inbox and environment news: Issue 484

February  21 - 27, 2021: Issue 484

Time Of Burran

Gadalung Marool (hot and dry) January - March

The behaviour of the male kangaroos becomes quite aggressive in this season, and it is a sign that the eating of meat is forbidden during this time. This is a health factor; because of the heat of the day meat does not keep, and the likelihood of food poisoning is apparent. The blooming of the Weetjellan (Acacia implexa) is an important sign that fires must not be lit unless they are well away from bushland and on sand only, and that there will be violent storms and heavy rain, so camping near creeks and rivers is not recommended.

Acacia implexa, commonly known as lightwood or hickory wattle, is a fast-growing Australian tree, the timber of which was used for furniture making.  The wood is prized for its finish and strength. The foliage was used to make pulp and dye cloth. The Ngunnawal people of the ACT used the bark to make rope, string, medicine and for fish poison, the timber for tools, and the seeds to make flour.

It is widespread in eastern Australia from central coastal Queensland to southern Victoria, with outlying populations on the Atherton Tableland in northern Queensland and Tasmania's King Island. The tree is commonly found on fertile plains and in hilly country it is usually part of open forest communities and grows in shallow drier sandy and clay soils.

Acacia implexa flowers  - photo by Donald Hobern.

Bangalley Head Landcare Bushcare Neglect Resolved

Courtesy and with thanks to Cr. Kylie Ferguson and Council
From Council:
Thank you for forwarding the concerns of the Bangalley Head Landcare Group regarding weeds impacting Bangalley Reserve (the Reserve), in particular at the Reserve entrance off Whale Beach Road.

Staff are currently finalising a contract with a bush regeneration provider for the ongoing management of the Reserve. Once the contract is finalised, which we anticipate to be in early March, the contractor will commence the target weeding of the Whale Beach Road entrance to the Reserve. Works will include the control and suppression of exotic vines as a priority. The road edge shall see concentrated efforts to remove the annual weed plume along with the treatment and removal of lpomoea, Lantana and Ehrharta grass.

Additionally, the walking track edge will be included in the monthly visits to ensure edges are kept clean and free of all weed species. Once this contract has been established, staff are confident that the weed issues that have been raised by Bangalley Head Landcare Group will be adequately addressed.

Council is very appreciative of all the work undertaken by our bushcare volunteers across the Northern Beaches. Andrew Jennings, bushland Management Officer will contact Bangalley Head Landcare Group to see if they require any additional support once the contractor starts the work at this site.

May be an image of flower and nature
The invasive weed Morning Glory strangles and kills all in its path, including at the site named above.

Newport Beach Clean Up: Sunday February 28th, 2021

SUNDAY, 28 FEBRUARY 2021 FROM 10:00 am to 12.30
Free  · Bert Payne Park, Newport Beach

Come and join us for our Newport beach clean up. We'll meet at Bert Payne Park, just south of clubhouse. We have clean and washed gloves, bags and buckets. We'll clean up the grass area to try and catch the litter before it hits the beach as well as cleaning the beach, trying to remove as much plastic, cigarette butts and rubbish as possible. We're a friendly group of people and everyone is welcome to this family friendly event (just leave political, religious and business messages at home so everyone feel welcome). It's a nice community - make some new friends and do a good deed for the planet at the same time. Send us a message if you are lost. Please invite family and friends and share this event.

This is a Covid safe event so everyone must please stay 1,5 meters apart if you are not in the same household. 

May be an image of 13 people, people standing and food

Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA)  Pittwater Nature #4 Is Now Available 

This Issue (February 2021) contains: 
  • The Pittwater River and the Barrenjoey sandspit
  • How Tumbledown Dick hill Duffys Forest endangered bushland has been moved there from a site at Belrose
  • The Sydney Wildlife Mobile Unit looks after native animals
  • Plant Families 101: the Solanaceae /Nightshade Family.
  • Prey and Predators on Bilgola Plateau
  • Two birds that nest in hollows. 
  • Cicadas emerge at night.

May be an image of bird and nature
Dollarbirds: Image Chelsey Baker.

Upcoming Activities For Friends Of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment:  

Sun 21 February 2021: 7.30 am Walk & Weed along the Narrabeen Lagoon catchment transverse walk.

Start at Oxford Falls walk for 3 1/2 hours, weed for 30min, continue 30min walk and car pool back to start.

Bring gloves and long handled screwdriver if available.

Walk grade: medium.

Bookings essential. Conny 0432 643 295

Friends of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment are  pleased to announce the next forum will be held on 22 Feb 2021 at 7 pm . 

Presenter: Jayden Walsh

Jayden is a keen observer of nature and has some stunning photographs and information to share.

The focus will be on wildlife that lives near the Narrabeen Lagoon and that, if you are fortunate, you may see when on the Narrabeen Lagoon walkway.

For details on how to book  for this event are on the website. At:

Bushcare In Pittwater 

For further information or to confirm the meeting details for below groups, please contact Council's Bushcare Officer on 9970 1367

Where we work                      Which day                              What time 

Angophora Reserve             3rd Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Dunes                        1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 
Avalon Golf Course              2nd Wednesday                 3 - 5:30pm 
Careel Creek                         4th Saturday                      8:30 - 11:30am 
Toongari Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon (8 - 11am in summer) 
Bangalley Headland            2nd Sunday                         9 to 12noon 

Winnererremy Bay                 4th Sunday                        9 to 12noon 

North Bilgola Beach              3rd Monday                        9 - 12noon 
Algona Reserve                     1st Saturday                       9 - 12noon 
Plateau Park                          1st Friday                            8:30 - 11:30am 

Church Point     
Browns Bay Reserve             1st Tuesday                        9 - 12noon 
McCarrs Creek Reserve       Contact Bushcare Officer     To be confirmed 

Old Wharf Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      8 - 11am 

Kundibah Reserve                   4th Sunday                       8:30 - 11:30am 

Mona Vale     
Mona Vale Beach Basin          1st Saturday                    8 - 11am 
Mona Vale Dunes                     2nd Saturday +3rd Thursday     8:30 - 11:30am 

Bungan Beach                          4th Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
Crescent Reserve                    3rd Sunday                      9 - 12noon 
North Newport Beach              4th Saturday                    8:30 - 11:30am 
Porter Reserve                          2nd Saturday                  8 - 11am 

North Narrabeen     
Irrawong Reserve                     2nd Saturday                   2 - 5pm 

Palm Beach     
North Palm Beach Dunes      3rd Saturday                    9 - 12noon 

Scotland Island     
Catherine Park                          2nd Sunday                     10 - 12:30pm 
Elizabeth Park                           1st Saturday                      9 - 12noon 
Pathilda Reserve                      3rd Saturday                      9 - 12noon 

Warriewood Wetlands             1st Sunday                         8:30 - 11:30am 

Whale Beach     
Norma Park                               1st Friday                            9 - 12noon 

Western Foreshores     
Coopers Point, Elvina Bay      2nd Sunday                        10 - 1pm 
Rocky Point, Elvina Bay           1st Monday                          9 - 12noon

Gardens And Environment Groups And Organisations In Pittwater

Pittwater Reserves

Annie Wyatt Reserve - A  Pictorial

Senate Inquiry Into Environment Protection And Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Regional Forest Agreements) Bill 2020

        Status: Accepting submissions
        Date Referred: 18 February 2021
        Submissions Close: 19 March 2021

This is in relation to the December 9th, 2020 introduced by Senator the Hon. Bridget McKenzie, Nationals Party Member, and read for a second time on that same date of ''A Bill for an Act to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and for related purposes''

Senator the Hon. Bridget McKenzie in explanatory notes states that ''The Bill’s amendments will clarify that forestry operations covered by a Regional Forest Agreement are exempted from Part 3 of the EPBC Act.''

And that;
''This Bill will affirm and clarify the Commonwealth’s intent regarding Regional Forest Agreements to make it explicitly clear that forestry operations in a Regional Forest Agreement region are exempt from Part 3 of the EPBC Act, and that compliance matters are to be dealt with through the state regulatory framework.

Requiring native forestry operations to seek EPBC Act approval would create operationally unviable delays in planned harvesting operations that have already been subjected to significant environmental planning and approvals and create congestion in the approvals pipeline.

This is achieved by removing the ambiguity of what it means to be “undertaken in accordance with a Regional Forest Agreement” (subsection 38(1) of the EPBC Act), which a recent Federal Court decision (Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum Inc v VicForests (No 4) [2020] FCA 704  has shown is not explicit with respect to the Commonwealth’s intended meaning. 

Furthermore, the operation of subsection 38(1) is just one of several legal questions considered by Justice Mortimer’s judgment and subsequent appeal. There is no guarantee that the appeal will deal with the substantive question about the operation of subsection 38(1). 

The Independent review of the EPBC Act Interim Report (Samuel 2020) recommended addressing this uncertainty:
  • “During the course of this Review, the Federal Court found that an operator had breached the terms of an RFA and should therefore be subject to the ordinary controlling provisions of the EPBC Act. Legal ambiguities in the relationship between EPBC Act and the RFA Act should be clarified, so that the Commonwealth’s interests in protecting the environment interact with the RFA framework in a streamlined way.” (page 10), and
  • “The EPBC Act recognises the RFA Act, and additional assessment and approvals are not required for forestry activities conducted in accordance with an RFA (except where forestry operations are in a World Heritage property or a Ramsar wetland). These settings are colloquially referred to as the 'RFA exemption', which is somewhat of a misnomer.” (page 60).
The Interim Report also made it clear that under a regional model of empowering the states, the oversight functions would be the responsibility of the states through accredited frameworks (as occurs with Regional Forest Agreements):

“For projects approved under accredited arrangements, the accredited regulator would be responsible for ensuring that projects comply with requirements, across the whole project cycle including transparent post-approval monitoring, compliance and enforcement. The Commonwealth should retain the ability to intervene in project-level compliance and enforcement where egregious breaches are not being effectively enforced by the accredited party.” (page 55). 

''The Commonwealth must act urgently to resolve this uncertainty to ensure that the tens of thousands of jobs that depend on Australia’s native forestry operations are not exposed to the sort of crisis now facing Victoria’s native hardwood sector. This amendment Bill will achieve this outcome.''

It seeks to: 
Part 1—Amendments
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
1  Subsection 38(1)
Omit “that is undertaken in accordance with an RFA”.
Regional Forest Agreements Act 2002
2  Subsection 6(4)
Omit “that is undertaken in accordance with an RFA”.

The Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum Inc v VicForests (No 4) [2020] case confirmed injunctions related to 66 coupes (or logging areas) in forests that are home to threatened Great Glider and the critically endangered Victorian State emblem - Leadbeater’s Possum. This decision will keep these iconic creatures a step further back from extinction.

Importantly Justice Mortimer also identified unlawful logging by VicForests was planned in those 66 areas and had occurred already in a further 26 already logged areas.

In the future, if VicForests wants to log in those coupes, not only will it have to apply to the Commonwealth for approval to log threatened species habitat, VicForests will also have to return to the Federal Court to ask for the injunction to be lifted. And then, it will have to find a buyer for the wood.

Danya Jacobs, Senior Lawyer from Environmental Justice Australia  (EJA) summarised it in August 2020; “This case proved that a state agency unlawfully logged 26 areas home to species at risk of extinction which are meant to be protected by both state and federal law – and planned to unlawfully log another 66.” 

You can make a submission via the link above.

Helpful information
Text of bill
  • First reading: Text of the bill as introduced into the Parliament
  • Third reading: Prepared if the bill is amended by the house in which it was introduced. This version of the bill is then considered by the second house.
  • As passed by both houses: Final text of bill agreed to by both the House of Representatives and the Senate which is presented to the Governor-General for assent.

EPA Statement-Update On Forestry Regulation: FCNSW Set To Log Bushfire Devastated South Coast

February 16, 2021
The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has been advised by Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW) that they will shortly revert to operating under the standard forestry rules, meaning logging in new compartments will not use special site specific conditions put in place to protect burnt forests, following the 2019/20 bushfires.

Based on expert advice and the literature, the EPA is of the view that site specific conditions are the most effective way of managing the environmental risks associated with harvesting in landscapes that have been so extensively and severely impacted by fire.

The EPA has been working to negotiate updated site specific conditions based on current knowledge of the impact of the fires, and to identify and implement a long-term approach to manage the risks posed by timber harvesting in the post-fire landscapes of coastal NSW.

FCNSW has now withdrawn from those discussions around logging on the South Coast.

The EPA expects to receive advice from FCNSW regarding additional voluntary measures they intend to apply to manage the impacts of logging operations. These will not be enforceable by the EPA under the current rules.

The EPA’s site specific conditions previously applied in addition to the Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals (IFOA), maximise the protection of unburnt or lightly burnt forest and limit harvesting intensity to assist wildlife and biodiversity recovery efforts.

Designed following consultation with experts and government agencies, they aim to mitigate the environmental risks caused by the bushfires and are tailored for the specific impacts on plants, animals and their habitats, soils and waterways at each site.

The EPA has been working with FCNSW to ensure these controls are implemented and effective. 

The EPA has increased its regulatory presence on the ground at all stages of logging operations and is working closely with community, industry, Aboriginal and environment groups, concerned about the impact of logging on the environment, their communities and their regional economies.

In response to the decision of FCNSW, the EPA will further increase its regulatory oversight of future logging operations.

The EPA has a statutory objective to protect, restore and enhance the quality of the environment in NSW having regard to the need to maintain ecologically sustainable development. Where the EPA identifies non-compliance, it will take appropriate regulatory action.

FCNSW is authorised by the NSW Government to undertake forestry operations under the Forestry Act 2012, and must comply with the IFOA rules.

Media Statement – Update On Vales Point Power Station

10 February 2021
The EPA will seek public submissions on the proposal from Delta Electricity to extend its current exemption for Vales Point Power Station from a specific category for emissions standards for a further five years.

The current exemption expires on 1 January 2022.

The application will be carefully considered and assessed in accordance with the EPA’s statutory obligations under section 45 of the POEO Act.  

The EPA believes public feedback is of benefit although consultation is not required under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997.

The submission process is being finalised.

$16.5 Million For More Green Space

February 16, 2021
More than $16 million from the NSW Government’s COVID-19 stimulus fund will help deliver more quality green public space on Crown land across Greater Sydney.

Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes said the new Greater Sydney Crown Land Open Space Activation Program would fund upgrades to Crown land and community facilities.

“The last 12 months has taught us the importance of green open space and creating public places where people can safely meet, congregate and relax,” Mr Stokes said.

“It makes good sense that by improving Crown land and public infrastructure we can make better use of the assets we already have to create more open space for the community to enjoy.

“These projects will also support local jobs and economies with work for tradespeople and materials suppliers.”

In addition to the funding, Crown land will be reviewed to identify sites for future activation.

Local councils will be invited to participate in partnership opportunities for activation and ongoing management of shortlisted sites for activation, which will include new or improved public parkland reserves, foreshore precincts and civic spaces such as town squares.

The program will also complement the Sydney Green Grid, which was bolstered by a $3 million metropolitan green space program launched in July to create more walking trails, bike paths and picnic spots that would build links between green spaces throughout Sydney.

An additional $500,000 over the next two years will be used to protect sensitive nature reserves being impacted by unauthorised activities such as four-wheel driving, dirt bike riding and rubbish dumping.

Mr Stokes said the funding will contribute to the installation of fencing, bollards, cabling, gates and signage on reserves where these activities have caused environmental damage.

“This funding will help local councils trying to manage hotspots where these inappropriate activities occur. Fencing and gates will also help manage bushfire risk by keeping reserves free of accumulated rubbish,” Mr Stokes said.

The projects are among a range of stimulus projects being funded on Crown land sites across Greater Sydney, with others including:
  • $2 million to upgrade the Hungry Point walking track at Cronulla including construction of a coastal viewing platform;
  • $1.5 million towards restoration of a former railway tunnel at Glenbrook in the Blue Mountains so it can be reactivated as a recreational trail;
  • $1.5 million to help Penrith City Council restore a historic former police cottage at Emu Plains;
  • $1.5 million to undertake essential maintenance work on the historic Meadowbank Bridge and its pedestrian path and cycleway;
  • $1.5 million to remove dilapidated cottages from the Georges River foreshore at Illawong to restore the land to public open space;
  • $1.135 million for maintenance and repair work at the former Prince Henry Hospital site at Little Bay including heritage-listed structures;
  • $1 million to restore the heritage-listed South Head Signal Station at Vaucluse;
  • $500,000 for improvement works at Bidjigal Reserve in Baulkham Hills including bushland restoration and upgrades to walking trails, signage and stormwater infrastructure;
  • $250,000 to clean up and assess land at Northmead for contamination on the site of a mechanical workshop.

Contamination Assessment For Empire Bay Marina

February 16, 2021

An assessment will be conducted at the Empire Bay Marina to examine the site’s contamination levels and help inform future actions.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast Adam Crouch said a detailed assessment has been commissioned by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment – Crown Lands.

“The NSW Government was forced to revoke the Empire Bay Marina licence in September 2020 due to ongoing safety and environmental concerns, and a failure by the licence holder to rectify issues despite repeated requests,” Mr Crouch said.

“Crown Lands is issuing a factsheet to keep local residents informed every step of the way on what has occurred to date, and what is planned for the future.”

Minister for Water Property and Housing Melinda Pavey said the detailed assessment would determine the type, extent and level of contamination on the site and advise on requirements for site remediation.

“This contamination assessment, together with building assessments, will help inform next steps,” Mrs Pavey said.

“The Marina structures and building are in poor condition and unsafe and have been fenced off to the public. Residents are advised not to enter the site.”

Crown Lands has instructed boat owners to remove their vessels from the marina prior to the contamination assessment getting underway.

“Central Coast Ferries has committed to moving their vessel to an alternative mooring location. There will be no disruption to the regular ferry service,” Mrs Pavey said.

“If boat owners fail to vacate the marina the Department will be required to take compliance action which would involve fines of up to $1,100 for individuals and $2,200 for corporations and the impounding of vessels.”

Crown Lands will maintain responsibility for the control and management of the marina site until a decision is made about its future.

NRAR Responds To Incident In Lake Albert

February 16, 2021

In January of this year, the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) received a complaint in relation to an alleged unlawful structure in Lake Albert, Wagga Wagga.

Following the complaint, NRAR commenced a thorough investigation and issued a penalty notice to a private citizen from the Wagga Wagga region.

Gregory Abood, Director Water Regulation (West) at NRAR, says he is happy to see this matter resolved.

“As soon as we received this complaint, we commenced a thorough investigation, which we’ve now concluded. We understand the importance of Lake Albert to the community of Wagga Wagga and worked hard to finalise this matter,” Mr Abood said.

“Water laws exist to protect and preserve our natural ecosystems, but this can only happen when we all follow the rules.

“Unlawful water take and diverting a water source is a serious offence that can threaten supplies for other communities and the environment.”

Mr Abood concluded by stating NRAR takes allegations of noncompliance seriously because communities across NSW have said they want fair, transparent and enforceable water compliance.

To see the work NRAR does, go to its public register on the NRAR website Go to ‘Reports and data’, then ‘NRAR Public Register’.

To make a confidential report on suspected water misuse, contact the NRAR Hotline on 1800 633 362 or email

World First Gene Program To Help Koalas

February 11, 2021
A team of University of Sydney scientists is taking the fight to protect koalas to a new level with a world first ‘genetic sequencing’ program that could protect the species from disease and other threats. Backed by more than $1 million of Commonwealth and NSW government combined funding, the research team will build a first of its kind genome sequencing program - unique to threatened species management around the world.

Federal Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley and NSW Minister for Environment and Energy Matt Kean today met Professor Kathy Belov (one of the two lead researchers who gained world acclaim for being the first to map the koala genome in 2018) at University of Sydney to see some of the first steps in the breakthrough program.

“Scientists will be able to determine the genetic strength of populations, the unique DNA variants that provide resistance to diseases such as chlamydia, and a range of other traits,” Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said today.

“This is breakthrough science that has never been applied to a native species population at this scale, and it will play an important role in strengthening the koala population.

”The Morrison and Berejiklian governments committed more than $1 million to the first stage of the program that will map the 20,000 ‘functioning important genes’ in each of some 400 koalas.

NSW Minister for Environment and Energy Matt Kean said the ground-breaking genomic research, to be led by Professor Belov and population biologist Dr Carolyn Hogg, will be critical in guiding future conservation efforts.

“We know the number one threat to koalas is the loss and fragmentation of habitat, but koalas are also at risk from threats such as disease and climate change,” Mr Kean said.

“We need to pull out all stops to support thriving and resilient koala populations across NSW and mapping genetic variations will give us the information we need to develop better conservation programs.”

The Commonwealth is investing $348,450 for the genome sequences of koalas from Queensland and Victoria along with a researcher to develop the genome library in 2020, while NSW is contributing $674,000 to sequence genomes of koalas from NSW populations.

Amazon Web Services (AWS), through its Open Data Sponsorship Program, is covering the costs of the storage and transfer of the data for The University of Sydney while they are participating in the program, so that it can be accessed and analysed in the cloud by researchers around the world.

The project, which will genetically map a bank of samples already in hand and build it over coming years through the national koala monitoring program and Koala recovery plan to be finalised this year, builds on the world-first sequencing of the koala genome in recent years led by the University of Sydney and Australian Museum.

“As humans we are all the same species but variation in our genes determine who we are, traits like hair colour or eye colour and even our responses to infectious diseases,” Professor Belov said.

“Levels of genetic diversity in a population determine how well populations can adapt and respond to change, whether that be disease, behaviour or climate.

“Historically koala populations have moved freely across the east coast but as populations become fragmented the importance of maintaining genetic diversity has increased.

“We want to also preserve the genetic variation that has been built up over years of evolutionary pressure and to use this knowledge to develop breeding and translocation strategies that could strengthen koala populations.

“Koalas are complicated in that, while they are a single species, they have become adapted to different environments, some are more adapted to heat, some are more resilient to disease and it is important to be able to understand the underlying genetic variation that drives these processes.

Koalas - photo by Mathew Crowther

Don't disturb the cockatoos on your lawn, they're probably doing all your weeding for free

Gregory MooreUniversity of Melbourne

Australians have a love-hate relationship with sulphur-crested cockatoos, Cacatua galerita. For some, the noisy parrots are pests that destroy crops or the garden, damage homes and pull up turf at sports ovals.

For others, they’re a bunch of larrikins who love to play and are quintessentially Australian.

Along with other scientists, I had a unique opportunity during the COVID-19 lockdowns to study things that had intrigued me closer to home, perhaps for years. While isolating in the suburbs of Melbourne, I wanted to find out why cockatoos return to the same places, and what they’re after.

The answer? Onion grass, reams of it.

Onion grass is a significant weed, and I estimated in a recent paper that one bird gorges on about 200 plants per hour. A flock of about 50 birds can consume 20,000 plants in a couple of hours.

This significantly reduces the weed level and may make expensive herbicide use unnecessary. So if you have a large amount of onion grass on your property and are regularly visited by sulphur-crested cockatoos, it would be wise to let them do their weeding first.

When Play Verges On Vandalism

Most of us see cockies whether we live in rural communities or major cities, but how much do you really know about them?

Two sulphur-crested cockatoos sitting on a branch
Sulphur-crested cockatoos nest in old hollow trees. Shutterstock

In late winter and early spring in many parts of Australia, flocks of sulphur–crested cockatoos can be seen grazing on the ground. They’re usually found close to water, nesting in woodlands with old hollow trees, such as river red gumsEucalyptus camaldulensis.

Where these forests and trees are being cleared, the number of cockies falls. But they are resilient and adaptable birds, and have spread their range to cities and the urban fringe, where numbers are increasing.

Read more: Birds that play with others have the biggest brains - and the same may go for humans

The birds are known to play with fruits, hang upside down on branches or perform flying cartwheels by holding a small branch or powerline with their feet, flapping their wings as they do loop after loop.

Sometimes their play verges on vandalism as they follow tree planters, deftly pulling up just-planted trees and laying them neatly beside the hole.

While cockatoos feed on the fruits and seed of native species, they’ve adapted very quickly to the introduction of exotic species, such as onion grass from South Africa, which is plentiful and easy to harvest.

I observed flocks ranging from nine to 63 cockatoos at seven sites along the Maribyrnong River in Keilor last July and August. Onion grass was the only item on their menu.

A Pest For Humans, A Feast For Birds

Onion grass (Romulea rosea) is small and usually inconspicuous with grass-like leaves. It’s typically only noticed when it flowers in spring, producing pretty, pink and yellow-throated flowers.

Conspicuous onion grass with a small purple flower
Onion grass comes from South Africa, and is a big problem for native grasslands. Harry Rose/WikimediaCC BY

Onion grass can be a serious weed that’s very difficult to control. It’s not only a problem for agricultural land, but also for recreational turf and native grasslands.

In some areas, there are nearly 5,000 onion grass plants per square metre. This is a massive number requiring costly control measures, such as spraying or scraping away the upper layer of top soil.

Read more: The river red gum is an icon of the driest continent

Onion grass gets its name from its onion-like leaves. At the base is a small bulb, which works as a modified underground stem called a “corm”. The corm is what cockatoos will travel many kilometres for, to dig up and return to for days on end.

A brown bulb with small roots coming out
When cockatoos eat onion grass corm, it prevents the weed from regenerating. Harry Rose/WikimediaCC BY

Their Super Weeding Effort

Like other native parrots, sulphur-crested cockatoos are famously left-footed. So it was interesting to observe them primarily use their powerful beaks to pull onion grass plants from the ground and dig up corms, using their left foot only occasionally to manipulate the plant.

Read more: These historic grasslands are becoming a weed-choked waste. It could be one of the world's great parks

The cockatoos fed for between 30 minutes and two and a half hours. At each feed, one or two sentry (or sentinel) birds, depending on the flock size, would keep watch and give raucous warning should danger threaten.

The cockies could remove a plant and corm from the ground in as little as six seconds, but sometimes it could take up to 30 seconds. They then removed and consumed a corm every 14 seconds on average in wet soil and every 18 seconds from harder, dry soil.

Eight cockatoos on grass, with autumn leaves
When flocks feed, one or two sentinel birds keep watch for danger. Shutterstock

This means a flock of 63 birds could remove more than 35,400 onion grass plants in a feeding session lasting two and half hours. This is a super weeding effort by any standard!

Future Partnerships

My further investigation revealed most of the corms were within 20 millimetres of the soil surface, so the holes left in the soil by the birds extracting the onion grass were shallow and quite small. This shouldn’t give seeds from onion grass any great advantage.

And they’re very efficient: the birds eat over 87% of the corms they lift, which then won’t get a chance to generate in future years. So, if we’re going to try to eradicate onion grass, it may be better to let the cockies do their work first before we humans take a turn.

We have a lot to learn about how our native species interact with introduced weeds, and more research might reveal some very useful future partnerships. They might be birdbrains, but sulphur-crested cockatoos really know their onions when it comes to, well, onion grass.

Read more: Running out of things to do in isolation? Get back in the garden with these ideas from 4 experts The Conversation

Gregory Moore, Doctor of Botany, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Water injustice runs deep in Australia. Fixing it means handing control to First Nations

Sue JacksonGriffith UniversityFrancis MarkhamAustralian National UniversityFred HooperIndigenous KnowledgeGrant RigneyIndigenous KnowledgeLana D. HartwigGriffith University, and Rene WoodsIndigenous Knowledge

It’s widely understood that rivers, wetlands and other waterways hold particular significance for First Nations people. It’s less well understood that Indigenous peoples are denied effective rights in Australia’s water economy.

Australia’s laws and policies prevent First Nations from fully participating in, and benefiting from, decisions about water. In fact, Indigenous peoples hold less than 1% of Australia’s water rights.

A Productivity Commission report into national water policy released last week acknowledged the demands of First Nations, noting “Traditional Owners aspire to much greater access to, and control over, water resources”.

The commission suggested a suite of policy reforms. While the recommendations go further than previous official reports, they show a lack of ambition and would ensure water justice continues to be denied to First Nations.

Three Indigenous children smiling in water
Water plays a fundamental role in the cultural, spiritual and physical well-being of Indigenous people. Shutterstock

No Voice, No Justice

First Nations people have almost no say in how water is used in Australia. This denies them the power to prevent water extraction that will damage communities and landscapes, and in many cases means they’re unable to fulfil their responsibilities to care for Country.

It also means First Nations are excluded from much of Australia’s agricultural wealth, which is tied to access to water for irrigation.

In the New South Wales portion of the Murray-Darling Basin, for example, our research found Indigenous peoples are almost 10% of the population yet comprise only 3.5% of the agricultural workforce. First Nations also own just 0.5% of agricultural businesses and receive less than 0.1% of agricultural revenue.

Read more: Aboriginal voices are missing from the Murray-Darling Basin crisis

Cotton farm
First Nations people enjoy only a tiny portion of Australia’s agricultural wealth. Alvin Wong/AAP

Piecemeal Water Reform

The National Water Initiative – a blueprint for water reform signed by all Australian governments in 2004 – committed to consulting with Traditional Owners in water planning, accounting for native title rights to water and including cultural values in water plans.

The Productivity Commission report said progress towards these commitments “has been slow and objectives have not been fully achieved”.

The report contains several welcome recommendations, including that:

  • a new water policy be devised, with a dedicated objective and targets to improve First Nations access to water and involvement in water management

  • the recently formed Committee on Aboriginal Water Interests “co-design” new provisions relating to First Nations’ water interests, and have direct dialogue with water ministers

  • a First Nations-led model of water reform be adopted, centred on the concept of “cultural flows”. This concept calls for substantial increases to First Nations’ water access and more control in decision-making.

Man wrapped in Aboriginal flag stands on river bank.
The Productivity Commission recommended a First Nations-led model of water reform. Richard Wainwright/AAP

Cause Of Injustice Ignored

Sadly, the Productivity Commission does not address the structural problems underlying inequities in Indigenous water rights.

In particular, it wrongly assumes policy success should be measured in terms of efficiency and the integrity of water markets, rather than justice for First Nations.

Water sold on markets goes to the highest bidder. This rewards large agricultural enterprises and others who historically held land and water rights, gained through the dispossession of First Nations people. And it penalises First Nations peoples who are unlikely to own productive farming land, or who don’t always wish to use water for irrigated agriculture.

In some cases, poorly funded Indigenous organisations have traded away their water rights to keep afloat, and will find it near-impossible to buy the water back. Our research shows this pattern drove a 17% decline in Indigenous water holdings in the Murray-Darling Basin over the past decade.

Read more: Australia has an ugly legacy of denying water rights to Aboriginal people. Not much has changed

The commission’s recommendations rely heavily on policy architecture and legal foundations that fail First Nations.

For example, in 1998 the Howard Government legislated to exclude water infrastructure and entitlements from parts of the Native Title Act. This means that infrastructure and licensing can proceed without negotiation with native title holders.

The Productivity Commission overlooked ways to correct this injustice – such as the Law Reform Commission’s proposal to change the law so native title holders can benefit from commercial use of water.

The commission’s response to conflict over developments such as dams is also inadequate. Rather than transfer final decision-making power to First Nations groups, it proposes that developments be more “culturally responsive”.

This will not protect cultural heritage. Case in point is the NSW government’s plan to raise the Warragamba Dam wall, creating a flood that threatens more than 1200 Indigenous cultural sites. Statutory protections are needed to head off such proposals.

Warragamba Dam
The Warragamba Dam plan threatens Indigenous cultural sites. Shutterstock

Stronger Models For Reform

The United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is clear: Indigenous peoples should have the power to decide on development proposed on their lands and waters.

An agreement between the Ngarrindjeri nation and the South Australian government in the lower Murray River region shows how even modest rights can both empower Traditional Owners and lead to successful environmental management.

The agreement enables a co-management approach where authority in developing natural resource management policy is shared. Unfortunately, reforms of this type are beyond the ambition of the Productivity Commission report.

Addressing water injustice also requires returning water to First Nations, such as by buying back water entitlements and guaranteeing cultural flows in water plans. The Productivity Commission outlines how this might occur, but falls short of recommending this vital measure.

The current policy framework has allowed some advances. But if water justice to Indigenous peoples is to be realised, changes to policy and laws must go far deeper.

Read more: Victoria just gave 2 billion litres of water back to Indigenous people. Here's what that means for the rest of Australia The Conversation

Sue Jackson, Professor, Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith UniversityFrancis Markham, Research Fellow, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National UniversityFred Hooper, Indigenous knowledge holder, Indigenous KnowledgeGrant Rigney, Indigenous knowledge holder, Indigenous KnowledgeLana D. Hartwig, Research Fellow, Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, and Rene Woods, Indigenous Knowledge Holder, Indigenous Knowledge

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Blind shrimps, translucent snails: the 11 mysterious new species we found in potential fracking sites

An ostracod, a small crustacean with more than 70,000 identified species. Anna33/WikimediaCC BY-SA
Jenny DavisCharles Darwin UniversityDaryl NielsenCSIROGavin ReesCSIRO, and Stefanie OberprielerCharles Darwin University

There aren’t many parts of the world where you can discover a completely new assemblage of living creatures. But after sampling underground water in a remote, arid region of northern Australia, we discovered at least 11, and probably more, new species of stygofauna.

Stygofauna are invertebrates that have evolved exclusively in underground water. A life in complete darkness means these animals are often blind, beautifully translucent and often extremely localised – rarely living anywhere else but the patch they’re found in.

The species we discovered live in a region earmarked for fracking by the Northern Territory and federal government. As with any mining activity, it’s important future gas extraction doesn’t harm groundwater habitats or the water that sustains them.

Our findings, published today, show the importance of conducting comprehensive environmental assessments before extraction projects begin. These assessments are especially critical in Australia’s north, where many plants and animals living in surface and groundwater have not yet been documented.

When The Going Gets Tough, Go Underground

Stygofauna were first discovered in Western Australia in 1991. Since then, these underground, aquatic organisms have been recorded across the continent. Today, more than 400 Australian species have been formally recognised by scientists.

The subterranean fauna we collected from NT aquifers, including a range of species unknown to science. A–C: Atyid shrimps, including Parisia unguis; D-F: Amphipods in Melitidae family; G: The syncarid species Brevisomabathynella sp.; H-J: members of the Candonidae family of ostracods; K: the harpacticoid species Nitokra lacustris; L: a new species of snail in the Caenogastropoda: M-N: Members of the Cyclopidae family of copepods; O: The worm species Aeolosoma sp. GISERAAuthor provided

Stygofauna are the ultimate climate change refugees. They would have inhabited surface water when inland Australia was much wetter. But as the continent started drying around 14 million years ago, they moved underground to the relatively stable environmental conditions of subterranean aquifers.

Read more: Hidden depths: why groundwater is our most important water source

Today, stygofauna help maintain the integrity of groundwater food webs. They mostly graze on fungal and microbial films created by organic material leaching from the surface.

In 2018, the final report of an independent inquiry called for a critical knowledge gap regarding groundwater to be filled, to ensure fracking could be done safely in the Northern Territory. We wanted to determine where stygofauna and microbial assemblages occurred, and in what numbers.

Our project started in 2019, when we carried out a pilot survey of groundwater wells (bores) in the Beetaloo Sub-basin and Roper River region. The Beetaloo Sub-basin is potentially one of the most important areas for shale gas in Australia.

What We Found

The stygofauna we found range in size from centimetres to millimetres and include:

  • two new species of ostracod: small crustaceans enclosed within mussel-like shells

  • a new species of amphipod: this crustacean acts as a natural vacuum cleaner, feeding on decomposing material

  • multiple new species of copepods: tiny crustaceans which form a major component of the zooplankton in marine and freshwater systems

  • a new syncarid: another crustacean entirely restricted to groundwater habitats

  • a new snail and a new worm.

A thriving stygofauna ecosystem lies beneath the surface of northern Australia’s arid outback. We sampled water through bores to measure their presence. Jenny DavisAuthor provided

These species were living in groundwater 400 to 900 kilometres south of Darwin. We found them mostly in limestone karst habitats, which contain many channels and underground caverns.

Perhaps most exciting, we also found a relatively large, colourless, blind shrimp (Parisia unguis) previously known only from the Cutta Cutta caves near Katherine. This shrimp is an “apex” predator, feeding on other stygofauna — a rare find for these kinds of ecosystems.

A microscopic image of Parisia unguis, a freshwater shrimp. Stefanie OberprielerAuthor provided

Protecting Groundwater And The Animals That Live There

The Beetaloo Sub-basin in located beneath a major freshwater resource, the Cambrian Limestone Aquifer. It supplies water for domestic use, cattle stations and horticulture.

Surface water in this dry region is scarce, and it’s important natural gas development does not harm groundwater.

The stygofauna we found are not the first to potentially be affected by a resource project. Stygofauna have also been found at the Yeelirrie uranium mine in Western Australia, approved by the federal government in 2019. More research will be required to understand risks to the stygofauna we found at the NT site.

Read more: It's not worth wiping out a species for the Yeelirrie uranium mine

The discovery of these new NT species has implications for all extractive industries affecting groundwater. It shows the importance of thorough assessment and monitoring before work begins, to ensure damage to groundwater and associated ecosystems is detected and mitigated.

Gas infrastructure at Beetaloo Basin
The Beetaloo Basin is part of the federal government’s gas expansion strategy. Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

Where To From Here

Groundwater is vital to inland Australia. Underground ecosystems must be protected – and not considered “out of sight, out of mind”.

Our study provides the direction to reduce risks to stygofauna, ensuring their ecosystems and groundwater quality is maintained.

Comprehensive environmental surveys are needed to properly document the distribution of these underground assemblages. The new stygofauna we found must also be formally recognised as a new species in science, and their DNA sequence established to support monitoring programs.

Different species of copepods from various parts of the world. Andrei Savitsky/WikimediaCC BY-SA

Many new tools and approaches are available to support environmental assessment, monitoring and management of resource extraction projects. These include remote sensing and molecular analyses.

Deploying the necessary tools and methods will help ensure development in northern Australia is sustainable. It will also inform efforts to protect groundwater habitats and stygofauna across the continent.

Read more: Victoria quietly lifted its gas exploration pause but banned fracking for good. It’s bad news for the climate The Conversation

Jenny Davis, Professor, Research Institute for Environment & Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, Charles Darwin UniversityDaryl Nielsen, Principal Research Scientist, CSIROGavin Rees, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO, and Stefanie Oberprieler, Research associate, Charles Darwin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

No point complaining about it, Australia will face carbon levies unless it changes course

John QuigginThe University of Queensland

Reports that Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson is considering calling for carbon border levies at the G7 summit to be held in London in June have produced a predictable reaction from the Australian government.

The levies would impose tariffs on carbon-intensive goods from countries such as Australia that haven’t adopted a carbon price or a 2050 net-zero emissions target.

Appearing to be shocked by the news, Energy Minister Angus Taylor declared that Australia is “dead against” carbon tariffs.

They were a “new form of protectionism designed to shield local industries from free trade”.

In fact they are already the policy of the European Union and the US, where President Joe Biden calls them a “carbon adjustment fee against countries that are failing to meet their climate and environmental obligations”. Canada, which has an economy-wide price on carbon, isn’t worried.

Saying you’re dead against something doesn’t stop it, and nor does asserting that it is anti free trade, when it is just as arguable that it is pro fair trade because it denies exporters from countries that aren’t taking action against climate change an unfair advantage.

Australia Not The Primary Target

The mining industry itself made this point during the Gillard government’s introduction of Australia’s short-lived carbon price.

It would leave Australian exporters at a “disadvantage compared with international competitors”.

Australia isn’t the primary target in any event. The main aim of carbon tariffs would be to encourage China’s leader Xi Jinping to shift his country’s zero emissions date from 2060 to 2050, benefiting the rest of the world.

Read more: Vital Signs: a global carbon price could soon be a reality – Australia should prepare

If Xi Jinping does it, he’ll be on a level playing field with much of the world, although not with Australia, whose fate, like that of Britain’s Admiral Byng in 1757 would be used “to encourage the others”.

Complaining won’t much help. The International Monetary Fund has endorsed the idea, saying

in the absence of an agreement on carbon pricing – which would be by far preferable – applying the same carbon prices on the same products irrespective of where they are produced could help avoid shifting emissions out of the EU to countries with different standards

The World Trade Organisation, which has in the past has pushed back against environmental considerations in trade, is neutered.

World Trade Organisation Powerless

In the late 1990s the WTO struck down a range of environmental restrictions imposed by the United States that required imported tuna to be labelled “dolphin safe” and required shrimp catchers to take action to protect turtles.

These decisions proved disastrous for the WTO, producing bitter hostility from the environmental movement and contributing to mass protests at the 1999 WTO meeting, which became known as the Battle of Seattle and ultimately killed the Doha round of trade negotiations.

Right now the WTO is in the organisational equivalent of an induced coma. By refusing to fill vacancies as they arose, the Trump Administration denied its appellate panel a quorum, forcing it to stop hearing cases.

President Donald Trump, neutered the World Trade Organisation. AP

The result is that any appeal to the WTO against carbon border tariffs would be left in limbo. US President Joe Biden has agreed to the appointment of a new WTO director general, stalled by Trump, but is in no hurry to re-establish the appellate body.

Instead, he will first try to refashion the WTO into an organisation that supports his own policies, among them stronger environmental measures, carbon tariffs and “Buy American” provisions. When reformed, the appellate body will give complaints from Australia’s government short shrift.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has shown some signs of recognising these realities, making baby steps towards announcing a 2050 zero emissions target.

But time is short. Morrison will have to either face down the denialists and do-nothingists on his own side of politics, or set himself, and Australia, up for a series of humiliations on the international stage, with real and damaging consequences.The Conversation

John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Plastic in the ocean kills more threatened albatrosses than we thought

Lauren RomanAuthor provided
Richelle ButcherMassey UniversityBritta Denise HardestyCSIRO, and Lauren RomanCSIRO

Plastic in the ocean can be deadly for marine wildlife and seabirds around the globe, but our latest study shows single-use plastics are a bigger threat to endangered albatrosses in the southern hemisphere than we previously thought.

You may have heard of the Great Pacific garbage patch in the northern Pacific, but plastic pollution in the southern hemisphere’s oceans has increased by orders of magnitude in recent years.

We examined the causes of death of 107 albatrosses received by wildlife hospitals and pathology services in Australia and New Zealand and found ocean plastic is an underestimated threat.

Plastic drink bottles, disposable utensils and balloons are among the most deadly items.

Albatrosses are some the world’s most imperiled seabirds, with 73% of species threatened with extinction. Most species live in the southern hemisphere.

We estimate plastic ingestion causes up to 17.5% of near-shore albatross deaths in the southern hemisphere and should be considered a substantial threat to albatross populations.

Read more: These are the plastic items that most kill whales, dolphins, turtles and seabirds

Magnificent Ocean Wanderers

Albatrosses spend their entire lives at sea and can live for more than 70 years. They return to land only to reunite with their mate and raise a single chick during the warmer months.

Although the world’s largest flying birds are rarely seen from land, human activities are driving nearly three quarters of albatross species to extinction.

An albatross flying across the ocean.
The great albatrosses are the largest flying birds in the world, circumnavigating the southern oceans in search of food. Lauren RomanAuthor provided

Each year, thousands of albatrosses are caught as unintended bycatch and killed by fishing boats. Introduced rats and mice eat their chicks alive on remote islands and the ocean where they spend their lives is becoming increasingly warmer and filled with plastic.

Young Laysan albatrosses with their bellies full of plastic are not just a tragic tale from the remote northern Pacific. Albatrosses are dying from plastic in the southern oceans, too.

When a Royal albatross recently died in care at Wildbase Hospital after eating a plastic bottle, it was not an isolated incident.

Single-Use Plastics Hit Albatrosses Close To Home

A veterinarian treating a light-mantled albatross
Veterinarian Baukje Lenting treating a light-mantled albatross at The Nest Te Kōhanga at Wellington Zoo. Wellington ZooAuthor provided

Eighteen of the world’s 22 albatross species live in the southern hemisphere, where plastic is currently considered a lesser threat. But the amount of discarded plastic is increasing every year, mostly leaked from towns and cities and accumulating near the shore.

Single-use items make up most of the trash found on coastlines around the world. Seven of the ten most common items — drink bottles, food wrappers and grocery bags — are made of plastic.

When albatrosses are found struggling near the shore in New Zealand, they are delivered to wildlife hospitals such as Wildbase Hospital and The Nest Te Kōhanga. A recent spate of plastic-linked deaths spurred us to dig a little deeper into the risk of plastic pollution to these magnificent ocean wanderers.

A Thousand Cuts: Plastic And Other Threats

Of the 107 albatrosses of 12 species we examined, plastic was the cause of death in half of the birds that had ingested it. In the cases we examined, plastic deaths were more common than fisheries-related deaths or oiling.

We compared these cases with data on plastic ingestion and fishery interaction rates from other studies. Based on our findings, we used statistical methods to estimate how many albatrosses were likely to eat plastic and might die from ingesting it, and how these figures compared to other major threats such as fisheries bycatch.

We found that in the near-shore areas of Australia and New Zealand, the ingestion of plastic is likely to cause about 3.4% of albatross deaths. In more polluted near-shore areas, such as those off Brazil, we estimate plastic ingestion causes 17.5% of all albatross deaths.

Read more: Plastic poses biggest threat to seabirds in New Zealand waters, where more breed than elsewhere

Because albatrosses are highly migratory, even those birds that live in less polluted areas are at risk as they wander the global ocean, travelling to polluted waters. Our results suggest the ingestion of plastic is at least of equivalent concern as long-line fishing in near-shore areas.

For threatened and declining albatross species, these rates of additional mortality are a serious concern and could result in further population losses.

Deadly Junk Food For Marine Life

Balloon fragments found in the stomach on an endangered albatross
The remains of two balloons in the stomach of an endangered grey-headed albatross. Lauren RomanAuthor provided

Not all types of plastic are equally deadly when eaten. Albatrosses can regurgitate many of the indigestible items they eat.

Soft plastic and rubber items (such as latex balloons), in particular, can be deadly for marine animals because they often become trapped in the gut and cause fatal blockages, leading to a long, slow death by starvation. Plastic is difficult to see with common scanning techniques, and gut blockages often remain undetected.

A plastic bottle found in the stomach of an albatross
A 500ml plastic bottle and balloon fragments were found in the stomach of a southern royal albatross which died in care at Wildbase Hospital. Stuart HunterAuthor provided

Albatrosses like to eat squid, and inexperienced young birds are especially prone to mistaking balloons and other plastic for food, with potentially lethal consequences.

We recommend that wildlife hospitals, carers and biologists consider gastric obstruction when sick albatrosses are presented. Our publication includes a checklist to help in the detection of gastric blockages.

Global cooperation to reduce leakage of plastic items into the ocean — such as the Basel Convention and the recommendations by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy — are first steps towards preventing unnecessary deaths of marine animals.

Read more: We need a legally binding treaty to make plastic pollution history

Stronger adherence to multilateral agreements, such as the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels which aims to reduce the impact of activities known to kill albatrosses, would help prevent the decline of breeding populations to unsustainably low levels.

If populations fall to critically endangered levels, intensive remediation including the expansion of chick and nest protection programmes, invasive species eradication and seabird translocations, may be required to prevent species extinction.

We would like to acknowledge our New Zealand and Australian colleagues who contributed to this research project. Veterinarians Baukje Lenting and Phil Kowalski care for injured seabirds and other wildlife at The Nest Te Kōhanga at Wellington Zoo. Veterinarian Megan Jolly cares for injured wildlife at Wildbase Hospital and vet pathologist Stuart Hunter provides a nationwide wildlife pathology service at Wildbase pathology at Massey University. David Stewart conducts threatened species research and monitoring at the Queensland state government’s Department of Environment and Science.The Conversation

Richelle Butcher, Veterinary Resident at Wildbase, Massey UniversityBritta Denise Hardesty, Principal Research Scientist, Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship, CSIRO, and Lauren Roman, Postdoctoral Researcher, Oceans and Atmosphere, CSIRO

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

'Everyone else does it, so I can too': how the false consensus effect drives environmental damage

Brock BergsethJames Cook University

There’s a useful concept from psychology that helps explain why good people do things that harm the environment: the false consensus effect. That’s where we overestimate how acceptable and prevalent our own behaviour is in society.

Put simply, if you’re doing something (even if you secretly know you probably shouldn’t), you’re more likely to think plenty of other people do it too. What’s more, you likely overestimate how much other people think that behaviour is broadly OK.

This bias allows people to justify socially unacceptable or illegal behaviours.

Researchers have observed the false consensus effect in drug use, how well nurses follow certain procedures at work, and illegal hunting in Africa.

More recently, conservationists and environmental researchers are beginning to reveal how the false consensus effect contributes to environmental damage.

Read more: The majority of people who see poaching in marine parks say nothing

From Illegal Fishing To Climate Change

In previous research, my colleagues and I showed how the false consensus effect supports ongoing poaching (meaning fishing in no-take zones) by recreational fishers on the Great Barrier Reef.

In particular, we found people who admitted to poaching thought it was much more prevalent in society than it really was, and had higher estimates than fishers who complied with the law.

The poachers also believed others viewed poaching as socially acceptable; however, in reality, more than 90% of fishers viewed poaching as both socially and personally unacceptable.

A no-fishing sign in a conservation area.
People who admitted to fishing in no-take zones thought it was much more prevalent in society than it really was. Shutterstock

Beyond poaching, the false consensus effect can help explain other behaviours.

One study examined students living on campus who were told not to shower while an emergency water ban was in place. It found those who showered in breach of the rules vastly overestimated how many other students were doing the same thing.

In a different study, researchers surveyed Australians about climate change and asked them what opinions they thought most other people held about the topic. The researchers found:

…opinions about climate change are subject to strong false consensus effects, that people grossly overestimate the numbers of people who reject the existence of climate change in the broader community.

The false consensus effect has also shown up in studies examining support for nuclear energy and offshore wind farms.

Using Psychology To Understand And Address Environmental Damage

As a growing body of research has shown, humans are shockingly bad at making accurate social judgements about the actual attitudes of others.

This gets even more problematic when we unwittingly project our own internal attitudes and beliefs onto others in an attempt to seek confirmation and reassurance.

Just as concepts from psychology can help explain some forms of environmental damage, so too can psychological concepts help address it. For example, research shows people are more likely to litter in areas where there’s already a lot of trash strewn around; so making sure the ground around a bin is not covered in rubbish may help.

But interventions that work in one culture to encourage environmentally friendly behaviour may not work in a different culture.

In Germany, for example, a campaign aimed at increasing consumption of sustainable seafood actually led to a decline in sustainable choices compared to baseline levels, likely because the messages were seen as manipulative and ended up driving shoppers away from choosing sustainable options.

A woman surveys the produce at a fish market.
A campaign aimed at increasing consumption of sustainable seafood in Germany actually led to a decline in sustainable choices. Shutterstock

Campaigns to reduce consumption of shark fin soupbuying pangolin meat or scales, and single-use plastic water bottles aim to counter the idea that these environmentally damaging behaviours are widespread and socially acceptable.

Factual information on how other people think and behave can be very powerful. Energy companies have substantially reduced energy consumption simply by showing people how their electricity use compares to their neighbors and conscientious consumers.

Encouragingly, activating people’s inherent desire for status has also been successful in getting people to “go green to be seen”, or to publicly buy eco-friendly products.

As the research evidence shows, social norms can be a powerful force in encouraging and popularising environmentally friendly behaviours. Perhaps you can do your bit by sharing this article!

A person cleans up rubbish on the beach.
Social norms can be a powerful force in encouraging and popularising environmentally friendly behaviours. Shutterstock

Read more: How to deal with the Craig Kelly in your life: a guide to tackling coronavirus contrarians The Conversation

Brock Bergseth, Postdoctoral research fellow, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Shorebird Identification Booklet

The Migratory Shorebird Program has just released the third edition of its hugely popular Shorebird Identification Booklet. The team has thoroughly revised and updated this pocket-sized companion for all shorebird counters and interested birders, with lots of useful information on our most common shorebirds, key identification features, sighting distribution maps and short articles on some of BirdLife’s shorebird activities. 

The booklet can be downloaded here in PDF file format:

Paper copies can be ordered as well, see for details.

Download BirdLife Australia's children’s education kit to help them learn more about our wading birdlife

Shorebirds are a group of wading birds that can be found feeding on swamps, tidal mudflats, estuaries, beaches and open country. For many people, shorebirds are just those brown birds feeding a long way out on the mud but they are actually a remarkably diverse collection of birds including stilts, sandpipers, snipe, curlews, godwits, plovers and oystercatchers. Each species is superbly adapted to suit its preferred habitat.  The Red-necked Stint is as small as a sparrow, with relatively short legs and bill that it pecks food from the surface of the mud with, whereas the Eastern Curlew is over two feet long with a exceptionally long legs and a massively curved beak that it thrusts deep down into the mud to pull out crabs, worms and other creatures hidden below the surface.

Some shorebirds are fairly drab in plumage, especially when they are visiting Australia in their non-breeding season, but when they migrate to their Arctic nesting grounds, they develop a vibrant flush of bright colours to attract a mate. We have 37 types of shorebirds that annually migrate to Australia on some of the most lengthy and arduous journeys in the animal kingdom, but there are also 18 shorebirds that call Australia home all year round.

What all our shorebirds have in common—be they large or small, seasoned traveller or homebody, brightly coloured or in muted tones—is that each species needs adequate safe areas where they can successfully feed and breed.

The National Shorebird Monitoring Program is managed and supported by BirdLife Australia. 

This project is supported by Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority and Hunter Local Land Services through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. Funding from Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and Port Phillip Bay Fund is acknowledged. 

The National Shorebird Monitoring Program is made possible with the help of over 1,600 volunteers working in coastal and inland habitats all over Australia. 

The National Shorebird Monitoring program (started as the Shorebirds 2020 project initiated to re-invigorate monitoring around Australia) is raising awareness of how incredible shorebirds are, and actively engaging the community to participate in gathering information needed to conserve shorebirds. 

In the short term, the destruction of tidal ecosystems will need to be stopped, and our program is designed to strengthen the case for protecting these important habitats. 

In the long term, there will be a need to mitigate against the likely effects of climate change on a species that travels across the entire range of latitudes where impacts are likely. 

The identification and protection of critical areas for shorebirds will need to continue in order to guard against the potential threats associated with habitats in close proximity to nearly half the human population. 

Here in Australia, the place where these birds grow up and spend most of their lives, continued monitoring is necessary to inform the best management practice to maintain shorebird populations. 

BirdLife Australia believe that we can help secure a brighter future for these remarkable birds by educating stakeholders, gathering information on how and why shorebird populations are changing, and working to grow the community of people who care about shorebirds.

To find out more visit:

Aussie Bread Tags Collection Points

Collecting bread tags enables us to provide wheelchairs that change the life of disabled people in need, as well as keeping the tags out of landfill to help to preserve the environment. 

Bread Tags for Wheelchairs was started in South Africa in 2006 by Mary Honeybun. It is a community program where individuals and organisations collect bread tags, which are sold to recyclers. The money raised pays for wheelchairs for the less fortunate which are purchased through a local pharmacy. Currently about 500kg of bread tags are collected a month in South Africa, funding 2-3 wheelchairs.

We have been collecting bread tags nationally in Australia since September 2018 and now have more than 100 collection points across the country. In February 2019 we started local recycling through Transmutation - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle in Robe, SA, where our tags are recycled into products such as door knobs and bowls. Tags from some states are still sent to South Africa where a plastics company called Zibo recycles them into seedling trays.

These humble bits of polystyrene can make a real difference so get your friends, family, school, workplace and church involved. Ask school tuck shops and boarding school kitchens, child care centres, aged care facilities, hospitals, cafes and fast food outlets to collect for you - they get through a lot of bread!

All the information and signage for collecting or setting up a public collection point is on our website.

Local Collectors
Lesley Flood
Please email for address -
Jodie Streckeisen
Please email for the address -
May be an image of ‎1 person and ‎text that says "‎WINK LOVE $1000 Where YOU BY DESIGNING AND PAINTING MURALS Live OVER REGULARLY VANDALISED SITES *Entries close Sunday 28 March 2021 To know more call 1300 665 310 FOLLOW US ON #GRD21 #LoveWhereYouLive 一 Proudly sponsored لنا: NSW Rotary graffiti DAY REMOVAL Dulux‎"‎‎

Touchdown! NASA's Mars Perseverance Rover Safely Lands On Red Planet

February 18in  US/19 AEST, 2021: date depending on where you are on planet earth - report from and courtesy NASA

The largest, most advanced rover NASA has sent to another world touched down on Mars Thursday, after a 203-day journey traversing 293 million miles (472 million kilometres). Confirmation of the successful touchdown was announced in mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California at 3:55 p.m. EST (12:55 p.m. PST).

Packed with ground-breaking technology, the Mars 2020 mission launched July 30, 2020, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The Perseverance rover mission marks an ambitious first step in the effort to collect Mars samples and return them to Earth.

"This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States, and space exploration globally -- when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks," said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk. "The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission embodies our nation's spirit of persevering even in the most challenging of situations, inspiring, and advancing science and exploration. The mission itself personifies the human ideal of persevering toward the future and will help us prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet."

About the size of a car, the 2,263-pound (1,026-kilogram) robotic geologist and astrobiologist will undergo several weeks of testing before it begins its two-year science investigation of Mars' Jezero Crater. While the rover will investigate the rock and sediment of Jezero's ancient lakebed and river delta to characterize the region's geology and past climate, a fundamental part of its mission is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. To that end, the Mars Sample Return campaign, being planned by NASA and ESA (European Space Agency), will allow scientists on Earth to study samples collected by Perseverance to search for definitive signs of past life using instruments too large and complex to send to the Red Planet.

"Because of today's exciting events, the first pristine samples from carefully documented locations on another planet are another step closer to being returned to Earth," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA. "Perseverance is the first step in bringing back rock and regolith from Mars. We don't know what these pristine samples from Mars will tell us. But what they could tell us is monumental -- including that life might have once existed beyond Earth."

Some 28 miles (45 kilometres) wide, Jezero Crater sits on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator. Scientists have determined that 3.5 billion years ago the crater had its own river delta and was filled with water.

The power system that provides electricity and heat for Perseverance through its exploration of Jezero Crater is a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, or MMRTG. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) provided it to NASA through an ongoing partnership to develop power systems for civil space applications.

Equipped with seven primary science instruments, the most cameras ever sent to Mars, and its exquisitely complex sample caching system -- the first of its kind sent into space -- Perseverance will scour the Jezero region for fossilized remains of ancient microscopic Martian life, taking samples along the way.

"Perseverance is the most sophisticated robotic geologist ever made, but verifying that microscopic life once existed carries an enormous burden of proof," said Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division. "While we'll learn a lot with the great instruments we have aboard the rover, it may very well require the far more capable laboratories and instruments back here on Earth to tell us whether our samples carry evidence that Mars once harboured life."

Paving the Way for Human Missions

"Landing on Mars is always an incredibly difficult task and we are proud to continue building on our past success," said JPL Director Michael Watkins. "But, while Perseverance advances that success, this rover is also blazing its own path and daring new challenges in the surface mission. We built the rover not just to land but to find and collect the best scientific samples for return to Earth, and its incredibly complex sampling system and autonomy not only enable that mission, they set the stage for future robotic and crewed missions."

The Mars Entry, Descent, and Landing Instrumentation 2 (MEDLI2) sensor suite collected data about Mars' atmosphere during entry, and the Terrain-Relative Navigation system autonomously guided the spacecraft during final descent. The data from both are expected to help future human missions land on other worlds more safely and with larger payloads.

On the surface of Mars, Perseverance's science instruments will have an opportunity to scientifically shine. Mastcam-Z is a pair of zoomable science cameras on Perseverance's remote sensing mast, or head, that creates high-resolution, color 3D panoramas of the Martian landscape. Also located on the mast, the SuperCam uses a pulsed laser to study the chemistry of rocks and sediment and has its own microphone to help scientists better understand the property of the rocks, including their hardness.

Located on a turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) and the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals (SHERLOC) instruments will work together to collect data on Mars' geology close-up. PIXL will use an X-ray beam and suite of sensors to delve into a rock's elemental chemistry. SHERLOC's ultraviolet laser and spectrometer, along with its Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering (WATSON) imager, will study rock surfaces, mapping out the presence of certain minerals and organic molecules, which are the carbon-based building blocks of life on Earth.

The rover chassis is home to three science instruments, as well. The Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX) is the first ground-penetrating radar on the surface of Mars and will be used to determine how different layers of the Martian surface formed over time. The data could help pave the way for future sensors that hunt for subsurface water ice deposits.

Also with an eye on future Red Planet explorations, the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) technology demonstration will attempt to manufacture oxygen out of thin air -- the Red Planet's tenuous and mostly carbon dioxide atmosphere. The rover's Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) instrument, which has sensors on the mast and chassis, will provide key information about present-day Mars weather, climate, and dust.

Currently attached to the belly of Perseverance, the diminutive Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is a technology demonstration that will attempt the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.

Project engineers and scientists will now put Perseverance through its paces, testing every instrument, subsystem, and subroutine over the next month or two. Only then will they deploy the helicopter to the surface for the flight test phase. If successful, Ingenuity could add an aerial dimension to exploration of the Red Planet in which such helicopters serve as a scouts or make deliveries for future astronauts away from their base.

Once Ingenuity's test flights are complete, the rover's search for evidence of ancient microbial life will begin in earnest.

"Perseverance is more than a rover, and more than this amazing collection of men and women that built it and got us here," said John McNamee, project manager of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission at JPL. "It is even more than the 10.9 million people who signed up to be part of our mission. This mission is about what humans can achieve when they persevere. We made it this far. Now, watch us go."

More About the Mission

A primary objective for Perseverance's mission on Mars is astrobiology research, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet's geology and past climate and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith, paving the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA, will send spacecraft to Mars to collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA's Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars 2020 Perseverance mission and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter technology demonstration for NASA.

Members of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover team watch in mission control as the first images arrive moments after the spacecraft successfully touched down on Mars, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith. Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

David Bowie – Life On Mars? (Official Video)

Council Receives 44.5K Grant For Events For Youth By Youth

Young people will be supported to build life skills, access employment opportunities and nurture their wellbeing and mental health thanks to being party to a portion of the $1.5 million in NSW Government grants announced earlier in February 2021.

Northern Beaches Council has been allocated $44,600.00 for 'Events by Youth for Youth' (Working Title) described as 

 'Events for Youth by Youth is an opportunity for young people to learn project management and be mentored by industry professionals and the Library and Youth team. Mentorship will upskill, inspire and empower young people to run events to improve access, inclusion, and subsequent wellbeing.'

Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services Gareth Ward said 35 projects have received up to $50,000 each through the Youth Opportunities program.

“We want all young people to be engaged and active members of their communities and these grants foster exciting new initiatives to make that happen,” Mr Ward said.

“Young people are our State’s greatest asset and we are working hard to equip them with the skills and knowledge they need to make our communities stronger and better places to live.”

Among the successful projects this year are programs to empower disadvantaged youth, an initiative to promote work experience opportunities for young people with disability and projects focusing on positive mental health.

Minister for Mental Health, Regional Youth and Women Bronnie Taylor said more than half of the successful projects are based in regional and rural NSW.

“Rural communities know it’s vital to engage with young people as they are the future leaders in their regions,” Mrs Taylor said.

“These projects will give young people the tools they need to navigate a range of issues so that they can build resilience and thrive.”

Since the NSW Government established the Youth Opportunities program in 2012, almost $13.3 million has been invested in 282 projects.

NSW Youth Advisory Council 2021 Applications Now Open

What is the NSW Youth Advisory Council?
The NSW Youth Advisory Council (YAC) plays an important role in advising the NSW Government on issues that are relevant to young people across the state.

Membership of the YAC is open to all children and young people between 12 and 24 years of age residing in NSW. Applications are sought from diverse locations, backgrounds and life experiences.

The 12 member YAC provides a direct avenue of communication between young people and the NSW Government. 

The YAC meets regularly throughout the year to provide advice to the relevant Minister, and the NSW Advocate for Children and Young People, on issues, policies and laws that affect children and young people in NSW.

Who is eligible to apply for the Youth Advisory Council?
All young people living in NSW from 12 to 24 years of age may apply. Applications are sought from diverse locations, backgrounds and life experiences.

What is required of me?
Council members meet once every 4-6 weeks throughout the year to discuss a range of topics and monitor and evaluate polices and legislation affecting children and young people.

Members also consult with children and young people, community groups and government agencies on issues concerning children and young people; and conduct forums, approved by the Minister on issues relevant to children and young people.

Tips for completing your application
Once you start your application you will need to complete it in one go, so you might like to prepare your answers in a word document and then copy and paste them into the application when you are ready. Make sure you answer all questions. The whole application process should take no longer than 10 minutes.

The main questions to prepare for are:
  • Question: What do you think are the important issues affecting children and young people in NSW? Please explain why you think these issues are important. (As a guide, your answers should be no more than 250 words.)
  • Question: What life experiences have you had which would assist you in contributing to the Council’s work?
  • Question: Details of any current or past voluntary or community activities you have been involved in.
  • We'll ask a few questions about you and your background.
Applications close March 14th.

Applications Now Open For Y NSW Youth Parliament

Applications are now open for the YMCA NSW (Y NSW) Youth Parliament: the state’s premier youth political empowerment program.

Aimed at young people in years 10, 11 and 12 or equivalent age, Y NSW Youth Parliament provides a platform for young people to have their voices heard through legislative debate and decision making.  

Y NSW is seeking representatives from all 93 NSW State Electorates to participate.  

Y NSW CEO Susannah Le Bron said it was exciting to be back following the program’s suspension in 2020 due to the pandemic. 

“COVID-19 has brought the direct impact of political decisions on young people’s lives and futures sharply into focus,” Mrs Le Bron said. 

“There’s never been a more important time for young people to stand up and be heard, and the Y is incredibly proud as an organisation to bring these voices directly to the seat of power in NSW.”  

Youth Parliament consists of an eight-day camp where participants are split in committees and develop policy positions ahead of four days of debate on the floor of NSW Parliament. Following the event, passed bills are formally presented to the NSW Government. 

Since its beginning in 2002, approximately six pieces of Y NSW Youth Parliament youth legislation have been passed into NSW Law, including the recent Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme.

Former NSW Youth Parliament participant, Hamani Tanginoa, encouraged young people across the state to apply. 

“Youth Parliament is an amazing opportunity for young people to have their voices heard and get their ideas on the board. If they’re looking to do more representation in their community or to get into politics it’s a perfect first step to get their name out there,” he said. 

“It helped me get a spot on the NSW Youth Advisory Council and support from past participants helped me secure the Youth Premier position in 2019. Youth Parliament kept the fire burning, and since then I’ve been able to continue speaking out on issues young people are facing on TV and in printed media.” 

Applications are open now and will close March 12 at 5pm.

Young people will be notified of the outcome of their application on March 22 ahead of an online introduction to the program on April 26 and finally, Residential Camp from July 3 to Saturday 10 July. 

NSW Youth Week 2021: 16 To 24 April

Youth Week began as a NSW Government initiative in 1989, and has since grown to be a celebration of young people in every state and territory across the country.

It is organised by young people, for young people, in communities across NSW and Australia. Following the success of the NSW Youth Week program, Youth Week became a National event in 2000. National Youth Week is jointly supported by the Australian Government, State and Territory Governments and Local Governments.

National Youth Week is an opportunity for young people to:
  • share ideas
  • attend live events
  • have their voices heard on issues of concern to them
  • showcase their talents
  • celebrate their contribution to the community
  • take part in competitions
  • have fun!
The NSW Government invites all Local Councils in NSW to jointly fund Youth Week activities in their area. As part of their funding agreement with the NSW Government, Councils agree to involve young people in all aspects of Youth Week, including the planning, development and management of activities.

Youth Week is managed at a state level by the Youth Week Coordinator (located in the Youth Strategy and Participation Unit, Participation and Inclusion, Department of Family and Community Services) in conjunction with the NSW Youth Week Committee. The Committee is responsible for providing advice on the management and operation of Youth Week in NSW.

High Schoolers To Study Skills Of The Future

February 15, 2021
Real estate, robotics and entrepreneurship are just some of the 20 new virtual Vocational Education and Training (VET) courses to be made available to every NSW Government high school by 2022. As part of the Curriculum Review, the NSW Government committed to providing opportunities for credit towards qualifications in apprenticeships in high demand areas such as engineering and robotics. The virtual courses are the first stage of delivering on this commitment. 

In addition to existing face-to-face VET, Year 11 and 12 students will have the opportunity to study teacher-led, digitally-enabled virtual TAFE NSW courses that will give them in-demand skills for the workplace. These courses will form part of their HSC and contribute to their ATAR. 

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the new courses are part of the NSW Government’s Curriculum Reform. 

“We want to ensure NSW students receive world-class skills training to prepare them for the jobs of the future,” Ms Berejiklian said. 

“These courses will help students build skills across emerging industries such as advanced manufacturing, technology and engineering.” 

The new virtual VET courses, specifically designed for high school students with digitally-enabled and interactive lessons, cover a range of future-focussed industry sectors including cyber security, big data, accounting, gaming, community and health services.

Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Geoff Lee said the NSW Government is committed to meeting skill shortages and enhancing access to exciting industries. 

“These new virtual courses are a win-win for students. Not only does it make them instantly employable, they also have the choice to pursue further education in fields with plenty of career opportunities,” Mr Lee said.

“Demand for jobs like cyber security specialists is huge and growing, and these courses are designed to help meet that need. From 2022, a student interested cyber security will have access to this new online course to get started in the fast-growing tech sector.”

Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning Sarah Mitchell said developing these online courses was also about making VET more available in regional NSW. 

“These are exciting areas for young people to be studying and puts them in the best place to find a job in dynamic industries. Students with a keen interest in future-focussed courses will be able to link up with others, no matter where they go to school across NSW,” Ms Mitchell said.  

Students will graduate with a nationally recognised VET qualification that forms part of their HSC and contributes to an ATAR.

Online Courses Added To Summer Skills Program

The Summer Skills program has been expanded to include seven TAFE NSW online short courses targeting school leavers from last year.

An expansion of fee-free Summer Skills training courses is now available for school leavers with new online courses on offer, as part of the JobTrainer initiative.

Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Geoff Lee said the Summer Skills program, launched in November 2020, has expanded to include seven TAFE NSW online short courses targeting school leavers from last year.

“In designing the Summer Skills program, the NSW Government has ensured the training on offer is aligned to local industry needs,” he said.

“We need to provide the opportunities that help school leavers find their feet in these uncertain times. That’s why we’re delivering practical and fee-free training opportunities commencing this summer. Online learning is a terrific way to upskill at your own pace,”

Mr Lee said all the courses come from the $320 million committed to delivering 100,000 fee-free training places as part of the NSW Government’s contribution to the JobTrainer initiative.

“There are more than 100,000 fee-free training places available through TAFE NSW and approved providers for people across NSW to reskill, retrain and redeploy to growth areas in a post COVID-19 economy.

“I encourage anyone impacted by the pandemic to see what training options are available in 2021.”

Enrolments are open for Summer Skills training in:

  • Cyber Concepts;
  • Introduction to working in the health industry;
  • Construction materials and Work Health and Safety;
  • Mental health;
  • Business administration skills;
  • Introductory to business skills; and
  • Digital security basics.

Visit the NSW Summer Skills webpage for full details on all available fee-free courses on offer and their eligibility as part of the NSW Summer Skills program, and visit the JobTrainer webpage for more information.

NSW JobTrainer provides fee-free* training courses for young people, job seekers and school leavers to gain skills in Australia's growing industries. Explore hundreds of qualifications and register your interest today.

Express Yourself Exhibition 2021

The talent and creativity of more than 40 HSC Visual Art students on the Northern Beaches will be on display for the annual Express Yourself exhibition at the Manly Art Gallery & Museum (MAG&M) from February 19th until March 28th 2021. 

The winners of the $3,000 Manly Art Gallery & Museum Society Youth Art Award and $5,000 Theo Batten Bequest Youth Art Award will be announced on Friday 19th of February. These two awards are granted annually to students featured in the exhibition.  

Artist statements will be displayed alongside the artworks describing the inspirations and influences that informed the works and the students’ creative journeys.  

Visitors are encouraged to vote for their favourite artwork in the KALOF People’s Choice Award which is announced at the end of the exhibition period. 

Express Yourself is also part of Art Month Sydney, March 2021. 

Exhibition: 19 February - Sunday 28 March 2021, 10am - 4pm daily (excluding Mondays) 

Teachers' preview: Friday 19 February, 5 - 6pm. Bookings essential via Council’s website 

Art Walk and Talk: Saturday 27 February, 3 – 4pm: Artists walk through the exhibition and discuss their works with the curator. Bookings essential via Council’s website

Here And There

Published February 19, 2021 by NFSA
From the Film Australia Collection. Made by the Cinema Branch c1930. A brief travelogue of Victoria, featuring the Grampians, Buchan Caves, Ballarat, Phillip Island and Lorne.

The Dark Side Of Mobile Living Movements

By Ben Knight, UNSW, February 2021
Campervans and caravans are in right now, but the reality of mobile living is often not quite what it seems. 
Travel might be restricted, but that hasn’t stopped a growing community from taking their work, and their home, on the road. Inspired in part by Grey Nomads, these new digital nomads are embracing van life and everything it has to offer.

“The pandemic has untethered many people from physically having to go to work if they can run everything from a laptop. So they're weighing up their resources with what sort of lifestyle they want,” says Dr Hazel Blunden, Research Fellow at the Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture.

But while there are many motivations behind the rise of mobile living, it often comes down to money, Dr Blunden says. Purchasing a van is often just a way for aspiring homeowners locked out of the market to take back some control over their living situation.

“If you can’t afford a mortgage, or don’t want to take on huge debt, you could choose to live this way, with the benefits of mobility and travel,” Dr Blunden says. “For people on lower incomes, in particular, it can be a viable option to purchase a vehicle, which is typically a lower cost than buying a house or even renting.”

Life on the road
While living in a van may come with a lot of freedom, life on the road isn’t always easy. Many who embark on the mobile living journey eventually look for more stable housing options.

“I think you’ll find after a while when the van starts to break down or begins to feel cramped, you hear people say they would like to buy some land or move into a house, and so they’re looking for something more permanent,” Dr Blunden says.
parked orange van overlooking beach

Van life might look appealing on Instagram, but for some, the reality is far from glamourous. Photo: Unsplash.

Maintaining the van can also be more costly than anticipated when factoring in running costs such as repairs. Those who live in a vehicle are also not usually eligible to receive government assistance.

“The only way you can get rent assistance is if you’re in a residential lease, so living in a van is not a lease, and you’re not eligible,” Dr Blunden says. “You are also required to provide a permanent address if you’re a job seeker – you’re not supposed to be living in a van, and you’re certainly not supposed to be moving to areas with higher unemployment.”

Affordable living option 
While campervan sales might be going through the roof right now, Dr Blunden warns there is a less glamorous side to mobile living.

“There is a negative side to mobile living when people are forced to live in their vehicles. For example, many homeless people live in their cars, or women escaping from domestic and family violence live in caravan parks.

“For many people, living in a vehicle is not a hipster lifestyle choice – it's a necessity.”

The researcher says that while a van may offer an alternative living option, it is not a genuine affordable housing option for those who need it.
“For some, it’s an affordable living choice, but I wouldn’t call it an affordable housing choice,” she says.

“We find that some campgrounds and caravan parks are acting as a poorer alternative to social housing. We urgently need new investment in social housing, rather than forcing people into these sorts of situations.”

Housing affordability
Dr Blunden says there is a risk of glamorising mobile living movements at the expense of the underlying housing affordability issue.

“It’s a big problem in Australia, and we keep kicking the can down the road all the time,” Dr Blunden says. “We know that young people are already less likely to be able to purchase a home and we know homeownership has trended downwards among all households, and especially amongst 25-44-year-olds since the late 1990s.”

While there’s been a short-term surge in first home buying on the back of historically low-interest rates, house prices continue to rise despite the pandemic, Dr Blunden says. 

“Young people, in particular, should feel quite strongly about this because, without intervention, it’s not getting better in the medium to long-term.” 
The price for entry into homeownership is often massive debt. Census data shows a steep reduction in households that fully own their own home down to only 31% in the 2016 census – a drop of 10% from the 1996 rates.

“The dominant business model now is to keep people pretty much in a state of constant debt – whether it is a big mortgage, credit cards or Afterpay.”

According to Dr Blunden, successive governments have not been interested in properly looking at housing affordability, such as dismantling negative gearing.

“Two-thirds of Australians own their own home, so there’s a political calculus where two-thirds of people want to see their asset appreciate, but there’s this one-third of Australians who don’t own anything and are suffering.

“What we should be doing is building more social housing, which we haven’t adequately invested in for a long time. We could also set aside some affordable housing in new developments through standardising inclusionary zoning requirements. We could increase means-tested housing for sale schemes.”

Dr Blunden warns that the situation will only become direr if housing affordability is not adequately addressed.

“We’re seeing a lot of very tight markets now with more people moving to the regions and using superior purchasing power to buy or rent – places where low-income people are already finding it hard to find rental properties, let alone buy a home.”

“There is a risk that we might see more people living in these sorts of campervan arrangements not because they want to, but because it might be their only option.”

21 times the Sun's mass: heaviest stellar black hole in the Milky Way is more massive than we thought

International Centre for Radio Astronomy ResearchCC BY-ND
James Miller-JonesCurtin University and Ilya MandelMonash University

When one of us (Ilya Mandel) started grad school at the California Institute of Technology 20 years ago, he was greeted with a series of bets hanging on the wall outside the office of his PhD advisor, Kip Thorne.

One bet from 1974 was a wager with theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, on whether an observed galactic X-ray source known as “Cygnus X-1” was actually a black hole feeding on hot gas.

Hawking bet it wasn’t, as a consolation prize in case black holes turned out not to exist (since this would mean a lot of the work he had done would be wasted).

At the time, black holes were exclusively theoretical predictions of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity: singularities in the fabric of space-time that prevented anything (including light) from escaping.

By 1990, astronomers were convinced Cygnus X-1, a binary star system, indeed hosted a black hole. Hawking conceded his bet against Thorne.

Three decades later, Cygnus X-1 is a gift that keeps on giving. In a paper published today in Science, our team reports the Cygnus X-1 black hole is heavier than previously thought, weighing about 21 times the mass of the Sun.

This makes it the heaviest stellar black hole — formed from the collapse of a star — ever detected without the use of gravitational waves. As it turns out, perhaps in line with a black hole not wanting to divulge its secrets, Cygnus X-1 still contains many mysteries.

Updated measurements from it are forcing us to revise our understanding of the most massive stars — particularly the rate at which they lose mass in stellar winds.

Introducing Cygnus X-1

Cygnus X-1 is located inside the Milky Way about 7,200 light years from Earth. It comprises what we now know to be a black hole in a 5.6-day orbit around a massive supergiant companion star.

Some of the gas blown off the surface of the star by its strong stellar wind is captured by the black hole. The gas spirals in towards the black hole, forming what’s known as an “accretion disk”.

Powerful jets (the contents of which are still debated) are also launched outwards from near the black hole, travelling close to the speed of light.

We wanted to measure the mass of the black hole. But to do so, we first needed to know how far away it was from Earth.

How Do You Weigh A Black Hole?

As Earth moves around the Sun, we see Cygnus X-1 from different vantage points. It appears to move back and forth very slightly against stationary background objects, in an effect we call “parallax”.

The amount of this tiny motion lets us calculate the distance between us and Cygnus X-1. But for an accurate measurement, we also had to take into account the orbital motion of the black hole around its companion star.

With a network of radio telescopes, we mapped out the black hole’s orbit, with a positional accuracy the equivalent of localising an object on the Moon to within ten centimetres.

By using our distance to Cygnus X-1 and the brightness and temperature of the star, we computed the size of the star. With this knowledge and the measured motion of the star during its orbit around the black hole, we could determine the black hole’s mass.

It is almost 50% more massive than previously thought, with a mass that’s 21 times that of the Sun.

Astronomers observed the Cygnus X-1 system from different angles, using the orbit. of the Earth around the Sun to measure the perceived movement of the system against background stars. International Centre for Radio Astronomy ResearchAuthor provided

Why Do We Care About Its Mass?

Seeing a stellar remnant this heavy in our own galaxy offers insight into how much mass stars can lose to stellar winds. In general, the larger and more luminous a star is, the faster its rate of mass loss.

Some stars lose the equivalent of an Earth’s mass of gas (or more) each day. Mass is lost faster if the star has a high concentration of heavy elements, particularly iron.

Black holes are created when massive stars collapse in on themselves. Thus, the heaviest black holes are expected to form from the deaths of massive stars with the lowest iron concentrations, as these would have retained the most mass up until death.

The current iron concentration in our Milky Way galaxy suggests even stars that weigh hundreds of times the mass of the Sun at birth could lose enough of it to leave behind a fairly pedestrian remnant — only a few times the mass of the Sun.

Now, finding a black hole with a mass that’s 21 times the Sun’s tells us these stellar winds can’t be that strong, after all. So it means we need to slightly retune our models of how stars lose mass through their winds.

Likely Not A Gravitational Wave Source

Cygnus X-1 is also interesting because it could potentially be a frame from a film showing the formation of pairs of black holes, which later merge to produce gravitational-wave signals.

These waves can be observed using advanced instruments, such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) in the United States.

According to our new measurements, the star in Cygnus X-1 weighs more than 40 times the mass of the Sun. It’s therefore massive enough to one day form a black hole in its own right.

Read more: Gravitational waves are helping us crack the mystery of how pairs of black holes form

However, while it’s tempting to say Cygnus X-1 provides a link between pairs of stars and merging black holes, that would come with its own challenges.

For example, as described in a companion paper to our Science paper, published in the Astrophysical Journal, the Cygnus X-1 black hole is spinning on its own axis almost as rapidly as general relativity allows.

By comparison, the merging black holes in LIGO sources have far slower spins. This suggests the pathway by which those black holes formed may have been somewhat different.

In another companion paper we argue Cygnus X-1 won’t make a gravitational-wave source because, after the collapse of the companion star, the resulting two black holes would be too far apart to merge.

Still, many questions remain regarding the history and the formation of Cygnus X-1, as well as its future. There may be a few more bets to be made and resolved, yet.The Conversation

James Miller-Jones, Professor, Curtin University and Ilya Mandel, Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The politics of the necktie — 'colonial noose', masculine marker or silk status symbol?

Lorinda CramerAustralian Catholic University

Neckties made global news last week when Maori MP, Rawiri Waititi, was ejected from the debating chamber of New Zealand Parliament. He refused to wear a tie, evocatively describing it as a “colonial noose”.

It wasn’t that Mr Waititi eschewed neckwear. Rather, he explained that the traditional hei tiki — the greenstone pendant he wore instead — represented for him both a necktie and a tie to his people, culture and Maori rights.

In the intense debate that followed, ideas around acceptable business attire — long based on Western dress codes — were questioned against the expression of Indigenous cultural identity. Ties are now no longer required as part of men’s “appropriate business attire” in the NZ Parliament.

In Australia, Members of Parliament were allowed to ditch the necktie in 1977 when safari suits were officially considered business attire. Since then, however, Parliament House dress standards have informally shifted, with our male politicians uniformly donning ties in the chamber.

Ties have been tangled up in controversy here as in New Zealand. This narrow strip of fabric has many meanings for its wearers.

Read more: The tie that binds: unravelling the knotty issue of political sideshows and Māori cultural identity

From Throat To Groin

Shellsfeathersgold and fabrics have adorned people’s necks for millenia. The origin of the necktie is most commonly traced to 17th century Croatian mercenaries who wore cloth around their necks. One purpose was to protect the neck from the sword’s blade.

Cravats, draped or tied in bows, and “stocks” — a stiffened cloth that tied at the back of the neck — were worn in Europe for subsequent centuries, and by Australia’s early colonial administrators. They were made from lace, linen, silk and muslin.

The bow tie and the necktie — in a form recognisable today — were increasingly visible in the 19th century.

The tie’s symbolism attracts especially heated discussion around the styling of the masculine body. While the suit jacket creates a v-shape from the shoulders to the waist, the tie draws the eye from the throat to the groin — in the same way, some argue, as the codpiece did.

It has been suggested that this “overcompensation” explains former US President Donald Trump’s preference for long neckties, with one observer comparing them to the codpiece.

Read more: Research Check: do neckties reduce blood supply to the brain?

Tie-Wearing In Australia

When Captain James Cook landed on Australian shores, he was dressed in uniform with linen tied at his neck — or so many paintings suggest.

Early administrators, too, wore crisp, clean neckwear, while convicts had a neckerchief issued as part of their uniform.

Influential Aboriginal people, meanwhile, were sometimes presented with a breastplate to be worn around the neck.

Artist S. T. Gill illustrated life on the Victorian goldfields in the 1850s, with some of his hard-working diggers tying handkerchiefs around their necks. But the wastrels and dandies he drew splurged on flash clothing including vividly-coloured silk cravats worn with gold pins in the style of gentlemen.

illustration of men's fashion from the gold fields
All the trimmings. While diggers in the 1850s goldfields wore neck scarves, some men splurged on cravats with bling. S. T. Gill/State Library of Victoria

In the early 20th century, as manual workers removed their jackets and ties, wearing a three-piece suit and necktie become shorthand for authority and professionalism.

As the business suit became a menswear staple at the turn of the 20th century, the popularity of ties skyrocketed. In 1950, when Sydney’s Sun newspaper published the Everyman’s Ideal Wardrobe, the extensive list recommended 18 ties alone.

However suits and ties were hot, if not oppressive, as Australia’s climate “dress reformers” insisted. When Ray Olson photographed David Jones’ new season fashions in 1939, he captured two men in contrasting attire walking along a city street.

One wore a fashionable double-breasted suit, jaunty hat and close-fitting tie. The other was dressed in a short-sleeved shirt — without a necktie — and tailored shorts. Radical for the time, this look was adopted decades later, with South Australian Premier Don Dunstan leading the charge on relaxed dress standards.

Two men walk down street in fashion suits of 1930s.
Ray Olson captured two approaches to men’s fashion in 1939. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and Courtesy ACP Magazines Ltd

In 1967, The Bulletin described Dunstan’s ensemble of shorts, long socks and a short-sleeved shirt worn without a tie as a “summertime example” for government and bank employees.

Skinny, Wide, Loud Or Patterned

As attitudes to ties have transformed across decades, styles have gone in and out of fashion. The skinny tie popularised by bands such as the Beatles in the 1960s was favoured by young Australian mods.

The wide tie, too, has had its moments. In the 1970s, loud, wide patterned ties were the height of fashion. For flamboyant politician Al Grassby, wearing wide colorful ties signalled a move to “a new colorful Australia”.

Read more: A scarf can mean many things – but above all, prestige

These days politicians might wear certain colours to mark their allegiance: the coalition has a widely commented on preference for blue, for example, though this isn’t always evident.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt often chooses a necktie with an Indigenous design to signal his heritage.

Ties do many things. Though they express identity, they can just as readily act as a “uniform” for their wearers. They give power to some, while taking it from others. Does Rawiri Waititi’s criticism of the “colonial noose” suggest Australia, too, might be heading towards a reckoning with the tie’s place in our history?The Conversation

Lorinda Cramer, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Australian Catholic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Guide to the classics: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — still for the heretics, dreamers and rebels

Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Productions
Dr Jamie Q RobertsUniversity of Sydney

Alice! A childish story take
And with a gentle hand
Lay it where Childhood’s dreams are twined
In Memory’s mystic band,
Like pilgrim’s withered wreath of flowers
Plucked in a far-off land.

What is it that draws us back to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Alice for short), both individually and collectively? What is it that makes Alice, in the words of literary critic, Harold Bloom, “a kind of Scripture for us” — like Shakespeare?

For we are drawn back. Since the publication of Lewis Carroll’s story, in England in 1865, it has never been out of print and has been translated into around 100 languages.

There have been numerous movie adaptations and many other works inspired by the story. Perhaps the greatest is a little-known, 1971 short film by the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare encouraging children not to do drugs.

One fears the film might not have had the desired effect: while the speed-addicted March Hare provides a salutary example of how poorly things can go on his drug of choice, the Mad Hatter’s performance on LSD is a little too compelling.

Beyond the page and screen, a quick Google search reveals Alice-inspired art — from graffiti to Dali — tattoos, music, video games and shops.

Alice has strong mainstream appeal; this was entrenched by Disney’s 1951 movie Alice in Wonderland (which is also responsible for people getting the title of the book wrong). However, Alice has become iconic for many subcultures, especially those with darker proclivities. Try exploring “zombie Alice” or “goth Alice”, or watching the new Netflix series, Alice in Borderland, which is set in Tokyo. (Alice is big in Japan).

And this brings us again to the beginning of the conversation (Alice reference here for the boffins): What draws us back?

Read more: Guide to the Classics: The Secret Garden and the healing power of nature

Striking A Blow Against The Adult World

The story begins with bored, seven-year-old Alice sitting on a riverbank with her older sister. Alice doesn’t care for the book her sister is reading because it doesn’t have pictures. She falls asleep and follows a dapper but flustered rabbit down a rabbit hole and into Wonderland.

In Wonderland she moves through a series of surreal vignettes in which she verbally tussles, but struggles to connect with, a stream of characters, such as the hookah-smoking Caterpillar, the Duchess, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the Queen of Hearts.

Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen of Hearts in Tim Burton’s 2010 film version of Alice in Wonderland. Disney Enterprises Inc

We are drawn back to the book by the first-rate banter between Alice and these memorable characters. Consider the following from the Mad Hatter’s tea party:

“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.
“I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least — at least I mean what I say — that’s the same thing, you know.”
“Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!”
“You might just as well say,” added the March Hare, “that ‘I like what I get’ is the same thing as ‘I get what I like’!”
“You might just as well say,” added the Dormouse, who seemed to be talking in his sleep, “that ‘I breathe when I sleep’ is the same thing as ‘I sleep when I breathe’!”
“It is the same thing with you,” said the Hatter[.]

Notably, many of the creatures Alice meets stand for the real adults in her life, in that they scold her, order her about, try to teach her morals and make her recite poetry.

It is this transformation of the adult world into a mad place and the elevation of the viewpoint of the child that also draw us back. When we read Alice, not as children, but as adults, we strike a blow against the adult world, which some of us, at least, have never quite adjusted to.

The Cheshire Cat provides the greatest indictment of Wonderland-as-adult-world when he says to Alice, “we’re all mad here”. The cat is the only creature in the book who connects with Alice. Mark this, reader: It is the one who can connect with children who is also able to see the world for what it is — mad!

A Champion Of Childhood

The West does have a long history of romanticising childhood. Wordsworth, in his 1807 Immortality Ode, writes:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy.

But even if the “romantic childhood” is a creation of bourgeois 19th century England — of the likes of Wordsworth and Carroll — it is a powerful and arguably noble notion. So let us follow it a little farther down the rabbit hole.

While Alice is the child-hero of the story because she pushes back against the mad adults in Wonderland, she herself is on the cusp of adulthood.

Alice Liddell, photographed in 1862. Wikimedia Commons

This tragedy is alluded to in the poem, dedicated to the real Alice — Alice Liddell — with which the book begins (the key stanza appears at the start of this article).

Liddell was, in her childhood, Carroll’s friend. The first version of Alice was told to Liddell and her two sisters in 1862 on a boat ride along the Thames in Oxford.

A 1907 edition of the book. Wikimedia Commons

The tragedy of growing up is reinforced in the story itself. While Alice’s imagination is able to create Wonderland, it cannot sustain it. In the final scene in Wonderland, Alice is watching a trial where many of the characters are playing cards. Frustrated by the illogical trial, she shouts, “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!” and is transported back to the real world.

This leads us to think Wonderland itself is the hero of Alice: the champion of childhood. It is in Wonderland that time has stopped — as we learn at the Mad Hatter’s tea party — and where authority is impotent. Despite the Queen’s repeated edict, “Off with her/his head”, no one ever really dies.

‘The Carroll Myth’

Lewis Carroll aged 23. Wikimedia Commons

However, beyond Alice and Wonderland is Carroll himself. As Karoline Leach writes, in her remarkable book about “the Carroll myth”, at the centre of Alice lies, “the image of Carroll; a haunting presence in the story, a shifting dreamy impression of golden afternoons, fustiness, mystery, oars dripping in sun-rippling water.”

Lewis Carroll is the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (not easy to say quickly, unlike “Lewis Carroll”), who taught mathematics at Oxford.

The “Carroll myth”, which was as appealing in the 19th century as it is now, is that Dodgson, through his alter ego Carroll, and his many (chaste) relationships with children, in particular, Alice Liddell, found a way back to the immortality of childhood that Wordsworth spoke about.

So, when we read Alice, we are ultimately communing with this mythical Carroll, and this is no small thing.

Read more: Guide to the classics: Orwell's 1984 and how it helps us understand tyrannical power today

Trolling Pieties

Beyond the banter and the homage to childhood, we are drawn back to Alice because it contains a timeless contribution to the 1860s version of our own culture wars. Where we have political correctness, the 19th century Anglophone world had its own buzz-killing piety, at times foisted upon children — and adults — through verse.

David Bates, a 19th century American poet, is likely responsible for the now thankfully forgotten poem, Speak Gently (“Speak gently to the little child!/Its love be sure to gain/Teach it in accents soft and mild:/It may not long remain.)

Carroll’s glorious parody, which is spoken in Chapter 6 by the Duchess, a negligent mother, is:

Speak roughly to your little boy,
And beat him when he sneezes:
He only does it to annoy,
Because he knows it teases.

Here, and in other Alice poems such as "You Are Old Father William”, Carroll is trolling all those for whom piety is a mask for power. And like the pious, the politically correct are more concerned with their own superiority than with doing good.

An image from the 1951 film version of Carroll’s book. Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney Productions

To cement the link between then and now, it is worth quoting from Stephen Fry’s recent objection to political correctness. It is as if Fry is providing us with the key to Alice and even to Carroll himself. “I wouldn’t class myself as a classical libertarian,” Fry says,

but I do relish transgression, and I deeply and instinctively distrust conformity and orthodoxy. Progress is not achieved by preachers and guardians of morality but […] by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels and sceptics.

We are drawn back to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland because when we read it, we become the heretics, dreamers and rebels who would change the world.The Conversation

Dr Jamie Q Roberts, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Firestarter — the Story of Bangarra is a film of national and personal tragedies, with light in the dark

Bangarra dancer Beau Dean Riley Smith in Bennelong. Daniel Boud/Icon Films
Brooke Collins-GearingUniversity of Newcastle

Review: Firestarter – the Story of Bangarra, directed by Wayne Blair and Nel Minchin

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains names and images of deceased people.

Watching Firestarter is like being immersed in a Knowledge Story. A story that contains deep, secret knowledge at its heart, while sharing an outside, public version. If I had to sum up the outside layer of this story, I would say it is one about energy transformation.

The film gives insight into the emergence of contemporary Indigenous dance in 1970s Australia. It’s a story about embodied activism birthed by founding figures such as Carole Y Johnson and Cheryl Stone through the fusion of contemporary dance forms with ancient living ones.

And it’s the story of three Page brothers — choreographer Stephen, composer David and dancer Russell — who established the iconic style that is Bangarra movement.

Three brothers. Sounds like the beginning of a story …

Since 1989, Bangarra Dance Theatre has used dance to craft spaces in important national moments. The opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympics, for example, allowed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge of movement, music and song to be seen, heard and felt.

And just as a public version of a Knowledge Story helps make connections to deeper meanings, Firestarter gives you access to stories containing ancient wisdom fused with contemporary colonial trauma.

Read more: What are message sticks? Senator Lidia Thorpe continues a long and powerful diplomatic tradition

Dreaming To Today

If you’ve ever seen a Bangarra performance you will know that dance is a thread straight to the Dreaming. A ceremonial form with physical and metaphysical knowledge embodied by, and shared with, movement.

Watching the documentary, like watching a Bangarra performance, requires you to pay attention, make connections, explore possible interpretations and potentially be transformed by the telling of it.

Male Indigenous dancer
Djakapurra Munyarryun in Ochres. Ashley De Prazer/Icon Films

The founding of the Aboriginal Islander Dance Theatre in 1975 was a moment in this nation-state’s history that saw the hearts, minds and bodies of mobs of different Blackfellas merge together to begin to shape what would become Australia’s leading Indigenous dance movement.

The dance theatre’s transition into the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association — better known as Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Dance College — cemented the fusion of cultural knowledges, dance forms, political activism and historical events that would lead to the birth of Bangarra, a Wiradjuri word meaning “to make fire”.

Bangarra has always been both a mirror and a portal. It reflects the aliveness and sentience of stories that come from different mobs and their Countries across Australia while at the same time navigating ongoing colonial trauma.

Through the sharing of stories — the dilemma of how we remember Bennelong, a long history of cultivation through Dark Emu (based on Bruce Pascoe’s book), the yearning for cultural connection in Blak, of the Stolen Generation in Mathinna — the company allows moments of moving through the traumatic to access glimpses of love, healing, transformation and possibilities.

Contemporary Indigenous dance speaks to and of survival, despite 200-odd years of colonial policies aimed at ensuring cultural disconnection.

As the association’s co-founder Carole Y Johnson says in the film:

Australia wasn’t acknowledging Aboriginal people. They had been taken off of their land so many times and I was shocked to understand it was really within living memory of so many people. In terms of dance, Indigenous people were actually ahead and I thought they had something very unique and special to offer.

Read more: Review: Warwick Thornton’s The Beach is a delicate conversation with Country

The Cost Of The Challenge

In telling the story of Bangarra, the film tells stories of creation, trauma, connection and hope.

A significant part of the telling is the influence of the three Page brothers who use music, dance and story to navigate disconnection and reconnection through grief and praise.

Their childhood was lived alongside 12 siblings filled with music, storytelling, laughter and the lived impacts of being cut off from language, land and culture. The brothers went on to use their powerful creative abilities to tell stories about finding your identity, connecting with cultural knowings and acknowledging violent colonial lived experiences.

Photo portrait of three men.
Brothers in arms: Russell Page, Stephen Page and David Page. Paul Sweeney/Icon Films

Such service comes with a heavy responsibility.

The brothers don’t just carry the burden for themselves, but for any Aboriginal and Torres Islander person who knows their ancestors are there but does not know how to access them.

Firestarer explores how the deaths of Russell in 2002 and David in 2016 continues to be felt by artists and audiences, magnified by the power of their performances and music.

Bangarra has, time and time again, stepped up to the challenge of sharing stories through dance to create moments of access for all Australians who hold a relationship with this land’s First Nations’ peoples, its living colonial history and Country itself.

Read more: Friday essay: taking a wrecking ball to monuments – contemporary art can ask what really needs tearing down

Light In The Dark

The story of Bangarra is the story of ignition: Bangarra, for 31 years, has nurtured, protected and breathed life into an ancient ember of light that is then shared with the collective consciousness of Australia — and the world.

Group of dancers pose
Bangarra today. Daniel Boud

Stephen Page, Bangarra’s artistic director since 1991, states:

… art, dance, music, they’re such good medicines. […] Storytelling is the best medicine you can have, it’s what sustains us as a society.

So I need to acknowledge and pay my respect to the heat, oxygen and fuel that is the story of Bangarra and all those who have contributed to creating the energetic and powerful being that it continues to become.

Thank you for carrying the responsibility of telling both living ancient stories woven with painful contemporary ones that speak of both national and personal tragedies.

I recognise your ceremonial medicine.

I am grateful for your light.

Firestarter – The Story of Bangarra is in cinemas now.The Conversation

Brooke Collins-Gearing, Senior Lecturer, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

High Quality Aged Care Needed To Meet Australians’ Expectations

February 16, 2021
A new research paper by the Caring Futures Institute at Flinders University highlights the need for comprehensive change in aged care and the Australian community’s strong commitment to achieve it.

The research paper was published today by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety ahead of its Final Report, due by 26 February 2021. The Final Report will set out the Royal Commissioners’ recommendations for fundamental reform of aged care.

The Flinders University research uses data from three national surveys conducted for the Royal Commission during 2020. The findings are presented in Research Paper 20 – Australia’s aged care system: the quality of care experience and community expectations.

Flinders University found, using data collected from aged care recipients, that the share of people who feel their care needs are always met is only 24% in residential care, and only 20% in home care. These results are for all key aspects of care, including whether care recipients feel appropriate action is taken to address their complaints. The share of care recipients who feel their needs are at least ‘mostly’ met across all key aspects of care was just 58% for residential care and 50% for home care.

In a separate survey, the authors found most Australian adults view aged care as a vital social service, with all key aspects of care considered important or very important by the vast majority. People with a greater understanding of aged care tend to have slightly greater appreciation of the importance of all aspects of care. Females and older people are also the most likely to consider all aspects of care to be important or very important. There were only small differences between the views of people born in Australia and those born in other countries.

The community’s strong desire for older people to be cared for appropriately was also reflected by the majority of current taxpayers agreeing they would be willing to pay more to support aged care. These taxpayers were, on average, willing to pay up to an additional 3.1% income tax per year to ensure all Australians have access to high quality aged care.

In addition to showing the need for change and Australians’ commitment to achieve it, the surveys delivered a set of baseline data from which to evaluate aged care reform and public expectations in the future.

The research paper was prepared for the information of the Royal Commissioners and the public. Any views expressed in the paper are not necessarily the views of the Commissioners. To read the Royal Commission’s research papers, please visit the Royal Commission's publications page.

Ensuring Senior Australians Are Vaccinated Against COVID-19

Tens of thousands of aged care residents in Australia will soon receive their first vaccine dose against COVID-19 next week.

The Australian Government is ensuring those who are particularly vulnerable to the worst effects of the coronavirus receive the earliest protection, so priority is being given to residential aged care facility staff and residents.

The vaccination program will begin in every state and territory and will include regional and rural aged care facilities. It is anticipated that the roll out to aged care facilities will take approximately six weeks.

Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, said the vaccine implementation plan for residential aged care aimed to administer vaccines to more than 240 aged care facilities in the first week.

“Vaccination for residents and staff will be made available through residential aged care facilities where they live or work, and it will be administered through an in-reach workforce provider,” Minister Hunt said.

“Healthcare Australia will be providing the vaccination workforce in New South Wales and Queensland, and Aspen Medical will be responsible for the other states and territories.

“The Primary Health Network in each region will be supporting the Commonwealth deliver to each of the aged care facilities in their area and the process is expected to draw from the extensive experience in delivering influenza vaccines to aged care residents.”

Residential aged care facilities will be grouped, up to a maximum of eight facilities within a 30 kilometre radius to ensure efficient delivery of the vaccine.

Vaccination for home and community aged care recipients and staff will occur in the community, and these people will receive information relevant to their situation shortly.

It’s anticipated that people aged over 70 years who do not reside in residential aged care facilities, along with in-home and community aged care staff, will be able to go to specified central locations or medical facilities to receive their COVID 19 vaccination, as the time comes for their vaccination.

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, said the Australian Government would be responsible for leading the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination program in the aged care sector.

“We are consulting with relevant peak bodies and state and territory governments, but the responsibilities are clearly delineated so all parties understand their role in this critical and complex program,” Minister Colbeck said.

“The New South Wales, Victorian and the South Australian governments will maintain responsibility for vaccinating residents and staff of the public sector residential aged care and disability care facilities in their state.

“It is vital residents and families understand what information is available to them as the vaccine strategy is rolled out. I would encourage residents and family members to ask if they need help understanding the vaccine program and how it will affect them.

“Importantly, the vaccine providers will be providing information about the vaccine and seeking consent from aged care residents or their substitute decision maker, to ensure they understand the risks and benefits of receiving the vaccine.”

Everyone responsible for providing the vaccine in aged care settings will be required to have completed the relevant training, including on the use of multi-dose vials, cold storage and infection control.

In the coming weeks, the vaccination program will reach more than 2,600 residential aged care facilities, more than 183,000 residents and 339,000 staff.

Additional Reform To Protect Older Australians In Care

February 16, 2021
The Australian Government today reinforces its commitment to protecting the health and wellbeing of older Australians with landmark reform to keep seniors safer.

The Aged care legislation amendment (Serious Incident Response Scheme and other measures) Bill 2020 will ensure tangible steps toward the prevention of incidence of abuse and neglect of older Australians in care.

The SIRS legislation will also provide a range of broader powers for the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner, consistent with the Regulatory Powers Act.

It follows the passing of the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Improved Home Care Payment Administration No.2) Bill 2020 aimed at improving the way home care subsidies are paid to providers for care recipients.

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services Richard Colbeck said the measures reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to prioritising the needs of ageing Australians.

“The Commonwealth continues to build on and strengthen the aged care sector as we anticipate the final recommendations from the Royal Commission later this month,” Minister Colbeck said.

“As the Royal Commission has carried out its important work, we have continued to reform the sector.

“Importantly, these latest measures offer security and peace-of-mind for all older Australians in residential and in-home care settings and for their families.

“The Commonwealth Government is listening and acting to ensure the needs of older Australians are met while Labor continues to deliver nothing but spin and rhetoric.”

Minister Colbeck said the SIRS is intended to drive quality and safety improvements to residential aged care at the individual service and broader system level.

Residential aged care providers will be required to manage all incidents, with a focus on the safety and wellbeing of consumers and reduce preventable incidents from reoccurring.

The SIRS will expand the responsibilities of residential aged care providers in relation to identifying, recording, managing, resolving and reporting assaults and a broader range of serious incidents in residential aged care.

Reporting under the SIRS will include a range of new matters such as sexual misconduct, neglect, psychological abuse, inappropriate use of restraint, and unexpected death amongst others.

Significantly, the SIRS will lift the current exemption on the reporting of resident-on-resident incidents, where the perpetrator has an assessed cognitive impairment.

The first stage of the SIRS will start on 1 April.

Minister Colbeck said consumers expect continuity of care and safeguards across an end-to-end aged care system, which is why the Government has already committed to a prevalence and feasibility study of a SIRS in home and community care settings.

The study is being undertaken by KPMG and is expected to be finalised by late June and will inform Government decisions on a SIRS for home and community care.

Minister Colbeck said the Government is delivering record investment across the aged care system - from $13.3 billion in 2012-13 under Labor, growing to $24.3 billion in 2020-21 under the Morrison Government.

It is estimated that funding for aged care will grow to more than $27 billion by 2023-24.

“Senior Australians are increasingly choosing to remain in their own homes for longer and the Government is committed to supporting this choice,” Minister Colbeck said.

Since the 2018-19 Budget, the Government has invested an additional $5.5 billion for an additional 83,105 home care packages.

Home care packages are estimated to increase from 60,308 in 2012–13 when we came to Government, to 195,597 during 2020–21.

Oldest Skink Named After Flinders Professor

February 18, 2021
Some of Australia's most famous animals -- wombat, platypus, kangaroos and the extinct marsupial tiger thylacine -- have been traced back to their fossil ancestors in remarkable finds in central South Australia. 

Now a remote expedition to a large inland salt lake in 2017 has sifted through remains unearthed in Namba Formation deposits to describe a tiny new skink, an ancestor of Australia's well-known bluetongue lizards -- to be named in honour of world-renown Flinders University lizard researcher Professor Mike Bull.

The new species, unveiled in the Royal Society's Open Science today, is described as Australia's oldest -- a 25 million-year-old skink named Proegernia mikebulli after the late Flinders University Professor Mike Bull.

The late Professor Mike Bull with Sir David Attenborough during filming of the BBC's Life in Cold Blood.

It was found by Flinders University and South Australian Museum palaeontologists and volunteers at a rich fossil site on Lake Pinpa located on the 602,000 square hectare Frome Downs Station, seven hours drive north of capital city Adelaide.

Following the crusted shoreline of a salt lake, the team homed in on a cross section of sediments where fossil excavations of ancestors of koala, a predatory bird, and fragments of a thylacine were previously unearthed. Remains of prehistoric fish, platypus, dolphins and crocodilians have also been found nearby.

"It was 45?C in the shade that day and hard work digging through the clay, but it was definitely worth it once the tiniest of bone fragments turned out to be those of the oldest Australian skink," says lead author palaeo-herpetologist Dr Kailah Thorn, who conducted the research at Flinders University as part of her PhD.

The once-verdant interior of Australia is considered the cradle of Australia's unique fauna and in particular its reptile diversity.

"Fossil lizards are often too small to be identified when you're in the field. Lizard skulls are made of more than 20 individual bones that all disarticulate when they fossilise," says Dr Thorn, who now works as curator of the Edward de Courcy Clarke Earth Sciences Museum at the University of Western Australia.

The discovery of the tiny fossil lizards in an area the size of one million soccer fields was enabled by building an understanding of the geology of the region, and targeting fossiliferous bands of silt to thoroughly sieve and sort back at the lab, she explains.

"These lizard fossils owe their discovery to the patient sorting of tiny bones," says lead author, vertebrate palaeontologist Flinders University Associate Professor Trevor Worthy. "A teaspoon holds hundreds of tiny bones -- all revealed in translucent splendour under a microscope."

"Once every 30 spoons something else is found among the fish -- usually a tiny mammal tooth. But the 2017 discovery of the oldest skink was a golden moment for a palaentologist," he says.

When researchers placed the fossil in the evolutionary tree of lizards, it was found to be an early member of the Australian skink subfamily Egerniinae -- the group now encompassing bluetongues, sleepy lizards (shinglebacks), land mullets and spiny-tailed skinks.

The newly described lizard Proegernia mikebulli is named after the late Flinders University Professor Mike Bull, who passed away suddenly in late 2016.

Inspired generations of Australian herpetologists, Professor Bull's wide-ranging research career centred on social skinks from the Egerniinae subfamily, their behaviour, parasites, and conservation.

"Our colleague Professor Bull's long-term ecological studies of sleepy lizards were a massive contribution to biology," says co-author Matthew Flinders Professor Mike Lee (Flinders University / SA Museum).

"The fossil record is essentially data from a long-term natural ecological study, so its fitting that this fossil lizards is named after in honour of Mike."

K. M. Thorn, M. N. Hutchinson, M. S. Y. Lee, N. J. Brown, A. B. Camens, T. H. Worthy. A new species of Proegernia from the Namba Formation in South Australia and the early evolution and environment of Australian egerniine skinks. Royal Society Open Science, 2021; 8 (2): 201686 DOI: 10.1098/rsos.201686

NSW COVID-19 Vaccine Program To Begin On Monday

February 17, 2021
More than 35,000 critical staff in NSW will be among the first in Australia to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when the rollout begins on Monday, 22 February 2021.
The initial three-week vaccination phase will see all hotel quarantine workers given the Pfizer vaccine – including all workers within quarantine hotels, those screening arrivals at the airport, health staff, cleaners, NSW Police officers and security guards.

Health care workers who have the greatest exposure to potential COVID-19 patients will also be included in the first round of jabs, which will be rolled out progressively. These workers include COVID-19 clinic workers, emergency department workers, NSW Ambulance clinical workforce including patient transport workers, COVID ward workers, critical care workers including support staff and COVID pathology lab staff.

The vaccines will be administered in three initial vaccination hubs at Westmead, Liverpool and Royal Prince Alfred Hospitals.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said vaccinating our quarantine workers is an important milestone in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know the biggest risk for an outbreak in Australia is through returning international travellers staying in the hotel quarantine system,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“With more than 3,000 people arriving in Sydney from overseas each week, priority is being given to quarantine workers to mitigate the risk of an outbreak, and protect those protecting us.”

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has determined both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines to be safe and effective for use.

“There is no silver bullet that will return us to pre-pandemic normality, which is why vaccination and continued COVID-safe behaviour is so important,” Mr Hazzard said.

“The NSW community has been outstanding helping our health workers to contain the virus, and I am sure we will see similar community support for the vaccine rollout.”

Dr Kerry Chant said while she welcomes the commencement of the vaccine rollout and its focus on our quarantine and border workers, we must all continue to be vigilant.

“High testing rates give us the best chance of finding new cases in the community, so even after the vaccine rollout starts, it is vital people still get tested,” Dr Chant said.

“Remember to keep coming forward for testing even with the mildest of symptoms, wear a mask on public transport, socially distance and maintain good hygiene.”

More information will be provided in the coming weeks about further rollouts of both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.

See the latest information on COVID-19 at:

Cartoonist Johannes Leak is not known for his portraits – so why is he being given $40,000 to do Tony Abbott’s?

Joanna MendelssohnUniversity of Melbourne

The Members’ Hall of Parliament House is home to the 25 completed portraits of Australia’s former prime ministers. The most recently revealed was of Julia Gillard in 2018, painted by Vincent Fantauzzo, a five-time People’s Choice Award winner at the Archibald Prize.

Indeed, every official prime ministerial portrait has been painted by an Archibald finalist, including some by artists who were awarded the main prize.

This will change with Tony Abbott’s reported decision to appoint the Australian’s editorial cartoonist Johannes Leak to paint his official portrait. Leak does not have any track record of exhibiting works on a large scale, let alone portraits.

Johannes Leak’s heavy-handed cartoons are in the style of his father’s last years, the work undertaken after he suffered serious head injuries after a fall. There is a general consensus that Bill Leak’s later cartoons are markedly inferior to the work he did in his prime.

The website for the Bill Leak Gallery carries the following statement:

Bill Leak’s son Johannes has taken over the family business and is now the daily editorial cartoonist for The Australian, the position held by his father for 23 years.

This is unusual. I cannot think of another Australian political cartoonist who inherited their position. Traditionally our leading cartoonists come from a rigorous and contested culture of freelance drawing, a tradition that goes back to J.F. Archibald’s Bulletin magazine, first published in 1880.

Along with his father’s platform, Leak junior has also taken over the title Australia’s most condemned cartoonist.

Read more: The Australian's racist Kamala Harris cartoon shows why diversity in newsrooms matters

The Cartoonist And The Painter

There is of course no contradiction between a cartoonist also being an artist.

Norman Lindsay was the star cartoonist for The Bulletin, pleased at the steady income that gave him time for more serious work.

An illustration by Lionel Lindsay, published in Sydney’s Evening News December 1904. Trove

In the early part of last century, his brother Lionel Lindsay — best known for his etchings and wood engravings — was for many years cartoonist at the Evening News, appointed by the editor Banjo Paterson as well as drawing the popular Chunderloo cartoon series for Cobra boot polish.

In the 21st century, Jon Kudelka, the cartoonist at the Saturday Paper, is also well-known as an exhibiting artist.

Leak senior first exhibited in the Archibald Prize in 1988 with a portrait of fellow cartoonist Patrick Cook, following with a portrait of Don Bradman in 1989 and Malcolm Turnbull in 1994, which won the People’s Choice Award.

Read more: Friday essay: it's not funny to us – an Aboriginal perspective on political correctness and humour

Bill Leak’s larrikin sensibility combined with his Archibald success is presumably why he was commissioned to paint Bob Hawke’s official portrait for Parliament House. It is a curiously dull grey painting of a colourful character. There is something quite odd about the way the head doesn’t quite fit the body, almost as though there were two different models.

The difference between Bill Leak’s portrait of Hawke and his son’s commission to paint Tony Abbott is Leak senior’s track record as an exhibiting artist.

But Is It Art?

Fortunately for Johannes Leak, whatever he paints will fit the legal definition of portrait. For this we also have to thank the legacy of J.F. Archibald.

Archibald died a wealthy man. His charitable gifts included a benevolent fund for the relief of distressed journalists and the Archibald Fountain in Sydney’s Hyde Park. But his best known legacy was to the Trustees of the New South Wales National Gallery, providing an endowment to create The Archibald Prize.

For many years when it came to judging the prize, the trustees — more or less evenly divided along the same kind of factional lines usually seen in political parties — took turns in deciding who would be awarded the lucrative honour.

In 1943 this changed. A conservative trustee died and was replaced with Mary Alice Evatt, a modernist artist who happened to be the minister for education’s sister-in-law.

The prize was awarded to William Dobell for his portrait of his friend the artist Joshua Smith. Two artists aligned with the Royal Art Society (and not so secretly supported by the conservative trustees) sued on the grounds it was not a portrait, but a caricature.

Cartoon of a court room. Top line reads 'Wep goes to the Dobell case', bottom reads 'Portraits or caricatures?'
This cartoon of the trial, published in The Daily Telegraph, October 1944, was drawn by W. E. Pidgeon (aka Wep) who later won the Archibald Prize three times. Trove

The resulting court case provided a great entertainment for Sydney society.

The plaintiffs’ most trenchant witness, the art critic J.S. MacDonald, claimed the portrait was “a pictorial defamation of character” and a “satirical caricature”. Under cross-examination he admitted he had written his critique without seeing the work in question.

As well as giving a verdict in favour of the trustees and the gallery, Justice Roper noted the considerable public interest in the matter, so added for good measure a definition of portraiture yet to be seriously contested:

The word “portrait” … means a pictorial representation of a person, painted by an artist. This definition denotes some degree of likeness is essential and for the purpose of achieving it the inclusion of the face of the subject is desirable and perhaps also essential.

Johannes Leak could paint the silliest, crudest portrait of Tony Abbott and it would still be defined as a portrait. It is, however, more likely he will paint a large acrylic or oil painting on canvas.

My prediction is the subject will be depicted wearing a grey suit and sporting a light blue tie — rather than Abbott’s infamous red budgie-smuggler swimming trunks. It will almost certainly include a face.The Conversation

Joanna Mendelssohn, Principal Fellow (Hon), Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. Editor in Chief, Design and Art of Australia Online, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Bendable concrete and other CO2-infused cement mixes could dramatically cut global emissions

Bendable concrete created at the University of Michigan allows for thinner structures with less need for steel reinforcement. Joseph Xu/University of Michigan College of Engineering
Lucca HenrionUniversity of MichiganDuo ZhangUniversity of MichiganVictor C. LiUniversity of Michigan, and Volker SickUniversity of Michigan

One of the big contributors to climate change is right beneath your feet, and transforming it could be a powerful solution for keeping greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

The production of cement, the binding element in concrete, accounted for 7% of total global carbon dioxide emissions in 2018. Concrete is one of the most-used resources on Earth, with an estimated 26 billion tons produced annually worldwide. That production isn’t expected to slow down for at least two more decades.

Given the scale of the industry and its greenhouse gas emissions, technologies that can reinvent concrete could have profound impacts on climate change.

As engineers working on issues involving infrastructure and construction, we have been designing the next generation of concrete technology that can reduce infrastructure’s carbon footprint and increase durability. That includes CO2-infused concrete that locks up the greenhouse gas and can be stronger and even bendable.

The industry is ripe for dramatic change, particularly with the Biden administration promising to invest big in infrastructure projects and cut U.S. emissions at the same time. However, to put CO2 to work in concrete on a wide scale in a way that drastically cuts emissions, all of its related emissions must be taken into account.

Rethinking Concrete

Concrete is made up of aggregate materials – primarily rocks and sand – along with cement and water.

Because about 80% of concrete’s carbon footprint comes from cement, researchers have been working to find substitute materials.

Industrial byproducts such as iron slag and coal fly ash are now frequently used to reduce the amount of cement needed. The resulting concrete can have significantly lower emissions because of that change. Alternative binders, such as limestone calcined clay, can also reduce cement use. One study found that using limestone and calcinated clay could reduce emissions by at least 20% while also cutting production costs.

Apart from developing blended cements, researchers and companies are focusing on ways to use captured CO2 as an ingredient in the concrete itself, locking it away and preventing it from entering the atmosphere. CO2 can be added in the form of aggregates – or injected during mixing. Carbonation curing, also known as CO2 curing, can also be used after concrete has been cast.

These processes turn CO2 from a gas to a mineral, creating solid carbonates that may also improve the strength of concrete. That means structures may need less cement, reducing the amount of related emissions. Companies such as CarbonCure and Solidia have developed technologies to use these processes for concrete poured at construction sites and in precast concrete, such as cinder blocks and other construction materials.

Illustration of CO2 storage possibilities in concrete
Carbon dioxide can make up a significant percentage of concrete mass. Lucca Henrion/University of MichiganCC BY-ND
The Kitahama building
The Kitahama building, the tallest residential tower in Japan, is built with bendable concrete for earthquake resistance. MC681/Wikimedia Commons

At the University of Michigan, we are working on composites that produce a bendable concrete material that allows thinner, less brittle structures that require less steel reinforcement, further reducing related carbon emissions. The material can be engineered to maximize the amount of CO2 it can store by using smaller particles that readily react with CO2, turning it to mineral.

The CO2-based bendable concrete can be used for general buildings, water and energy infrastructure, as well as transportation infrastructure. Bendable concrete was used in the 61-story Kitahama tower in Osaka, Japan, and roadway bridge slabs in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

The Challenge Of Lifecycle Emissions

These cutting-edge technologies can start addressing concrete infrastructure’s carbon footprint, but barriers still exist.

In a study published Feb. 8, three of us looked at the lifecycle emissions from infusing CO2 into concrete and found that estimates did not always account for emissions from CO2 capture, transportation and use. With colleagues, we came up with strategies for ensuring that carbon curing has a strong emissions benefit.

Overall, we recommend developing a standard CO2 curing protocol. Lab experiments show that CO2 curing can improve concrete’s strength and durability, but results vary with specific curing procedures and concrete mixes. Research can improve the conditions and the timing of steps in the curing process to increase concrete’s performance. Electricity use – the largest emissions source during curing – can also be reduced by streamlining the process and possibly by using waste heat.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

Advanced concrete mixes, bendable concrete in particular, already begin to address these issues by increasing durability.

Merging Infrastructure And Climate Policy

In 2020, a wide range of companies announced steps to reduce their emissions. However, government investment and procurement policies are still needed to transform the construction industry.

Local governments are taking the first steps. “Low embodied carbon concrete” rules and projects to reduce the amount of cement in concrete have cropped up around the country, including in Marin County, CaliforniaHastings-on-Hudson, New York; and a sidewalk pilot in Portland, Oregon.

In New York and New Jersey, lawmakers have proposed state-level policies that would provide price discounts in the bidding process to proposals with the lowest emissions from concrete. These policies could serve as a blueprint for reducing carbon emissions from concrete production and other building materials.

Degraded concrete and exposed rebar on a bridge
A lot of North American infrastructure is in a state of disrepair. Achim Herring/Wikimedia CommonsCC BY

Nationally, the crumbling of federally managed infrastructure has been a steadily growing crisis. The Biden administration could start to address those problems, as well as climate change, and create jobs through a strategic infrastructure program.

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg recently declared that there were “enormous opportunities for job creation, equity and climate achievement when it comes to advancing America’s infrastructure.” Policies that elevate low-carbon concrete to a nationwide climate solution could follow.The Conversation

Lucca Henrion, Research Fellow at the Global CO2 Initiative, University of MichiganDuo Zhang, Assistant Research Scientist, University of MichiganVictor C. Li, James R. Rice Distinguished University Professor of Engineering, University of Michigan, and Volker Sick, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor; DTE Energy Professor of Advanced Energy Research; and Director, Global CO2 Initiative, University of Michigan

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The TV networks holding back the future

The Nine and Seven playout centre at Frenchs Forest in Sydney. NPC Media
Peter MartinCrawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

If I offered you money for something, an offer you didn’t have to accept, would you call it a grab?

What if I actually owned the thing I offered you money for, and the offer was more of a gentle inquiry?

Welcome to the world of television, where the government (which actually owns the broadcast spectrum) can offer networks the opportunity to hand back a part of it, in return for generous compensation, and get accused of a “spectrum grab”.

If the minister, Paul Fletcher, hadn’t previously worked in the industry (he was a director at Optus) he wouldn’t have believed it.

Here’s what happened. The networks have been sitting on more broadcast spectrum (radio frequencies) than they need since 2001.

That’s when TV went digital in order to free up space for emerging uses such as mobile phones.

Pre-digital, each station needed a lot of spectrum — seven megahertz, plus another seven (and at times another seven) for fill-in transmitters in nearby areas.

It meant that in major cities it took far more spectrum to deliver the five TV channels than Telstra plans to use for its entire 5G phone and internet work.

Digital meant each channel would only need two megahertz to do what it did before, a huge saving Prime Minister John Howard was reluctant to pick up.

His own department told him there were

better ways of introducing digital television than by granting seven megahertz of spectrum to each of the five free-to-air broadcasters at no cost when a standard definition service of a higher quality than the current service could be provided with around two megahertz

His Office of Asset Sales labelled the idea of giving them the full seven a

de facto further grant of a valuable public asset to existing commercial interests

Seven, Nine and Ten got the de facto grant, and after an uninspiring half decade of using it to broadcast little-watched high definition versions of their main channels, used it instead to broadcast little-watched extra channels with names like 10 Shake9Rush and 7TWO.

Micro-Channels Are Better Delivered By The Internet

TV broadcasts are actually a good use of spectrum where masses of people need to watch the same thing at once. They use less of broadcast bandwidth than would the same number of streams delivered through the air by services such as Netflix.

But when they are little-watched (10 Shake got 0.4% of the viewing audience in prime time last week, an average of about 10,000 people Australia-wide) the bandwidth is much better used allowing people to watch what they want.

Read more: Broad reform of FTA television is needed to save the ABC

It’s why the government is kicking community television off the air. Like 10 Shake, its viewers can be counted in thousands and easily serviced by the net.

The government’s last big auction of freed-up television spectrum in 2013 raised A$1.9 billion, and that was for leases, that expire in 2029.

Among the buyers were Telstra, Optus and TPG.

The successful bidders for leases on vacated television spectrum in 2013. Australian Communications and Media Authority

The money now on offer, and the exploding need for spectrum, is why last November Fletcher decided to have another go.

Rather than kick the networks off what they’ve been hogging (as he is doing with community TV) he offered them what on the face of it is an astoundingly generous deal.

Any networks that want to can agree to combine their allocations, using new compression technology to broadcast about as many channels as before from a shared facility, freeing up what might be a total of 84 megahertz for high-value communications. Any that don’t, don’t need to.

All The Networks Need To Do Is Share

The deal would only go ahead if at least two commercial licence holders in each licence area signed up. At that point the ABC and SBS would combine their allocations and the commercial networks would be freed of the $41 million they currently pay in annual licence fees, forever.

That’s right. From then on, they would be guaranteed enough spectrum to do about what they did before, except for free, plus a range of other benefits

The near-instant reaction, in a letter signed by the heads of each of the regional networks, was to say no, they didn’t want to share. The plan was “simply a grab for spectrum to bolster the federal government’s coffers”.

And Sharing’s Not That Hard

It’s not as if the networks own the spectrum (they don’t) and it’s not as if they are normally reluctant to share — they share just about everything.

For two decades they’ve shared their transmission towers, and for 18 months Nine and Seven have been playing out their programs from the same centre.

Nine’s soon-to-be-demolished tower in Sydney’s Willoughby broadcasts Seven, Nine and Ten. Dean Lewins/AAP

That’s right. Nine and Seven use the same computers, same operators, same desks, to play programs.

One day it is entirely possible that a Seven promo or ad will accidentally go to air on Nine, just as a few years back some pages from the Sydney Morning Herald were accidentally printed in the Daily Telegraph, whose printing plants it makes use of.

All the minister is asking is for them to share something else, what Australia’s treasury describes as a “scarce resource of high value to Australian society”.

There’s a good case for going further, taking almost all broadcasting off the air and putting it online, or sending it out by direct-to-home satellite, removing the need for bandwidth-hogging fill-in transmitters.

Seven, Nine and Ten have yet to respond. Indications are they’re not much more positive than their regional cousins, although more polite. They’re standing in the way of progress.The Conversation

Peter Martin, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

First Humans In Tasmania Must Have Seen Spectacular Auroras

February 16, 2021
Drilling a 270,000-year old core from a Tasmanian lake has provided the first Australian record of a major global event where the Earth's magnetic field 'switched '- and the opportunity to establish a precedent for developing new paleomagnetic dating tools for Australian archaeology and paleosciences.

"This is the first study of this kind in Australia since pioneering studies in the 1980s," said author Dr Agathe Lisé-Provonost, a McKenzie Fellow from the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

"Just two lakes in north-east Australia previously provided such "full-vector" record, where both the past directions and the past intensity of the Earth magnetic field are obtained from the same cores."

Published in the journal Quaternary Geochronology, Chronostratigraphy of a 270-ka sediment record from Lake Selina, Tasmania: Combining radiometric, geomagnetic and climatic dating, details how drilling into the 5.5 metre long Lake Selina core established that 41,000 years ago, people in Tasmania must have seen spectacular auroras when the Earth's magnetic field flipped, and for a few thousand years, north was south and south was north.

"During the geomagnetic 'excursion', the strength of the Earth's magnetic field almost vanished," said Dr Lisé-Provonost.

"This would lead to a big increase in cosmic and solar particles bombarding our planet because the magnetic field normally acts like a shield.

"We don't know when the next geomagnetic excursion will happen, but if one was to occur today, satellites would be rendered useless, smartphone navigation apps would fail, and there would be major disruptions of power distribution systems."

Research leading to that discovery got underway in 2014 when the author travelled to a small sub-alpine lake in western Tasmania with a team led by Associate Professor Michael-Shawn Fletcher, where a makeshift floating platform rigged to two inflatable rafts was used to drill down into the sediment.

A small sub-alpine lake in western Tasmania has helped establish that 41,000 years ago Australia experienced the Laschamp geomagnetic excursion and that Tasmanian Aboriginals would've seen it. Image: Associate Professor Michael-Shawn Fletcher.

With the core containing a climate, vegetation, and paleomagnetic record of the area, the team looked to first accurately date its layers finding evidence of the ecosystem changes that occurred as Tasmanian Aboriginals arrived 43,000 years ago and managed the land over thousands of years. Abrupt changes that occurred since the arrival of Europeans 200 years ago are also evidenced.

"Magnetic particles are eroded from rocks, making their way to a lake by wind or water, and settle down on the lake bottom," said Dr Lisé-Provonost.

"The magnetic particles act like tiny compass needles, aligning with the Earth's magnetic field. As these particles accumulate and become buried, they become locked in place, leaving a history of the Earth's magnetic field. The deeper we drill, the further back in time we go."

It's hoped the research will lead the way for more studies of the past geomagnetic field behaviour from Australian lakes and other geological materials such as lava flows, cave deposits and fired archaeological artefacts, for developing new paleomagnetic dating tools and improving models of the Earth's magnetic field to, one day, maybe predict the next geomagnetic excursion.

The research team will now go even further back in time recovering the climate history of Tasmania, with analysing sediments from the 816,000 year-old meteorite impact at Darwin Crater.

Agathe Lisé-Pronovost, Michael-Shawn Fletcher, Quentin Simon, Zenobia Jacobs, Patricia S. Gadd, David Heslop, Andy I.R. Herries, Yusuke Yokoyama, Aster team. Chronostratigraphy of a 270-ka sediment record from Lake Selina, Tasmania: Combining radiometric, geomagnetic and climatic dating. Quaternary Geochronology, 2021; 62: 101152 DOI: 10.1016/j.quageo.2021.101152

Small 'Window Of Opportunity' For Best Recovery After Stroke

February 17, 2021
An international study has shown, for the first time, that the capacity of the human brain to recover and rewire itself peaks around two weeks after a stroke and diminishes over time.

The finding, published today in the Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair journal, is the result of a study in London and Adelaide that followed the recovery of 60 stroke patients up to one year after their stroke.

Lead author Dr Brenton Hordacre, from the University of South Australia, says the multi-site study showed conclusive evidence that the brain only has a small window of opportunity to more easily repair itself after stroke.

"Earlier animal studies suggested this was the case, but this is the first time we have conclusively demonstrated this phenomenon exists in humans," Dr Hordacre says.

The researchers scanned the brains of stroke survivors as they recovered over 12 months. They found that in the initial days following an ischemic stroke (caused by a blocked artery to the brain), the brain has a greater capacity to modify its neural connections and its plasticity is increased.

"It is during this early period after stroke that any physiotherapy is going to be most effective because the brain is more responsive to treatment.

"Earlier experiments with rats showed that within five days of an ischemic stroke they were able to repair damaged limbs and neural connections more easily than if therapy was delayed until 30 days post stroke."

The researchers used continuous transcranial magnetic stimulation (cTBS) to repetitively activate different hemispheres of the motor cortex to measure brain plasticity.

The Adelaide laboratory tested the stroke damaged motor cortex, which is the main area that controls movement. The London laboratory tested the non-stroke damaged hemisphere which is also important to help recovery.

"Our assessments showed that plasticity was strongest around two weeks after stroke in the non-damaged motor cortex. Contrary to what we expected, there was no change in the damaged hemisphere in response to cTBS."

Dr Hordacre says the findings confirm the importance of initiating therapy as soon as possible after a stroke.

Current evidence indicates that less than eight minutes of daily therapy is dedicated to upper limb recovery within the first four weeks of a stroke.

"Delivering more treatment within this brief window is needed to help people recover after stroke.

"The next step is to identify techniques which prolong or even re-open a period of increased brain plasticity, so we can maximise recovery," Dr Hordacre says.

Brenton Hordacre, Duncan Austin, Katlyn E. Brown, Lynton Graetz, Isabel Pareés, Stefania De Trane, Ann-Maree Vallence, Simon Koblar, Timothy Kleinig, Michelle N. McDonnell, Richard Greenwood, Michael C. Ridding, John C. Rothwell. Evidence for a Window of Enhanced Plasticity in the Human Motor Cortex Following Ischemic Stroke. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair, 2021; 154596832199233 DOI: 10.1177/1545968321992330

Psychotherapy For Panic Disorder Shows Positive Long-Term Effects

February 16, 2021
Psychotherapy for panic disorder produces good results, and the effects are lasting. That is the result from a large long-term study from Lund University in Sweden. Two years after treatment were 70 per cent of the patients clearly improved and 45 per cent were remitted.

Panic disorder is one of the most common causes of mental illness in Sweden and worldwide. Approximately 2 per cent have panic disorder. When untreated, the condition is associated with emotional distress and social isolation. Panic attacks often debut in adolescence or early adulthood and many of those affected drop out of education, jobs, and can't fulfil their life dreams.

"Many people adapt to their panic disorder by various restrictions in their daily living," says psychologist Thomas Nilsson, who conducted the study, with 221 participants over 10 years, together with research colleague Martin Svensson.

"Treatment is crucial as the disorder often leads to a downward spiral in which the margin for everyday life activities becomes increasingly narrow."

The researchers studied not only the short and long-term effects of therapy but also how treatment outcome was affected by offering the patients to choose their treatment. The options were two forms of therapy, specifically designed to treat panic disorder -- a psychodynamic psychotherapy (PDT) and a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). One half of the patients were allowed to choose their form of therapy and the other half were randomly assigned to one or the other.

The researchers' hypothesis was that the patients offered a choice between two validated treatments would benefit from receiving their chosen form of therapy. In previous research this has been the case, and psychologists generally take patient preferences into account in treatment decision. Therefore, the researchers were surprised by the result: patients' who had chosen PDT tended to have better outcomes than those who were randomly assigned to the same treatment. However, the exact opposite applied to patients in CBT: those who were randomly assigned to CBT tended to have better outcomes than those who had actively chosen that form of treatment. So far the researchers can only speculate on the reasons for this.

"Perhaps those who chose psychodynamic therapy had a more accurate perception of what they needed," says Svensson, while pointing out that more studies are required.

However, the most important finding from the study was that both treatments had both positive and lasting results. Two years after treatment 70 per cent of the patients was clearly improved and 45 per cent were remitted.

"The patients felt better in many ways. For instance depressive symptoms, that often accompany panic disorder, were significantly reduced and quality of life improved," says Svensson.

These findings are impressive given that both treatments were as brief as 12 weeks.

Martin Svensson, Thomas Nilsson, Sean Perrin, Håkan Johansson, Gardar Viborg, Fredrik Falkenström, Rolf Sandell. The Effect of Patient’s Choice of Cognitive Behavioural or Psychodynamic Therapy on Outcomes for Panic Disorder: A Doubly Randomised Controlled Preference Trial. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 2020; 1 DOI: 10.1159/000511469

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.