted by investigators from the Institute of Movement and Neurosciences, German Sport University, Cologne, Germany, and the VasoActive Research Group, School of Health and Sport Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. The studies reviewed included investigations of the effects of coordination exercise, resistance exercise, and aerobic exercise on domain-specific cognitive function in patients with PD. "Physical exercise is generally associated with increased cognitive function in older adults, but the effects in individuals suffering from PD are not known," explained lead investigator Tim Stuckenschneider, MA.

The researchers identified relevant studies published before March 2018. There were 11 studies included with a combined total of over five hundred patients with PD with a disease severity from stages 1 to 4 on the Hoehn & Yahr scale, which is used to describe the symptom progression of PD. In four studies, positive effects of exercise on cognition (memory, executive function, and global cognitive function) were shown with no negative effect of exercise on any cognitive domain. Furthermore, disease severity was generally improved by exercise interventions.

The investigators concluded that all modes of exercise are associated with improved cognitive function in individuals with PD, however, no clear picture of which exercise mode is most effective emerged as they may influence cognitive function differently. Aerobic exercise tended to improve memory best, but different forms of exercises such as treadmill training or stationary bike training may have different effects, although both are considered aerobic exercise. Future studies are needed that directly compare the effects of different exercise modes, as the number of high-quality research projects is still limited.

"The potential of exercise to improve motor and non-motor symptoms is promising and may help to decelerate disease progression in individuals affected by PD," observed Stuckenschneider. "Exercise therapy needs to be, and often already is, an essential part of therapy in individuals with PD. However, it is mostly used to treat motor symptoms. As part of a holistic therapy, the potential of exercise to maintain or improve non-motor symptoms such as cognitive function in individuals with PD needs to be acknowledged, and the most effective treatment options need to be defined. This will not only help practitioners to recommend specific exercise programs, but also ultimately improve the quality of life of the individual. Our work shows that 'exercise is medicine' and should routinely be recommended for people with PD to help combat both the physical and cognitive challenges of the disease."

Tim Stuckenschneider, Christopher D. Askew, Annelise L. Menêses, Ricarda Baake, Jan Weber, Stefan Schneider. The Effect of Different Exercise Modes on Domain-Specific Cognitive Function in Patients Suffering from Parkinson’s Disease: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of Parkinson's Disease, 2019; 9 (1): 73 DOI: 10.3233/JPD-181484

A Netcasting Spider, seen from the back. 

This spider's hunting method is to wait patiently with a rectangular web held between its first two pairs of legs. It has excellent vision. When prey comes near, it is captured in the web as the spider leaps. This one in North Avalon is in a Lomandra plant. They like to lurk plants with strappy leaves, including Cymbidium orchids. Colour can vary, be grey or rufous. Spiders are always ready to escape, so net building spiders wait head down, able to drop to safety with a thread from the spinnerets in the abdomen.

Photo by and courtesy Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA)

Beach-Goers Urged To Be Wary Of Marine Algal Bloom

March 2nd, 2019: WaterNSW
The public is being advised to avoid making contact with water discoloured by a marine algal bloom being reported in the Sydney region.

Samples tested from the Manly area yesterday were identified as Trichodesmium erythraeum, a species not considered toxic but with potential to cause skin and eye irritations.

Reports of the bloom have been received along the coast from Palm Beach to the Illawarra.

The algal bloom currently appears as a brownish discolouration throughout the water and can often be mistaken as an oil slick.
In later life stages the species may be visible as a pinkish discolouration in the water.

Generally, the health impacts of marine or estuarine species is largely unknown so caution should be exercised where blooms occur.

NSW Health said: “People should avoid swimming or wading in discoloured water affected by the algae. People should also avoid contact with any algal material if it is washed up onto beaches.”

Marine and estuarine blooms will often move with the wind and tides which means the bloom may present at different locations along the NSW coast.

Trichodesmiumerythraeum occur in tropical and temperate environments and can move down the coast via the East Australian Current.

Authorities will continue to monitor the bloom and advise the public as required.

Updates and information about harmful algae blooms and red level warning areas can be obtained by calling 1800 999 457 or visiting –

NB: Residents found the discoloration and oily substance still around this week too.

Margaret Atwood Woos Students With Tales Of Creativity And The Gift Of The Writer

March 6, 2019: by Diane Nazaroff, UNSW Media
The acclaimed author appeared at an exclusive Centre of Ideas event on the Kensington campus.

At the end of her appearance at UNSW Sydney, Margaret Atwood explained how she ended up writing the introduction to Lewis Hyde’s 1983 non-fiction book The Gift.

Hyde describes the book as being about the value of creativity and of its importance in a culture increasingly governed by money and overrun with commodities.

“It’s the only book I recommend to young writers,” the Canadian writer told a mostly female undergraduate audience.

“It’s about the difference between the gift economy which art exists in, and the money economy in which a work of art touches and has to pass through in order to turn back into a gift.”

Many years ago, the author did a favour for her publisher and, in return, asked her publisher to read The Gift manuscript, which he later published.

“People trade stuff all the time, that’s how human beings go about their daily lives, and in The Gift you will read why,” Atwood said.

“If you're having trouble with your family, you shouldn't go home for Christmas – gifts are exchanged.

“And the difference between gifts and the things you buy is that if you receive a gift, you owe, either to the person that you received from or to somebody else.

“And with writing, usually you receive the gift from previous writers, you incorporate it and then you pass it on.”

The highly credentialed writer spoke with UNSW Literary Studies senior lecturer in the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences Dr Fiona Morrison in an exclusive and intimate event presented by UNSW Centre for Ideas on Kensington campus.

The event followed a sold-out appearance at the Opera House the previous day.

Atwood has written 16 novels, eight collections of short fiction, as well as 50 volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction and non-fiction.

She is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible WomanThe Robber BrideThe Blind AssassinOryx and Crakeand The Year of the Flood.

Her television adaptations include the 11 Emmy award-winning Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace, while MaddAddam Trilogy has just gone into production.

“She is of course a great untold adaptor and reviser of works by others, including writers such as Homer and Shakespeare and is involved very much in finding new shapes and forms for your work as counsel, as commentator and artistic force,” Dr Morrison said.

Atwood said 18th and 19th century novels “were both happily quite female-centric” but noted a change particularly after the ’50s, when there was “a concerted effort made to get women back into the home after the war”.

“And to get them back into the home, [women] were told that their true nature, and the path towards fulfillment, is to basically scoop out their brain.”

She told the audience that “luckily I had a tomboy mother” who was “a very athletic person … a speed skater” and a scientist father, both of whom “weren’t interested in housework or gloves”.

The world literary figure said her most terrifying dystopian plot was the 2003 self-described speculative fiction book Oryx and Crake, adding that she would “have had more plastic in the ocean writing it today”.

“So I think the scariest thing facing us is, should the ocean warm and acidify, that is kind of it for us, because it is the oceans that make 60% to 80% of the oxygen we breathe,” she said.

“If the life forms in those oceans die, you are oxygen depleted to begin with, and that will make us stupider.”

The author, who has a reputation for repudiating science fiction, was asked if she thought speculative fiction was an important genre to deal with contemporary political, economic and ecological issues.

“So speculative fiction says, ‘This is where we could go – is that where we want to live?’,” she said.

“If we don't want to live there, maybe not go there. Maybe rearrange the blueprint so that we're going to be in a different kind of future.”

Asked about the power of words and her favourite written sentence, she said, “It is true that words are very powerful, but they can be used negatively as well as positively … Donald Trump tweets words.”

Atwood said she got “a kick” out of writing really silly birthday songs for her friends and relations.

“Nobody dies, it’s fun to illustrate them,” she said, while also claiming to have written the world’s only home economics opera in 1956.

“For years people who were in it turned up for readings. They are dying off now … I used other people’s music, in fact the head of the Canadian Opera Company said that I ruined Hoffman’s Barcarolle forever.”

Margaret Atwood at UNSW Sydney. Photo: Louise Reily

A Zest For Nests – Willie Wagtail Pair Builds Four

This pair of Willie Wagtails (Rhipidura leucophrys) was filmed between early October and mid November 2018 in the Capertee Valley, NSW. In that time we witnessed the creation of four nests in the house zone of a rural property (seen in the opening photo). 
When we first met them in early October they were finishing off a nest in a mini gazebo built especially for nesting birds. This was documented here:  At the time we noted that the nest was less vulnerable to certain types of predation (e.g. Lace Monitor) and that some avian threats might be discouraged by the closeness to human habitation. Turns out that a pair of Grey Shrike-thrush, a renowned nest raider, also built a nest thereabouts – on the side of the house facing the mini gazebo. When we looked for the Willie Wagtail nest at the next visit (less than 20 days later) the nest structure was destroyed. It is possible the pair abandoned this location before laying eggs or perhaps the eggs were eaten/damaged by a predator. We also discovered that one reason for the ruined nest was the pair themselves; they were using the nesting material for a new nest in a large Yellow Box (eucalypt) on the other side of the house. 

However, this option must have failed as well. When we returned about 20 days later (close to mid November) the tree nest had disappeared and the old hills hoist was hosting it instead. But wait...the Willie Wagtail pair are already dismantling this third nest! Given the timeline so far it looks like no broods have been raised in three new nests in three different locations (albeit all in the vicinity of the pictured cottage). From egg-laying to fledging takes approximately 28 days. We then watched the dynamic duo take material from the clothesline nest into an open shed. They were well-advanced in the construction of a nest on a wooden beam at the very back of this shed. It was as if they were thinking, surely no predator will find us THIS TIME. From our human perspective, it was definitely the most hidden and protected of their nesting attempts. Ideally, the chicks should be sighted to confirm any expectation of success, but our return was delayed. On this occasion the gap was about five weeks – more than enough time for the pair to complete that nest and raise a family. The good news is that a juvenile was glimpsed during that visit and again recently (sunbathing on the house deck). We think it’s very likely that both sightings are offspring from our determined little video-stars.

Royal Australian Mint Celebrates 60 Years Of Iconic Aussie TV Show Mr Squiggle

The Royal Australian Mint (the Mint) is commemorating 60 years of one of Australia's most loved TV characters, Mr Squiggle, with the release of limited edition coins in Woolworths supermarket registers from today, February 28th, 2019.

Four $2 coin designs, with one released each week, have been produced by the Mint with depictions of Mr Squiggle and his friends Gus the Snail, Bill the Steam Shovel and Blackboard.

Mr Squiggle - Week 1

Gus the Snail - Week 2

Bill the Steam Shovel - Week 3

Blackboard - Week 4

Assistant Minister for Treasury and Finance, Zed Seselja, said "Since first appearing on TV screens across Australia in 1959, Mr Squiggle has entertained millions, including me when I was growing up, with his impressive drawings and inquisitive nature.”

“I am thrilled Australians will be able to celebrate Mr Squiggle through this collector coin series, a tribute to a character well-loved in Australian culture.  The vibrant colours and intricate illustrations on the coins capture the fun and wonder that Mr Squiggle brought to Australian households for decades.”

Rebecca Hetherington, daughter of Mr Squiggle creator, Norman Hetherington said "lt's such an honour to have the Royal Australian Mint and Woolworths immortalise my father's work in this unique way.

“The coins perfectly represent Mr Squiggle's fun and imaginative view of the world, attributes he shared with my father.  I'm excited to share this opportunity with Australians who have grown up with him and remember him fondly, and also to introduce Mr Squiggle to a new generation."

Woolworths General Manager of Programs, Rod Evenden said; “We are pleased to be able to help celebrate 60 years of such an iconic character loved by so many of our customers.

“The $2 coins will only be in our registers for a limited time, so as Blackboard says, 'hurry up' if you want to get your hands on your own piece of Mr Squiggle memorabilia.”

There will be a staggered release of the commemorative coins over the coming weeks, with the first $2 coin design to be released in Woolworths registers nationwide from today.

There will also be a limited release of a collectable coin album at a cost of $15, which in addition to the four $2 coins, will also include two $1 coins and a special 1 cent coin.

2019 60th Anniversary of Mr Squiggle and Friends - 1c

The release of the Mr Squiggle coin collection follows previous coin collections at Woolworths including Possum Magic, Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games and Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Mr Squiggle coin collection is available for purchase 13 February 2019 on the Mint’s online store, Woolworths’ website or by phoning 1300 652 020.

‘Mr Squiggle The Man From The Moon’ Exhibition Opens At The Royal Australian Mint

New exhibition ‘Mr Squiggle the Man from the Moon: Celebrating 60 years of Mr Squiggle and his creator Norman Hetherington’ opens to the public on Thursday, 28 February at the Royal Australian Mint. 

The exhibition features Norman Hetherington’s inspiring work, including a display of puppets of Mr Squiggle and his friends as depicted on the Mint’s recently released limited edition commemorative coins in collaboration with Woolworths. 

The exhibition includes children’s letters to Mr Squiggle, script books, original artwork and a portrait loaned from the National Portrait Gallery of Australia ‘Norman Hetherington OAM (and friends)’ by artist Kate Rae.

The exhibition was launched by Rebecca Hetherington, daughter of Mr Squiggle creator, Norman Hetherington and Royal Australian Mint CEO, Ross MacDiarmid.

"The exhibition showcases one of the most loved and longest running Australian children’s programs, honouring Norman Hetherington, the brilliant man behind the iconic puppets and television series,” the Mint CEO said.

“The Mint is opening this vibrant and meaningful exhibition to share the story behind Mr Squiggle and the recently released coin collection, with the public.”

Rebecca Hetherington, daughter of Mr Squiggle creator, Norman Hetherington and former host of the television series said “people are going to get a glimpse at some special items from my father's collection.  There's a lot to choose from as my father liked to keep things but I think the Mint has chosen some gems to be part of this exhibition.  I hope that visitors to the Mint really enjoy a nostalgic glimpse of my father's work and Mr Squiggle himself.”

Earlier this month, there was a staggered release of four $2 commemorative coin designs through their registers nationwide portraying Mr Squiggle and his friends Gus the Snail, Bill the Steam Shovel and Blackboard. 

A limited release of a collectable coin album ($15 RRP) is available and in addition to the four $2 coins, it includes two $1 coins and a special 1 cent coin.

The ‘Mr Squiggle the Man from the Moon: Celebrating 60 years of Mr Squiggle and his creator Norman Hetherington’ exhibition will be at the Mint during opening hours from 28 February until 28 July 2019. 

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Disclaimer: These articles are not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.  Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Pittwater Online News or its staff.