inbox and environment news: Issue 498

June 13 - 19, 2021: Issue 498

No. This is not Cape Tribulation Cairns QLD, but our own Warriewood Wetlands - where we live. They are so lush at the moment with recent good rains and sunshine.
Photo by Joe Mills, June 2021

Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA): Mona Vale Dunes Planting Morning 

We'll be planting trees and shrubs on  Mona Vale dunes on Thursday June 17, 9-12pm, to complete our $12250 grant project there. 
The Federal Government Communities Environment program has funded clearing of very dense weeds, and now it's time to have fun planting. 
Meet at the end of Golf Ave and walk south to the golf ball shelter. 
Any time you can spare will be wonderful. 
Tools and Morning Tea provided. 
Coast Banksias, Teatree, Correa, Myoporum and Dianella are some species we will plant.

Coastal Boobialla, Myoporum insulare, is a glossy-leafed coastal shrub with tiny white flowers and green-black berries.

Sydney Wildlife: Registrations For The Next Rescue And Care Course Are Now Open - Commences June 19, 2021

Sydney Wildlife Rescue's accreditation course for new members (for rescue and rehabilitation of native wildlife) is now held online.  This is a self-paced course which provides the theoretical part of our training program - Part 1.  

You must also complete Part 2 of the training which is a hands-on, in-person, instructional training session. This includes training in handling, feeding, enclosure set-up and other aspects involved in caring for wildlife at your home.  

You must complete both parts of this training program to be accredited to rescue & care for Sydney Wildlife Rescue.

The hands-on training is held within the branch nearest to where you live. Please see the map here of the Branch boundaries which make up Sydney Wildlife Rescue's geographical perimeter. 

World Albatross Day Is June 19th

Highlighting the plight of these magnificent seabirds 
On June 19th, World Albatross Day will be celebrated online around the globe. The day honours these magnificent birds and highlights the ongoing conservation crisis they face.   
The Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) has inaugurated World Albatross Day to raise awareness of these birds worldwide, since a global effort is required to protect these global travellers. World Albatross Day falls on the date of the signing of the Agreement more than 20 years ago.  

The theme of World Albatross Day 2021 is ‘Ensuring Albatross-Friendly Fisheries’.

Interaction with fishing gear, both inshore and on the high seas, causes the death of many thousands of albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters every year. Indeed, the large number of albatrosses and petrels killed by fisheries was the main driving force for the establishment of ACAP two decades ago and addressing this continuing conservation problem remains an important part of ACAP’s ongoing work.,

ACAP currently has 13 member countries and coordinates international activities to mitigate threats to albatross populations through legislation and education. This effort is supported by several non-member states and non-government organisations. ACAP currently lists 31 species of albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, most of which have a global threatened status.  

Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophrys) - pictures by A J Guesdon - taken while off the Pittwater shores

Why Fishing Club Has Been Wound Up.

The "curse” of an offended albatross is held responsible for the end of a deep-sea fishing club at Gosford, New South Wales. It began when the 24 men were fishing out at sea. One of them accidentally hooked a large albatross, the bird which is reputed to bring disaster if harmed as it did to the Ancient Mariner in Coleridge's poem. The bird fought savagely for half an hour before it could be brought aboard to have the hook extracted. Then it battled its way loose, and for three hours refused to leave the launch. Instead it viciously attacked first one and then another of the 24 men. At length it flew away, and the anglers sighed in relief. Their troubles, however, were only beginning. 
An hour later, one of the men suffered agonies when a large fish hook became embedded deep in the palm of his hand. As the launch raced for the shore, the hook had to be prised out in an effort to reduce the man's suffering. Soon afterwards the launch grounded on a mudbank, and the men were marooned for three hours until the tide rose. Bad luck continued to dog every outing arranged by the club. Terrific storms prevented several trips. Club membership waned, and all efforts to revive interest failed. At the annual meeting the three remaining members of the original 120 have decided to wind up the club in an effort to avert the albatross “curse”.
 ALBATROSS “CURSE”. (1936, June 6). Shepparton Advertiser(Vic. : 1914 - 1953), p. 4. Retrieved from 

Doesn't sound too good, does it?
Some information and a an Australian Poet's poem about these wonderful seabirds, which we hope will inspire our young and older readers to gaze a bit closer at the wonderful seabirds that live on the coastlines of Pittwater:

The wise and lucky Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophrys) - Albatrosses, of the biological family Diomedeidae, are large seabirds allied to the procellariids, storm petrelsand diving petrels in the order Procellariiformes (the tubenoses). They range widely in the Southern Ocean and the North Pacific. They are absent from the North Atlantic, although fossil remains show they once occurred there and occasional vagrants are found. Albatrosses are among the largest of flying birds, and the great albatrosses (genus Diomedea) have the largest wingspans of any extant birds, reaching up to 12 feet (3.7 m). The albatrosses are usually regarded as falling into four genera, but there is disagreement over the number of species.

Albatrosses are highly efficient in the air, using dynamic soaring and slope soaring to cover great distances with little exertion. They feed on squid, fish and krill by either scavenging, surface seizing or diving. Albatrosses are colonial, nesting for the most part on remote oceanic islands, often with several species nesting together. Pair bonds between males and females form over several years, with the use of "ritualised dances", and will last for the life of the pair. A breeding season can take over a year from laying to fledging, with a single egg laid in each breeding attempt. A Laysan albatross, named Wisdom, on Midway Island is recognised as the oldest wild bird in the world; she was first banded in 1956 by Chandler Robbins. 

Of the 22 species of albatrosses recognised by the IUCN, all are listed as at some level of concern; 3 species are Critically Endangered, 5 species are Endangered, 7 species are Near Threatened, and 7 species are Vulnerable. Numbers of albatrosses have declined in the past due to harvesting for feathers, but today the albatrosses are threatened by introduced species, such as rats and feral cats that attack eggs, chicks and nesting adults; by pollution; by a serious decline in fish stocks in many regions largely due to overfishing; and bylongline fishing. Longline fisheries pose the greatest threat, as feeding birds are attracted to the bait, become hooked on the lines, and drown. Stakeholders such as governments, conservation organisations and people in the fishing industry are all working toward reducing this bycatch.

In culture Albatrosses have been described as "the most legendary of all birds". An albatross is a central emblem in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge; a captive albatross is also a metaphor for the poète maudit in a poem of Charles Baudelaire. It is from the Coleridge poem that the usage of albatross as a metaphor is derived; someone with a burden or obstacle is said to have "an albatross around their neck", the punishment given in the poem to the mariner who killed the albatross. In part due to the poem, there is a widespread myth that (all) sailors believe it disastrous to shoot or harm an albatross; in truth, sailors regularly killed and ate them, e.g., as reported by James Cook in 1772. On the other hand, it has been reported that sailors caught the birds, but supposedly let them free again; the possible reason is that albatrosses were often regarded as the souls of lost sailors, so that killing them was supposedly viewed as bringing bad luck. 
Albatrosses are popular birds for birdwatchers and their colonies are popular destinations for ecotourists. Regular birdwatching trips are taken out of many coastal towns and cities, like Monterey, Kaikoura, Wollongong, Sydney, Port Fairy, Hobart and Cape Town, to see pelagic seabirds. Albatrosses are easily attracted to these sightseeing boats by the deployment of fish oil and burley into the sea. Visits to colonies can be very popular; the northern royal albatross colony at Taiaroa Head in New Zealand attracts 40,000 visitors a year, and more isolated colonies are regular attractions on cruises to subantarctic islands.

The black-browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophris), also known as the black-browed mollymawk, is a large seabird of the albatross family Diomedeidae; it is the most widespread and common member of its family. The origin of the name melanophris comes from two Greek words melas or melanos, meaning "black", and ophris, meaning "eyebrow", referring to dark feathering around the eyes.
The word mollymawk dates to the late 17th century, comes from the Dutch mallemok, which means mal – foolish and mok – gull.
This is a strange name for these birds as many attribute a lot of ocean wisdom to them, specifically that of winds and tides.

Mollymawks are albatrosses in the family Diomedeidae and order Procellariiformes, which also includes shearwaters, fulmars,storm petrels, and diving petrels. They have nasal passages that attach to the upper bill called naricorns, although the nostrils on the albatross are on the sides of the bill. The bills of Procellariiformes are also unique in that they are split into between seven and nine horny plates. They produce a stomach oil made up of wax esters and triglycerides that is stored in the proventriculus. This is used against predators as well as being an energy-rich food source for chicks and also for the adults during their long flights. The albatross also has a salt gland above the nasal passage which helps to remove salt from the ocean water that they imbibe. The gland excretes a high saline solution through the bird's nose.

The black-browed albatross is a medium-sized albatross, at 80 to 95 cm (31–37 in) long with a 200 to 240 cm wingspan and an average weight of 2.9 to 4.7 kg (6.4–10.4 lb). They can have a natural lifespan of over 70 years. It has a dark grey saddle and upperwings that contrast with the white rump, and underparts. The underwing is predominantly white with broad, irregular, black margins. It has a dark eyebrow and a yellow-orange bill with a darker reddish-orange tip. Juveniles have dark horn-colored bills with dark tips, and a grey head and collar. They also have dark underwings. The features that distinguish it from other mollymawks (except the closely related Campbell albatross) are the dark eyestripe which gives it its name, a broad black edging to the white underside of its wings, white head and orange bill, tipped darker orange. The Campbell albatross is very similar but with a pale eye. Immature birds are similar to grey-headed albatrosses but the latter have wholly dark bills and more complete dark head markings.


With an eye as sedate as the eye of a sage,
And quick to discern what is passing below ;
With a pinion to cope with the hurricanes rage,
See the Albatross come, with his bosom of snow.

He comes where the bark, o'er the blue wave is bounding,
All music below, and all beauty above,
The emigrant's song, o'er the bright waters sounding,
The sails all a-breast to the breeze which they love !

He comes with the dawn, when the emigrant dreaming.
Is still with the friends of his heart and his home,
He leaves with the sun, when his golden rays streaming
O'er ocean and sky, make it rapture to roam.  

He glides with a motion, majestic and grand,
The air never stirr'd by the wave of his wing,
And looks as if, born each bird to command,  
As he sits on the ocean, enthroned like a king.

But in doubling the Cape, should the winds in their might,
Make the waves in the strength of their terror appear,
How sublime in the storm is the Albatross flight,
Like the spirit of faith, in the region of fear !

Around and across, o'er the wild breaking wave,
Where the Petrel, in hollows, shoots under his wing,
He soars undismayed, while the hearts of the brave,  
Grow faint, as to perishing objects they cling !

The whale bird, in vigour, in habits and size,
Comes nearest the Albatross, but in the gale,
He shrinks from the contest, resigning the skies,
To his mightier rival, the great leathered whale.
J. G.
Original Poetry. (1849, February 24). Bathurst Advocate (NSW : 1848 - 1849), p. 4. Retrieved from 

The Powerful Owl Project Update

Hi Folks. We’re getting reports of Powerful Owls turning up in strange places!
The young owls from last year’s breeding season are dispersing and looking for somewhere to settle down. As they’re making their way through our increasingly urbanised landscape they don’t always find habitat suitable for roosting when the sun comes up. 

In recent days we’ve had owls roosting in boat sheds, Woolies loading docks and industrial premises.
Keep sending us your sightings please! It’s excellent information that helps us understand how our young owls disperse, which in turn will help inform decisions about the development of Green Corridors through the Greater Sydney Basin.

Photo: young owl caught out without a suitable roost at Brookvale. Thanks Jacqui, for the photo.

ORRCA News: 2021 Census Day - Sunday June 27 

YOU ARE INVITED TO JOIN: ORRCAs annual great whale migration census day.
  • This is a FREE event for all to join in.
  • From sun up to sun down.
  • Record all your sightings from your favourite whale watching location using an ORRCA data sheet and sending it into the team at the end of the day.
  • Email for all the details as they unfold.
Can we beat last years count of 2,589 Humpbacks?
Be part of our annual whale watching day and help count how many whales move up our coastline on the last Sunday of June.

Koala Takes Up Residence In Partially Built House

One of the saddest images shared on World Environment day last weekend was a koala rescued by Port Stephens Koalas called ‘Medowie Matt’ at one of Medowie’s new subdivisions, ‘Tallowood Estate’, an over 50's estate being established near Medowie town centre, in the Hunter valley. 

Port Stephens Koalas said; 
''Medowie Matt is named after the young tradie who protected him until one of our rescuers arrived to transfer him to Port Stephens Koala Hospital. He was admitted with ocular chlamydia and has begun a 4 week course of antibiotics which we hope will clear up the condition. He will then be released back into the wild. The question is where!? ''

Port Stephens Koalas' explained that with ocular chlamydia the trigger is almost always stress.

"Clearly the koala just lost its bearings completely because they're very territorial.'' a spokesperson said

"It's a very new estate. It wouldn't have been cleared all that long ago, so he would have been travelling on his normal route home."

Unfortunately, the situation isn't all that unique Port Stephens Koalas said.

"It's common for us to have to rescue koalas from developments with this creeping destruction of their habitat," 

"Quite a number of koalas on roads, in people's backyards.

"With the destruction of habitat, more and more koalas are fighting over what's left."

The Port Stephens Koalas organisation hopes they've caught the ocular chlamydia early enough so they can release him, but the question for them then is where?

"Koalas are notorious for heading back to what is known as their home turf.

"There are restrictions on us under our license. We must return them to within a 10km radius of where we found them. But the growth of these new estates is just staggering."

The image of Medowie Matt was referenced by the Animal Justice Party during a rally held in Sydney last Saturday, World Environment Day. The rally was part of a campaign called #KoalasNeedTrees, "condemning the NSW Government's inaction on koala conservation".

"This is who we're fighting for this #WorldEnvironmentDay and every other day," Animal Justice MP Mark Pearson said.

"Koalas like this poor soul, who found his way onto a building site, clearly looking for food and habitat. Instead, he found a bulldozed worksite of cement and barren wooden beams."

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington also posted  the images on social media, stating;  "It doesn't get much sadder than this," the Labor MP said. "He was looking for the tree that used to be his home. All levels of government have to start taking the protection of koalas and their habitat seriously."

Whitehaven Pleads Guilty To Stealing One Billion Litres Of Water During Drought

June 7, 2021
Farmers are relieved after Whitehaven pleaded guilty to stealing one billion litres of water at its Maules Creek coal mine, vindicating community complaints of water theft first lodged in 2018.

Court documents obtained by Lock the Gate Alliance show Whitehaven used dams and water storages at its Maules Creek mine site to illegally capture rainfall and surface water runoff between July 2016 and June 2019.

The company pleaded guilty on 9 April, and is expected to be sentenced in August. The company faces a maximum fine of $2.2 million.

Lock the Gate was forced to apply for the court documents to obtain the information as Whitehaven has not disclosed its plea publicly or to shareholders via the ASX.

The revelations are the latest setback for the company, after the Federal Court ruled Environment Minister Sussan Ley has a duty of care to consider the impact of climate change on young people when considering Whitehaven’s Vickery coal mine expansion.

It’s also the latest in a long list of crimes Whitehaven has committed, although it’s the first time the company has faced such a significant fine.

Boggabri farmer Sally Hunter said, “It is outrageous Whitehaven had been stealing so much water at the height of one of the worst droughts to have ever hit the region.

“There is so much anger in the community at Whitehaven because it took so much water at a time when farmers, rivers, and the land needed it the most,” she said.

“This sorry case demonstrates how little care Whitehaven has for the communities it operates in.”

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said the company should be stripped of its right to operate in light of the guilty plea.

“As we have seen time and time again, Whitehaven treats the environment, the community and the rule of law with contempt,” she said.

“The company’s behaviour is notorious but we suspect this is a bigger problem than just one mine. We think the Berejiklian Government should conduct a full, independent audit of water taken by Whitehaven at its mines in the Namoi, and of the mining industry’s unlicenced capture of surface water more broadly.

“We also sincerely hope the Land and Environment Court throws the book at Whitehaven Coal and makes an example of them.”

NSW Planning Department Refers Hume Coal Project To IPC For Second Time

June 9, 2021
The NSW Planning Department has referred the Hume Coal Project and Berrima Rail Project to the IPC this week for the second time.

In its latest assessment, the department once again noted “strong opposition to the project from the local and broader community”.

The department also said the site was “not suitable for a greenfield coal mine given the rural-residential and small-scale agricultural land use of the area, along with the growing tourism and heritage landscape focus, and the predicted impacts on these land uses”. 

As well, the department found the proposed coal mine would have “significant groundwater drawdown impacts”, and “the safety risks associated with the mine design… may lead to the need to discharge mine water into surface waterbodies and Sydney’s drinking water catchment”.

The proposal will once again progress through the Independent Planning Commission and there will be a second public hearing. The Planning Department's Assessment Report and IPC webpage will list all Notices about Hearings and submissions. 

EPA Fines Bluescope Steel For Alleged Water Pollution

June 10, 2021
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has fined Bluescope Steel (AIS) Pty Ltd $15,000 for allegedly releasing polluted process water into a drain which feeds into Port Kembla Harbour.

On 17 April 2021, Bluescope Steel identified that a Coke Ovens Gas (COG) condensate tank overflowed into a stormwater drain at its Port Kembla Steelworks. The overflow was caused by an operator leaving a water valve open resulting in up to 100 litres of condensate making its way into the drain.

EPA Director Regulatory Operations Jacinta Hanemann said sampling of the spilled COG condensate undertaken by Bluescope Steel revealed the presence of harmful pollutants.

“Spilled COG condensate has the potential to cause environmental harm because it contains concentrated and harmful pollutants,” Ms Hanemann said.

“In isolation, this incident would be not be considered environmentally significant, but over the previous five years, the EPA has responded to several similar incidents. Furthermore, this incident was preventable.

“Having regard to the preventability of the incident, the repeat nature of the incident and the potential for environmental harm, a Penalty Notice was considered the appropriate regulatory response.

Licensees must comply with the requirements of their licence. Furthermore, the community rightly expects licensees to have adequate procedures in place to ensure they maintain appropriate environmental controls.”

Bluescope Steel has committed to a comprehensive condensate management program across their site to implement future improvements to these systems.

Penalty notices are one of several tools the EPA can use to achieve environmental compliance, including formal warnings, official cautions, licence conditions, notices and directions and prosecutions.

For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA compliance policy on the EPA website.

Please, don't look away. The NSW flood recovery will take years and people still need our help

James Gourley/AAP
Ian WrightWestern Sydney University

Extreme flooding in New South Wales in March triggered a two-week frenzy of media interest. But while the camera crews and journalists have since moved on, communities still face a long recovery.

Many flood-ravaged homes have not yet been repaired and others are infested with mould. Farmers are struggling to fix damaged infrastructure, while dealing with weed outbreaks and the memories of livestock killed in traumatic circumstances.

I’m a water scientist with a growing interest in post-flood recovery, and recently visited several flood-affected areas in NSW. In the Hawkesbury-Nepean River I found nutrient-heavy and contaminated water. In the Southern Highlands, minor flooding persists and many fallen trees and damaged fences remain. And near the Gwidyr River at Moree, as elsewhere, crops and roads remain damaged and weeds are thriving.

Some communities were grappling with the effects of bushfire, drought and COVID-19 before the floods hit. And some flood-affected areas are now also dealing with a mouse plague. In these most difficult circumstances, it’s worth looking at the practical recovery actions most likely to help and the long-term challenges ahead.

House roof visible above floodwaters
Floodwaters may have receded, but the recovery has only just begun. Billy Callaghan/AAP

Yet Another Farming Crisis

Many farmers have months of work ahead to recover from the floods. Some lost livestock to flood waters; cattle were found washed up on beaches, in trees, on streets and in neighbours’ backyards. Farmers spoke of their trauma after hearing the helpless bellows of their drowning cows.

Cow washed up on beach
Livestock deaths included this cow that washed up on a NSW beach. Wayne Johnson

The loss of livestock is a major blow after years of drought. And booming stock prices means buying sheep and cattle to rebuild herds is expensive.

Adding to post-flood stress for farmers, they must be extra vigilant about protecting their livestock from diseaseFlystrike, cattle ticks and internal parasites can thrive in wet conditions, and persist long after waters recede.

The floods ruined thousands of kilometres of fences and destroyed crops and pastures. In some cases, nutrient-rich flood waters transported weeds to new areas, or caused dormant seeds in the soil to sprout weeds.

When The Mould Takes Hold

The floods caused a wider range of damage to properties than many people realise. Common repairs needed include replacing floor coverings, fixing electrical wiring and plumbing, new insulation and extensive replacement of internal walls and house cladding.

Many homes, schools and businesses are still waiting for repairs. This is a common problem after floods. Six months after the disastrous 2019 Townsville floods, for example, a combination of slow insurance payouts and shortage of tradesmen meant only 1,400 of 3,300 damaged homes had been repaired.

In NSW, some flood-hit homes are currently battling mould . This microscopic fungi penetrates internal walls and ceilings as well as furnishings. In some cases, it is growing in wall cavities, posing an “invisible” health risk.

Mould can be wiped away from impenetrable surfaces such as glass, tiles and metal. But once absorbed by porous building materials, such as plywood, chipboard and plasterboard, mould can be nearly impossble to remove and the materials must be replaced.

Seek expert advice from your local council’s environmental health officers to deal with large areas of mould. It may be possible to clean up small areas of mould yourself, but use protective equipment. Mould can be a health hazard, and breathing it in can trigger asthma, even in people without an existing allergy.

Read more: Floods leave a legacy of mental health problems — and disadvantaged people are often hardest hit

Two women wipe walls
Mould can be cleaned from some non-porous surfaces, but other materials must be replaced. AAP

Insurance Woes

By the end of March this year, some 11,700 insurance claims for flood damage had been submitted, and the number was expected to grow.

After natural disasters, people often find their insurance policy does not cover the damage, or their claim is rejected. If you’re struggling with an insurance claim, independent help is available.

The problem of under- or non-insurance is likely to worsen under climate change. Climate Council research shows one in every 19 property owners face the prospect of unaffordable insurance premiums by 2030. Flood-prone properties near rivers are particularly at risk.

Separate research has also linked insurance disputes and rejected claims to depression among disaster victims.

Insurance problems add to the financial stress of lost earnings and flood damage repairs. Flood-affected individuals and businesses currently requiring financial support can seek help from governmentslocal councils and charities.

Read more: 'We always come last': Deaf people are vulnerable to disaster risk but excluded from preparedness

Sodden belongings outside home
Home owners can be shocked to discover their insurance policy did not cover flood damage. AAP

Playing The Long Game

Six years after the 2011 Brisbane floods, a survey of 327 victims found they continued to suffer adverse physical and mental health effects. The impacts can be worse for people already suffering chronic diseases.

And many people – particularly those living in disadvantage before the floods – have barely begun the recovery process. Some are relying on food vouchers, or living without essential items such as fridges and washing machines.

Local councils are also struggling. In the Northern Rivers, roads remain damaged by floods, leaving multimillion-dollar repair bills.

After a string of catastrophic disasters in recent years, the Australian public may well be suffering from “compassion fatigue”. That’s understandable. But flood victims clearly still need our help.

If you can, donate to the ABC NSW Flood Appeal. And if you’re one of the people struggling, remember you’re not alone. Your fellow Australians do care and there are many avenues for assistance. Please don’t hesitate to ask for it.

This story is part of a series on the nexus between disaster, disadvantage and resilience. It is supported by a philanthropic grant from the Paul Ramsay Foundation. Read the rest of the coverage here.The Conversation

Ian Wright, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science, Western Sydney University

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

New Outback Reserve To Protect Diverse Western Wilderness

June 7, 2021
Environment Minister, Matt Kean has today announced the second largest land acquisition for national parks in the last 10 years with the purchase of the neighbouring Langidoon and Metford stations, 65 kilometres east of Broken Hill.

The plan for the two properties, totaling 60,468 hectares, is to create a new outback reserve conserving significant biodiversity and Aboriginal heritage in the region.

"Land to the west of the Great Dividing Range supports a great diversity of wildlife, unique natural heritage and culturally important places, worthy of protection," Mr Kean said.

"This new park will be an important refuge for wildlife including at least 14 threatened animal species including habitat for the Australian bustard, white-fronted chat and the pink cockatoo."

Once this addition is formally reserved, the national parks system will have increased by more 350,000 hectares since August 2019, well on the way to meet the target of an additional 400,000 hectares by the end of 2022.

The purchase follows on from the recent creation of another outback reserve – Narriearra Caryapundy Swamp National Park which was the largest purchase of private land for the national parks estate.

In time, it is expected visitors will be able to explore sandplains and stony desert, gibber chenopod shrublands, floodplain woodland along watercourses and a lake system that provides habitat for a range of migratory bird species.

The properties contain important Aboriginal heritage including artefacts such as grinding plates and stones.

  • Langidoon and Metford Stations lie in the far west of NSW, 65 km east of Broken Hill, within the Broken Hill Complex Bioregion. It lies along the Barrier Highway.
  • The properties contain a diversity of broad ecosystems supporting Acacia shrublands on sandplains and on stony desert, gibber chenopod shrublands and floodplain woodland associated with ephemeral watercourses.
  • Size: 60,468 hectares (Landgidoon at 35,554 ha and Metford at 24,914.19 ha).
  • Bioregional significance: Langidoon and Metford make a significant contribution to a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system by:
    • Increasing the level of protection for Broken Hill Complex Bioregion from 3.45% to 4.42%.
    • Protecting an area of two subregions. The Barrier Ranges subregion, characterised by steep, low rocky ranges is not sampled in the national park estate; and the Barrier Range Outwash subregion has only 0.4% reserved in the national park estate. This subregion is characterised by stream channels and floodplains, low angle alluvial fans and floodouts, extending to extensive sandplains and dunefields with lakes and claypans.
    • Protecting 7 landscape types. Three (Barrier Salt Lakes and Playas; Barrier Tablelands and Barrier Fresh Lakes and Swamps) are not protected in any other national park and one (Barrier Downs) is effectively unprotected at 0.02 per cent reserved.
  • Ecosystems: The land contains a diversity of ecosystems – 33 Plant Community Types (PCTs) are mapped, of which 25 are effectively unreserved at the bioregional level.
    • Over 30% of the land comprises Acacia loderi shrublands – an endangered TEC (Threatened ecological community). In New South Wales, the community is mainly confined to south western NSW with the major stands occurring between Broken Hill, Ivanhoe and Wilcannia, while only isolated stands occur beyond these areas.
  • Threatened species: provides potential habitat for at least 14 threatened fauna species, mainly birds.
    • Threatened species are likely to include the Australian Bustard, white-fronted chat, pink cockatoo, blue-billed duck and freckled duck
  • Wetlands: includes Eckerboon Lake (160 ha) which during times of flooding provide habitat for migratory bird species.
  • Aboriginal heritage: artefacts associated with ephemeral Eckerboon Lake.
  • Contemporary history: Little Topar on the Metford property hosted the 'roo shooting scene' for 1971 movie Wake in Fright starring Jack Thompson, Chips Rafferty and John Meillon (among others).
Langidoon and Metford Stations Credit: DPIE

Australian First Keeps Waterways Clean

June 11, 2021
Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes today introduced the WasteShark to Australian waters for the first time, a 1.5 metre aquadrone that will clean litter from the waterways such as ports and harbours.

“Everyone wants a safe and sparkling harbour and I’m delighted to welcome the latest weapon in the war on waste,” Mr Stokes said.

“The WasteShark can devour up to 160 kgs in one sitting – including plastics, vegetation, floating debris, chemicals, marine fuels and oils that shouldn’t be in our waterways.

“Along with cleaning our waters, the WasteShark will collect and store valuable data on water quality.

“This is an environmentally-friendly solution to cleaning our waterways, powered by battery and emitting zero emissions.”

Placemaking NSW Chief Executive Anita Mitchell said the WasteShark was developed in the Netherlands and would begin devouring prey from this week.

“Swimming through enclosed waters autonomously or under remote control, it can remove rubbish while scanning and monitoring the health of the marine environment, sending data on water conditions back to a central command via the cloud,” Ms Mitchell said.

“It gathers air and water quality data, filters chemicals such as oil, arsenic, and heavy metals and scans the seabed to read its depth and contours.

“We’re excited to see the WasteShark set sail as an innovative, safe and efficient way to continue to keep Cockle Bay clean.”

Dutch company RanMarine Technology developed the aquadrone, modelled after the whale shark, the largest fish in the world, and the way it eats.

“It’s built on the same principles as a whale shark,” Richard Hardiman, the CEO of RanMarine Technology, explained in a TED Talk. “It’s got an enormous mouth. It silently skims the water and tracks down its prey, keeps it in its belly.”

Capable of 'swimming' for up to 16 hours, the WasteShark scans its immediate environment as it works, collecting data to send back to its central command. It can test the waters for pH levels, conductivity, ammonium, chloride, nitrate, salinity, and many other metrics.

Mr. Hardiman says the idea came to him one day when he was playing hooky from work. He grabbed a coffee along the Cape Town waterfront and saw two men trying to scoop plastic out of the water — and having a very hard time doing this as it was windy and the tide was going out.

“Their only defense to combat this trash going out was the guy in the front with a pool net,” Hardiman recalled in the TED Talk. “That was it. His only defense against nature and man’s inability to tidy up after themselves…. I arrogantly thought to myself immediately, ‘I could do that better.’”

The WasteShark can be steered manually via remote control or through a plotted map on an iPad. It’s best suited for harbours, rivers, and canals — so-called “waste chokeholds” that RanMarine Technology has identified based on weather patterns, shipping and wind movements, and the tides. 

Here's how it works:

Bellinger Riverwatch To Count Waterbugs In Snapping Turtle River

June 9, 2021
Bellinger Riverwatch kicks off its Macroinvertebrate Testing Program today after the Department of Planning Industry and Environment handed across $60,000 in funding from the Australian Government's Bushfire Recovery Program for wildlife and their habitat.

The funding enables Bellinger Riverwatch to continue its citizen science water quality monitoring and to start a macroinvertebrate testing program, according to NSW Government Saving our Species senior team leader Daniel Cain.

"We're delighted this funding will support Bellinger Riverwatch to monitor the health of the water and its smaller inhabitants – including macroinvertebrates such as water beetles and waterbugs," Mr Cain said.

Waterbugs are a great indicator of what's happening with the water quality and aquatic habitat in the river and having citizens involved in the waterbug monitoring will add a new dimension to local knowledge, according to Adrian Dickson, Senior Scientist, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

"Bellingen Riverwatch is taking citizen science forward and by working together with government, consultants and researchers, is ensuring the data collected is accurate, informative, timely and valuable for informing holistic management of waterways and the species they support," Mr Dickson said.

The data will shed light on the turtles' habitat and may inform management decisions around the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle Conservation Program, according to NSW Government Saving our Species officer Gerry McGilvray.

"We know that a healthy waterway is important for ecosystem function and the turtle," Ms McGilvray said.

The Bellinger River snapping turtle is one of Australia's rarest turtles. It suffered a mass mortality event in 2015 when a virus struck, reducing its population of around 4500 to less than 150. The bushfires of 2019ndash;20 further impacted its habitat.

Macroinvertebrates are small invertebrates that live in fresh water and are particularly sensitive to water quality so the type and diversity found reveal how healthy a waterway is. The project will test six sites on the waterways at 6-month intervals, starting this Thursday.

The project will inform the riparian restoration work that Local Land Services will deliver – also through the Australian Government's Bushfire Recovery Program for wildlife and their habitat.

"Taronga Zoo's longstanding captive breeding program has been releasing turtles bred in captivity back into the Bellinger River, and we've had 3 releases with a total of 52 turtles going back to the river," Ms McGilvray said.

The Bellinger River Snapping Turtle Conservation Program is a partnership between NSW Government's Saving our Species program, Taronga Zoo, Symbio Wildlife Park, Regional NSW, Bellinger Landcare, OzGREEN and Western Sydney University.

The conservation effort involves the support of landholders, community members and researchers involved in the project.

To find out more, visit the Bellinger River snapping turtle profile page.

Bellinger River snapping turtle - photo: OEH and Taronga Zoo

Conserving Coastal Seaweed: A Must Have For Migrating Sea Birds

June 7, 2021
As Australia officially enters winter, UniSA ecologists are urging coastal communities to embrace all that the season brings, including the sometimes-unwelcome deposits of brown seaweed that can accumulate on the southern shores.

While tidal seaweed (or sea wrack) may seem unsightly -- especially at beach-side tourist destinations -- new research from the University of South Australia shows that it plays a vital role for many migratory seabirds and should be protected.

In the first study of its kind, UniSA researchers show that beach-cast seaweed provides shelter, and a range of microclimates, in addition to food, that ensure the survival of many shore-bird species.

Specifically, sea wrack acts like a reverse-cycle air conditioner creating cooler conditions when the weather is hot and warmer conditions when it is cold, helping seabirds regulate their body temperatures.

UniSA researchers, Tim Davis and Associate Professor Gunnar Keppel, say that councils, residents and tourists must be educated about the ecological role of sea wrack and how removing it from beaches can have a significant impact on the environment and the survival of bird species.

"Australian beaches are renowned for stretches of golden sand -- it's one of the main drawcards for tourists -- so it's not altogether surprising that beachside destinations tend to favour a seaweed-free coastline," Davis says.

"The challenge is, however, that while people may see beach-cast sea wrack as an eye-sore, it actually has an ecological role to fulfill, particularly for migratory shorebirds.

"Our research shows that sea wrack provides important microclimates to help seabirds regulate their body temperatures -- they mostly forage, rest and roost in the older, dryer wrack, which is warm throughout most of the day. However, they also seek refuge among fresh wrack in the early mornings when it is the warmest habitat available.

"Shore birds move between the different wrack types depending on the prevalent weather conditions. This helps them conserve and build sufficient energy stores for successful migration and reproduction in overseas breeding grounds.

"When sea wrack is removed, then so too are the habitats of these sea birds, and this can have a devastating impact on their populations."

Globally, beach-cast wrack is removed from many beaches worldwide, either for aesthetic reasons to increase tourism, for fertilisers, or to extract alginate for applications in the food and beverage industry, and the biomedical and bioengineering fields.

Currently, Australian has no guidelines for harvesting wrack.

"Sustainable management of all aspects of coastal environments is essential if we are to conserve the livelihoods of the species that rely upon them," Davis says.

"Until a code of practice is established, our coastal ecosystems will remain under threat."

Timothy John Davis, Gunnar Keppel. Fine‐scale environmental heterogeneity and conservation management: Beach‐cast wrack creates microhabitats for thermoregulation in shorebirds. Journal of Applied Ecology, 2021; 58 (6): 1291 DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13865 Image: Beach-cast sea wrack has an ecological role to fulfill, particularly for migratory shorebirds.

Clean Bill Of Health For Macquarie Island Marine Life

June 5, 2021
Australian Antarctic Division scientists have taken a novel approach to assessing the success of a fuel spill clean-up on Macquarie Island. After more than a decade of remediation at terrestrial sites near the station’s power house and fuel farm, a team led by Dr Catherine King looked at the risk to marine invertebrates of any remaining groundwater contamination leaching into the adjacent marine environment.

The team used ‘multiple lines of evidence’ and a novel ‘expert judgement response matrix’ to assess the toxicity of remnant hydrocarbons and nutrients.

This approach enabled them to delve deeper into the data than traditional statistical models allow.

It also helped address the challenges of conducting an ecotoxicological study at the remote and difficult to access site.

“When conducting toxicity tests in Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic, there is a limit to how many samples and species we can test, because of the small weather window we have and the limited number and diversity of organisms compared to other parts of the world,” Dr King said.

“Polar organisms also have slower metabolisms than temperate or tropical species, so tests take longer, which complicates their interpretation.

“The expert judgement response matrix looks beyond the statistical model that estimates lethal concentrations, and accounts for other lines of evidence of toxicity – including what we know about the marine environment and the likely duration of exposure.”

Holistic approach to risk
To determine the toxicity of the groundwater runoff the team exposed 11 marine invertebrate species, including gastropods, bivalves, flatworms, copepods, isopods and amphipods, to seven test solutions.

This amphipod (Paramoera sp.) and bivalve (Lasaea hinemoa) had a high tolerance to remnant fuel contaminants in groundwater discharge from remediated fuel spill sites on Macquarie Island. Photo: Catherine King

These test solutions represented the range of residual hydrocarbon and nutrient contaminants released from 22 discharge sites, that were grouped based on their chemical properties.

Invertebrates were exposed to each undiluted solution for up to 21 days to look at behavioural responses and survival.

Using the expert judgement response matrix the team found that across the 110 test solution-species combinations, toxicity was observed in 36 cases, while 74 showed no response.

Study co-author Dr Jane Wasley said that for all the test solutions in which there was a response, greater than 10% mortality was not observed until at least four days of continuous exposure.

Some species took at least two weeks to reach these rates of mortality.

“Although toxicity was observed by some species to some test solutions, tests were conducted under worst case scenario conditions,” Dr Wasley said.

“It is therefore unlikely the groundwater discharge would have a detrimental effect on marine communities, given that at least four days of constant exposure was required to elicit a response.”

Dr King said that this prolonged and concentrated exposure is unlikely to ever occur naturally, given the combination of low groundwater discharge, high rainfall, and the “highly energetic receiving environment” – with the action of waves and tides that immediately dilute and disperse contaminants.

“As a result, residual contamination in groundwater at remediated sites is unlikely to represent a risk to the adjacent marine communities,” Dr King said.

One of the remidiation sites. Photo: Australian Antarctic Division

She said the different sensitivities of different species highlighted the need to test many different species in such risk assessments.

“The number of species we tested and the more holistic approach to assessing toxicity using the expert judgement matrix makes this one of the most comprehensives toxicity studies ever done in the sub-Antarctic.”

Macquarie Island station and the isthmus. Photo: Chris Howard

Matt Canavan suggested the cold snap means global warming isn't real. We bust this and 2 other climate myths

Steven Saphore/AAP
Nerilie AbramAustralian National UniversityMartin De KauweUNSW, and Sarah Perkins-KirkpatrickUNSW

Senator Matt Canavan sent many eyeballs rolling yesterday when he tweeted photos of snowy scenes in regional New South Wales with a sardonic two-word caption: “climate change”.

Canavan, a renowned opponent of climate action and proponent of the coal industry, appeared to be suggesting that the existence of an isolated cold snap means global warming isn’t real.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously insisted there is “no dispute in this country about the issue of climate change, globally, and its effect on global weather patterns”. But Canavan’s tweet would suggest otherwise.

The reality is, as the climate warms, record-breaking cold weather is becoming less common. And one winter storm does not negate more than a century of human-caused global warming. Here, we take a closer look at the cold weather misconception and two other common climate change myths.

Myth #1: A Cold Snap Means Global Warming Isn’t Happening

Canavan’s tweet is an example of a common tactic used by climate change deniers that deliberately conflates weather and climate.

Parts of Australia are currently in the grip of a cold snap as icy air from Antarctica is funnelled up over the eastern states. This is part of a normal weather system, and is temporary.

Climate, on the other hand, refers to weather conditions over a much longer period, such as several decades. And as our climate warms, the probability of such weather systems bringing record-breaking cold temperatures reduces dramatically.

Just as average temperatures in Australia have risen markedly over the past century, so too have winter temperatures. That doesn’t mean climate change is not happening. In a warming world, extremely cold winter temperatures can still occur, but less often than they used to.

In fact, human-caused climate change means extreme winter warmth now occurs more often, and across larger parts of the country. Record-breaking hot events in Australia now far outweigh record breaking cold events.

Extreme cold and warm winter temperatures in Australia
Percentage of Australia experiencing extreme cold (bottom 10%) and extreme warmth (top 10%) in winter since 1910. Data from the Bureau of Meteorology.

Myth #2: Global Warming Is Good For Us

Yes, climate change may bring isolated benefits. For example, warmer global temperatures may mean fewer people die from extreme cold weather, or that shorter shipping routes open up across the Arctic as sea ice melts.

But the perverse benefits that may flow from climate change will be far outweighed by the damage caused.

Extreme heat can be fatal for humans. And a global study found 37% of heat-related deaths are a direct consequence of human-caused climate change. That means nearly 3,000 deaths in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne between 1991 and 2018 were due to climate change.

Extreme heat and humidity may make some parts of the world, especially those near the Equator, essentially uninhabitable by the end of this century.

Global warming also kills plants, animals and ecosystems. In 2018, an estimated one-third of Australia’s spectacled flying foxes died when temperatures around Cairns reached 42℃. And there is evidence many Australian plants will not cope well in a warmer world – and are already nearing their tipping point.

Heatwaves also damage oceans. The Great Barrier Reef has suffered three mass bleaching events in just five years. Within decades the natural wonder is unlikely to exist in is current form – badly hurting employment and tourism.

Read more: Climate change is making ocean waves more powerful, threatening to erode many coastlines

Myth #3: More CO₂ Means Earth Will Definitely Get Greener

In January last year, News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt caused a stir with an article that suggested rising carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions were “greening the planet” and were therefore “a good thing”.

During photosynthesis, plants absorb CO₂. So as the concentration of CO₂ in the atmosphere increases, some researchers predict the planet will become greener and crop yields will increase.

Consistent with this hypothesis, there is indirect evidence of increased global photosynthesis and satellite-observed greening. There is also indirect evidence of increased “carbon sinks”, whereby CO₂ is drawn down from the atmosphere by plants, then stored in soil.

Rising temperatures lead to an earlier onset of spring, as well as prolonged summer plant growth – particularly in the Northern Hemisphere. Researchers think this has triggered an increase in the land carbon sink.

However, there’s also widespread evidence some trees are not growing as might be expected given the increased CO₂ levels in our atmosphere. For example, a study of how Australian eucalypts might respond to future CO₂ concentrations has so far found no increase in growth.

Increased plant growth may also cause them to use more water, causing significant reductions in streamflow that will compound water availability issues in dry regions.

Overall, attempts to reconcile the various lines of evidence of how climate change will alter Earth’s land vegetation have proved challenging.

So, Are We Doomed?

After all this bad news, you might be feeling a bit dejected. And true, the current outlook isn’t great.

Earth has already warmed by about 1℃, and current policies have the world on track for at least 3℃ warming this century. But there is still reason for hope. While every extra bit of warming matters, so too does every action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

And there are promising signs of increasing ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the global front – from the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan and others.

Unfortunately, Australia is far behind our international peers, instead pushing the burden of action onto future generations. We now need the political leadership to set our country, and the world, on a safer and more secure path. Ill-informed tweets by senior members of the government only set back the cause.

Read more: Spot the difference: as world leaders rose to the occasion at the Biden climate summit, Morrison faltered The Conversation

Nerilie Abram, Professor; ARC Future Fellow; Chief Investigator for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes; Deputy Director for the Australian Centre for Excellence in Antarctic Science, Australian National UniversityMartin De Kauwe, Senior lecturer, UNSW, and Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, ARC Future Fellow, UNSW

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

The Next 20 Are Years Crucial In Determining The Future Of Coal

June 8, 2021
Decisions made now will determine whether economies win or lose money as the coal industry changes over the next couple of decades. Countries including Australia and Indonesia could lose billions of dollars if they continue to invest in new coal mines and exports as the world moves away from fossil fuels.

These are the conclusions of a new analysis led by a team from Imperial College London and including researchers from Queen Mary University of London and Deloitte, which is published today in the journal Joule.

The team combined data on coal resources and demand in an economic model of trade and prices. They modelled the risk of 'stranded assets' for coal investment under different decarbonisation scenarios: business as usual, where investment in coal mining and consumptions continues as it does today, and a sustainable pathway where coal consumption is reduced in line with keeping global heating to well below 2°C.

Following the sustainable pathway results in a third of today's coal mines becoming stranded assets by 2040. This means these assets become economically unviable before their operating lifetime ends, and have to be scrapped. This will cause coal-producing nations such as Australia and Indonesia to lose vital export revenues and jobs as international trade shrinks. For example, Australia could lose $25 billion per year in this scenario, and globally 2.2 million jobs could be at risk.

However, these losses are avoidable, say the authors, if financial institutions and governments prepare for the change. This could include divesting early from coal to prevent locking in future development, and by funding the retraining of coal workers.

Lead researcher Dr Iain Staffell, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial: "This is not to say that not all new coal investments -- such as the deep mine planned Cumbria -- will be unprofitable, but investors must carefully assess the financial as well as reputational and environmental risks when pursuing new coal mining projects."

For many world regions there are great economic benefits to phasing out coal. China, Europe and India would save money under the sustainable pathway, as they face reduced costs from importing less coal. Europe, for example, could gain $20 billion per year as coal is phased out.

Overall, the researchers estimate the sustainable pathway gives a global net saving of $10 billion per year by 2040 from reduced coal transportation costs, on top of the economic savings from reduced air pollution and health consequences.

Importantly, the authors say that under the business-as-usual scenario many more economies are likely to be losers: the longer the world waits to phase out coal, the more extreme the measures to reduce carbon emissions will need to be, leading to more stranded assets and job losses in the long run.

Dr Staffell said: "Businesses have a limited window of opportunity to get out in front of the sweeping changes that face the coal industry. We must build the human and financial resilience so that workers do not lose out, and make the transition to a coal-free world easier.

"The financial and job losses are small on a global scale, but they will be heavily concentrated in mining regions, meaning some developing economies, like Indonesia, will disproportionately suffer if the transition isn't managed carefully. When economic and job losses start to happen it will be too late -- we need to start preparing for these changes now."

The mining and consumption of coal is being rapidly phased out in many Western nations, but global coal consumption is rising, especially in Asia, which is home to three-quarters of all new coal power plant capacity.

China opened many new coal mines in the 2000s, which have a lifetime of about 30 years. The decisions countries like China and India make in the coming years around whether they continue to mine and consume coal will have a huge impact on the global trajectory, say the team.

Similarly, India's energy consumption is booming, and if new coal capacity is built to meet demand rather than renewables, the world will be locked into more decades of coal trade and consumption, negatively affecting both the climate and the global economy.

First author Thomas Auger undertook the analysis as part of his MSc in Environmental Technology in the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial in partnership with Deloitte, which provided him access to coal market data. He said: "The wealth of knowledge from the combination of academia and industry provided us with an unprecedented opportunity to analyse not just the global situation over the next 20 years, but also how individual countries would fare.

"Our analysis shows there will be big winners and losers from this transition, but the future is not set in stone. The more governments anticipate the green transition, the more its impacts in terms of economic stability and disruption to people's livelihoods would be minimised."

Thomas Auger, Johannes Trüby, Paul Balcombe, Iain Staffell. The future of coal investment, trade, and stranded assets. Joule, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.joule.2021.05.008

New Population Of Pygmy Blue Whales Discovered With Help Of Bomb Detectors

June 8, 2021
Blue whales may be the biggest animals in the world, but they're also some of the hardest to find. Not only are they rare (it's estimated that less than 0.15 per cent of blue whales in the Southern Hemisphere survived whaling), they're also reclusive by nature and can cover vast areas of ocean. But now, a team of scientists led by UNSW Sydney are confident they've discovered a new population of pygmy blue whales, the smallest subspecies of blue whales, in the Indian Ocean.

And it was the whales' powerful singing -- recorded by underwater bomb detectors -- that gave them away.

"We've found a whole new group of pygmy blue whales right in the middle of the Indian Ocean," says UNSW Professor Tracey Rogers, marine ecologist and senior author of the study.

"We don't know how many whales are in this group, but we suspect it's a lot by the enormous number of calls we hear."

The discovery was made possible using data from the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), an organisation that monitors international nuclear bomb testing.

Since 2002, the CTBTO have been using advanced underwater microphones (called 'hydrophones') to detect soundwaves from potential nuclear bomb tests. The recordings -- which pick up many other detailed ocean sounds -- are available to scientists to use for their marine science research.

The UNSW-led team were studying the data when they found an unusually strong signal: a whale song that had previously been identified in the recordings, but that scientists still knew little about. After closely studying its composition (details like the song's structure, frequency and tempo), they realised that it belonged to a group of pygmy blue whales -- but not any of the ones previously recorded in the area.

"I think it's pretty cool that the same system that keeps the world safe from nuclear bombs allows us to find new whale populations, which long-term can help us study the health of the marine environment," says Prof. Rogers.

Pygmy blue whales are the smallest members of the blue whale family, but that's the only small thing about them: they can reach up to 24 metres' long, which is almost the length of two standard buses.

If visual sightings confirm this new population, they would become the fifth population of pygmy blue whales to be discovered in the Indian Ocean.

The findings, recently published in Scientific Reports, have come in time for World Oceans Day.

"Blue whales in the Southern Hemisphere are difficult to study because they live offshore and don't jump around -- they're not show-ponies like the humpback whales," says Prof. Rogers.

"Without these audio recordings, we'd have no idea there was this huge population of blue whales out in the middle of the equatorial Indian Ocean."

A chorus of whales
Dr Emmanuelle Leroy, the lead author of the study and former postdoctoral researcher at UNSW Science, is a bioacoustician -- someone who studies how animals create and receive sounds. She was studying the CTBTO data when she noticed a peculiar pattern emerging.

"At first, I noticed a lot of horizontal lines on the spectrogram," says Dr Leroy. "These lines at particular frequencies reflect a strong signal, so there was a lot of energy there."

To find out if the signal was a random blip or something more, Dr Leroy and the team scanned 18 years' worth of CTBTO data -- the entire available dataset since the recording started -- to look for any wider patterns.

They found the songs weren't just a random occurrence.

"Thousands of these songs were being produced every year," she says. "They formed a major part of the ocean's acoustic soundscape.

"The songs couldn't have just been coming from a couple of whales -- they had to be from an entire population."

Singing a simple tune
Like many other whales, blue whales are powerful singers: scientists estimate their songs can travel anywhere between 200 and 500 kilometres. These songs are very low frequency (barely audible to the human ear) and have a different structure to other whales' songs.

"Humpback whales are like jazz singers," says Prof. Rogers. "They change their songs all the time.

"Blue whales, on the other hand, are more traditional. They sing very structured, simple songs."

Music style can even change within a whale species: each of the known pygmy blue whale populations in the Indian Ocean sing slightly different melodies. Prof. Rogers says these musical differences are similar to generational slang between humans.

"We still don't know whether they're born with their songs or whether they've learnt it," she says.

"But it's fascinating that within the Indian Ocean you have animals intersecting with one another all the time but whales from different regions still retain their distinctive songs. Their songs are like a fingerprint that allows us to track them as they move over thousands of kilometres."

Dr Leroy compared the acoustic features of the song with the three other blue whale song-types known in the Indian Ocean, as well as with four types of Omura's whale songs (another whale in the area) -- but the evidence pointed towards this being an entirely new population of blue whales.

The team named the newly-found population 'Chagos', after the archipelago they were detected nearby.

"We suspect that the whales singing the Chagos song move at different times across the Indian Ocean," says Prof. Rogers.

"We found them not only in the central Indian Ocean, but as far north as the Sri Lankan coastline and as far east in the Indian Ocean as the Kimberley coast in northern Western Australia."

While the team are confident in their findings, Dr Leroy says it's impossible to confirm the species without a visual observation. Visual sightings for such an elusive animal can be tricky and expensive to fund, so it's unlikely this will be verified anytime soon.

"If it isn't a blue whale, it definitely sings like one," says Dr Leroy.

A big find for conservation
The finding is big news for marine conservation, as blue whales were brought to the edge of extinction after whaling in the 20th Century.

And unlike many other types of whales in the Southern Hemisphere, their numbers haven't sprung back.

"Discovering a new population is the first step to protecting it," says Dr Leroy.

Acoustic information hidden in whale songs can also teach us more about the animals, like their spatial distribution, migration patterns and population numbers. A previous study led by Dr Leroy even found the changing pitch of blue whales' songs could be a response to the noise of cracking icebergs.

Prof. Rogers is now leading a team using the CTBTO data to study how the Chagos population has changed over time. The findings could teach us how the whales adapted to warming ocean temperatures over the past 18 years -- and how they might fare moving into the future.

"The largest animal in the world is one of the hardest ones to actually study," says Prof. Rogers.

"There are many more of these blue whales out there than we've realised -- and we've only been able to find them with the help of this international infrastructure."

Emmanuelle C. Leroy, Jean-Yves Royer, Abigail Alling, Ben Maslen, Tracey L. Rogers. Multiple pygmy blue whale acoustic populations in the Indian Ocean: whale song identifies a possible new population. Scientific Reports, 2021; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-88062-5

Ocean Microplastics: First Global View Shows Seasonal Changes And Sources

June 10, 2021
An estimated 8 million tons of plastic trash enters the ocean each year, and most of it is battered by sun and waves into microplastics -- tiny flecks that can ride currents hundreds or thousands of miles from their point of entry. The debris can harm sea life and marine ecosystems, and it's extremely difficult to track and clean up.

Now, University of Michigan researchers have developed a new way to spot ocean microplastics across the globe and track them over time, providing a day-by-day timeline of where they enter the water, how they move and where they tend to collect.

The approach relies on the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, or CYGNSS, and can give a global view or zoom in on small areas for a high-resolution picture of microplastic releases from a single location.

The technique is a major improvement over current tracking methods, which rely mainly on spotty reports from plankton trawlers that net microplastics along with their catch.

"We're still early in the research process, but I hope this can be part of a fundamental change in how we track and manage microplastic pollution," said Chris Ruf, the Frederick Bartman Collegiate Professor of Climate and Space Science at U-M, principal investigator of CYGNSS and senior author on a newly published paper on the work.

Their initial observations are revealing.

Season changes in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
The team found that global microplastic concentrations tend to vary by season, peaking in the North Atlantic and Pacific during the Northern Hemisphere's summer months. June and July, for example, are the peak months for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a convergence zone in the North Pacific where microplastic collects in massive quantities.

Concentrations in the Southern Hemisphere peak during its summer months of January and February. Concentrations tend to be lower during the winter, likely due to a combination of stronger currents that break up microplastic plumes and increased vertical mixing that drives them further beneath the water's surface, researchers say.

The data also showed several brief spikes in microplastic concentration at the mouth of the Yangtze River -- long suspected to be a chief source.

"It's one thing to suspect a source of microplastic pollution, but quite another to see it happening," Ruf said. "The microplastics data that has been available in the past has been so sparse, just brief snapshots that aren't repeatable."

The researchers produced visualizations that show microplastic concentrations around the globe. Often the areas of accumulation are due to prevailing local water currents and convergence zones, with the Pacific patch being the most extreme example.

"What makes the plumes from major river mouths noteworthy is that they are a source into the ocean, as opposed to places where the microplastics tend to accumulate," Ruf said.

Ruf says the information could help organizations that clean up microplastics deploy ships and other resources more efficiently. The researchers are already in talks with a Dutch cleanup organization, The Ocean Cleanup, on working together to validate the team's initial findings. Single-point release data may also be useful to the United Nations agency UNESCO, which has sponsored a task force to find new ways to track the release of microplastics into the world's waters.

Hurricane-tracking satellites set their sights on plastic pollution
Developed by Ruf and U-M undergraduate Madeline Evans, the tracking method uses existing data from CYGNSS, a system of eight microsatellites launched in 2016 to monitor weather near the heart of large storm systems and bolster predictions on their severity. Ruf leads the CYGNSS mission.

The key to the process is ocean surface roughness, which CYGNSS already measures using radar. The measurements have mainly been used to calculate wind speed near the eyes of hurricanes, but Ruf wondered whether they might have other uses as well.

"We'd been taking these radar measurements of surface roughness and using them to measure wind speed, and we knew that the presence of stuff in the water alters its responsiveness to the environment," Ruf said. "So I got the idea of doing the whole thing backward, using changes in responsiveness to predict the presence of stuff in the water."

Using independent wind speed measurements from NOAA, the team looked for places where the ocean seemed less rough than it should be given the wind speed. They then matched those areas up with actual observations from plankton trawlers and ocean current models that predict the migration of microplastic. They found a high correlation between the smoother areas and those with more microplastic.

Ruf's team believes the changes in ocean roughness may not be caused directly by the microplastics, but instead by surfactants -- a family of oily or soapy compounds that lower the surface tension on a liquid's surface. Surfactants tend to accompany microplastics in the ocean, both because they're often released along with microplastics and because they travel and collect in similar ways once they're in the water.

Madeline C. Evans, Christopher S. Ruf. Toward the Detection and Imaging of Ocean Microplastics With a Spaceborne Radar. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, 2021; 1 DOI: 10.1109/TGRS.2021.3081691

Maori Connections To Antarctica May Go As Far Back As 7th Century

June 9, 2021
Indigenous Maori people may have set eyes on Antarctic waters and perhaps the continent as early as the 7th century, new research published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand shows. Over the last 200 years, narratives about the Antarctic have been of those carried out by predominantly European male explorers.

However, this new study uncovers the story of the deep-rooted connections of Maori (and Polynesian) people with Antarctica dating back as far as the seventh century and continuing into the present day.

"We found connections to Antarctica and its waters have been occurring since the earliest traditional voyaging, and later through participation in European-led voyaging and exploration, contemporary scientific research, fishing, and more for centuries," explains lead author Dr Priscilla Wehi, from Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research the organisation which led the project, alongside researchers from Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

"Our exploration begins to construct a richer and more inclusive picture of Antarctica's relationship with humanity and builds a platform on which much wider conversations about New Zealand relationships with Antarctica can be furthered."

The study was compiled by a team of researchers who scanned literature and integrated this with oral histories. The outcome is a compiled record of Maori presence in, and perspectives of, Antarctic narratives and exploration, which -- the team states -- "plays an important role" to fill knowledge gaps about both Maori and Antarctic exploration.

And these stories start as far back as 1,320 years ago.

"We find Polynesian narratives of voyaging between the islands include voyaging into Antarctic waters by Hui Te Rangiora (also known as Ūi Te Rangiora) and his crew on the vessel Te Ivi o Atea, likely in the early seventh century," Wehi says.

"These navigational accomplishments are widely acknowledged; and Maori navigators are described as traversing the Pacific much as Western explorers might a lake.

"In some narratives, Hui Te Rangiora and his crew continued south. A long way south. In so doing, they likely set eyes on Antarctic waters and perhaps the continent."

Other evidence gathered includes Maori carvings, which depict both voyagers and navigational and astronomical knowledge.

"As well," Wehi says, "a 'pou whakairo' (translating as carved post), represents Tamarereti as protector of the southern oceans stands on the southernmost tip of the South Island of New Zealand at Bluff. Ngāi Tahu, the largest tribal group in the South Island, and other tribal groups or iwi also cherish other oral repositories of knowledge in relation to these early explorers and voyagers."

These Maori narratives of connections with Antarctic were not limited to these early voyages either. Rather, voyaging and expedition was shown to continue to the present day; "but is rarely acknowledged or highlighted," Wehi says.

And this research, she hopes, will begin more on the path to ensure inclusion of Maori in future relationships with Antarctica.

"Taking account of responsibilities to under-represented groups, and particularly Maori as Treaty partners, is important for both contemporary and future programmes of Antarctic research, as well as for future exploration of New Zealand's obligations within the Antarctic Treaty System."

Concluding, she says: "Growing more Maori Antarctic scientists and incorporating Maori perspectives will add depth to New Zealand's research programmes and ultimately the protection and management of Antarctica."

Further evidence of Maori exploration is likely to enter the public domain in future as tribal researchers partner with iwi to share these narratives, and Maori leadership in Antarctic research grows more visible, including that of the Kāhui Maori in the Antarctic Science Platform.

Priscilla M. Wehi, Nigel J. Scott, Jacinta Beckwith, Rata Pryor Rodgers, Tasman Gillies, Vincent Van Uitregt, Krushil Watene. A short scan of Māori journeys to Antarctica. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 2021; 1 DOI: 10.1080/03036758.2021.1917633

Image: The view of Te Kaiwhakatere o te Raki looking outward across the Ross Ice Shelf. © A short scan of Māori journeys to Antarctica / Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand

Tasmania's reached net-zero emissions and 100% renewables – but climate action doesn't stop there

Rupert PosnerClimateWorks Australia and Simon GrahamClimateWorks Australia

Getting to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100% renewable energy might seem the end game for climate action. But what if, like Tasmania, you’ve already ticked both those goals off your list?

Net-zero means emissions are still being generated, but they’re offset by the same amount elsewhere. Tasmania reached net-zero in 2015, because its vast forests and other natural landscapes absorb and store more carbon each year than the state emits.

And in November last year, Tasmania became fully powered by renewable electricity, thanks to the island state’s wind and hydro-electricity projects.

The big question for Tasmania now is: what comes next? Rather than considering the job done, it should seize opportunities including more renewable energy, net-zero industrial exports and forest preservation – and show the world what the other side of net-zero should look like.

electricity transmission lines
Hydro-electric power and wind energy mean Tasmania runs on 100% renewable energy. Shutterstock

A Good Start

The Tasmanian experience shows emissions reduction is more straightforward in some places than others.

The state’s high rainfall and mountainous topography mean it has abundant hydro-electric resources. And the state’s windy north is well suited to wind energy projects.

What’s more, almost half the state’s 6.81 million hectares comprises forest, which acts as a giant carbon “sink” that sucks up dioxide (CO₂) from the atmosphere.

Given Tasmania’s natural assets, it makes sense for the state to go further on climate action, even if its goals have been met.

Read more: Net-zero, carbon-neutral, carbon-negative ... confused by all the carbon jargon? Then read this

The Tasmanian government has gone some way to recognising this, by legislating a target of 200% renewable electricity by 2040.

Under the target, Tasmania would produce twice its current electricity needs and export the surplus. It would be delivered to the mainland via the proposed A$3.5 billion Marinus Link cable to be built between Tasmania and Victoria. The 1,500 megawatt cable would bolster the existing 500 megawatt Basslink cable.

But Tasmania’s climate action should not stop there.

artist impression of marinus link
The Marinus Link would provide a second electricity connection from Tasmania to the mainland.

Other Opportunities Await

Tasmania can use its abundant renewable electricity to decarbonise existing industrial areas. It can also create new, greener industrial precincts – clusters of manufacturers powered by renewable electricity and other zero-emissions fuels such as green hydrogen.

Zero-emission hydrogen, aluminium and other goods produced in these precincts will become increasingly sought after by countries and other states with their own net-zero commitments.

Read more: 'Green steel' is hailed as the next big thing in Australian industry. Here's what the hype is all about

Tasmania’s vast forests could be an additional source of economic value if they were preserved and expanded, rather than logged. As well as supporting tourism, preserving forests could enable Tasmania to sell carbon credits to other jurisdictions and businesses seeking to offset their emissions, such as through the federal government’s Emissions Reduction Fund.

The ocean surrounding Tasmania also presents net-zero economic opportunities. For example, local company Sea Forest is developing a seaweed product to be added to the feed of livestock, dramatically reducing the methane they emit.

logs on a truck
Retaining, rather than logging, Tasmania’s forests presents an economic opportunity. Shutterstock

Concrete Targets Are Needed

The Tasmanian government has commissioned a review of its climate change legislation, and is also revising its climate change action plan.

These updates give Tasmania a chance to be a global model for a post-net-zero world. But without firm action, Tasmania risks sliding backwards.

While having reached net-zero, the state has not legislated or set a requirement to maintain it. The state’s current legislated emission target is a 60% reduction by 2050 on 1990 levels – which, hypothetically, means Tasmania could increase its emissions in future.

Read more: In a landmark judgment, the Federal Court found the environment minister has a duty of care to young people

Also, despite reaching net-zero emissions, Tasmania still emits more than 8.36 million tonnes of CO₂ each year from sources such as transport, natural gas use, industry and agriculture. Tasmania’s emissions from all sectors other than electricity and land use have increased by 4.5% since 2005.

Without a net-zero target set in law – and a plan to stay there – these emissions could overtake those drawn down by Tasmania’s forests. In fact, a background paper prepared for the Tasmanian government shows the state’s emissions may rise in the coming years and stay “positive” until 2040 or later.

The legislation update should also include a process to set emissions targets for each sector of the economy, as Victoria has done. It should also set ambitious targets for “negative” emissions – which means sequestering more CO₂ than is emitted.

Industrial plant billowing smoke
Tasmania must cut emissions from industry and other sectors. Shutterstock

Action On All Fronts

Under the Paris Agreement, the world is pursuing efforts to limit global warming to 1.5℃ this century. For Australia to be in line with this goal, it must reach net-zero by the mid-2030s.

Meeting this momentous task requires action on all fronts, in all jurisdictions. Bigger states and territories are aiming for substantial emissions reductions this decade. Tasmania must at least keep its emissions net-negative, and decrease them further.

Tasmania has a golden opportunity. With the right policies, the state can solidify its climate credentials and create a much-needed economic boost as the world transitions to a low-carbon future.The Conversation

Rupert Posner, Systems Lead - Sustainable Economies, ClimateWorks Australia and Simon Graham, Senior Analyst, ClimateWorks Australia

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

Tracking the transition: the ‘forgotten’ emissions undoing the work of Australia's renewable energy boom

Hugh SaddlerAustralian National University and Frank JotzoAustralian National University

World leaders including Prime Minister Scott Morrison will gather in the UK this weekend for the G7 summit. In a speech on Wednesday ahead of the meeting, Morrison said Australia recognises the need to reach net-zero emissions in order to tackle climate change, and expects to achieve the goal by 2050.

So has Australia started the journey towards deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions?

In the electricity supply system, the answer is yes, as renewables form an ever-greater share of the electricity mix. But elsewhere in the energy sector – in transport, industry and buildings – there has been little or no progress.

This situation needs to change. These other parts of the energy system contribute nearly 40% of all national greenhouse gas emissions – and the share is growing. In a new working paper out today, we propose a way to track the low-carbon transition across the energy sector and check progress over the last decade.

woman cooks in kitchen with gas stove
Energy emissions from buildings, such as from gas cooktops, have largely escaped scrutiny. Shutterstock

A Stark Contrast

The energy sector can be separated into three major types of energy use in Australia:

  • electricity generation
  • transport and mobile equipment used in mining, farming, and construction
  • all other segments, mainly fossil fuel combustion to provide heat in industry and buildings.

In 2018-19, energy sector emissions accounted for 72% of Australia’s national total. Transition from fossil fuels to zero-emissions sources is at the heart of any strategy to cut emissions deeply.

The transition is already happening in electricity generation, as wind and solar supplies increase and coal-fired power stations close or operate less.

But in stark contrast, elsewhere in the sector there is no evidence of a meaningful low-emissions transition or acceleration in energy efficiency improvement.

This matters greatly because in 2019, these other segments contributed 53% of total energy combustion emissions and 38% of national greenhouse gas emissions. Total energy sector emissions increased between 2005 (the reference year for Australia’s Paris target) and 2019.

As the below graphic shows, while the renewables transition often gets the credit for Australia’s emissions reductions, falls since 2005 are largely down to changes in land use and forestry.

Made with Flourish

Let’s take a closer look at the areas where Australia could do far better in future.

1. Transport And Mobile Equipment

Transport includes road and rail transport, domestic aviation and coastal shipping. Mobile equipment includes machinery such as excavators and dump trucks used in mining, as well as tractors, bulldozers and other equipment used in farming and construction. Petroleum supplies almost 99% of the energy consumed by these machines.

Road transport is responsible for more than two-thirds of all the energy consumed by transport and mobile equipment.

What’s more, prior to COVID, energy use by transport and mobile equipment was steadily growing – as were emissions. The absence of fuel efficiency standards in Australia, and a trend towards larger cars, has contributed to the problem.

Electric vehicles offer great hope for cutting emissions from the transport sector. As Australia’s electricity grid continues to decarbonise, emissions associated with electric vehicles charged from the grid will keep falling.

cars on freeway from rear
Electric vehicles would slash road transport emissions. Shutterstock

2. Other Energy Emissions

Emissions from all other parts of the energy system arise mainly from burning:

  • gas to provide heat for buildings and manufacturing, and for the power needed to liquefy gas to make LNG
  • coal, for a limited range of heavy manufacturing activities, such as steel and cement production
  • petroleum products (mainly LPG) in much smaller quantities, where natural gas is unavailable or otherwise unsuitable.

Emissions from these sources, as a share of national emissions, rose from 13% in 2005 to 19% in 2019.

These types of emissions can be reduced through electrification – that is, using low- or zero-carbon electricity in industry and buildings. This might include using induction cooktops, and electric heat pumps to heat buildings and water.

However the data offer no evidence of such a shift. Fossil fuel use in this segment has declined, but mainly due to less manufacturing activity rather than cleaner energy supply.

And in 2018 and 2019, the expanding LNG industry drove further emissions growth, offsetting the decline in use of gas and coal in manufacturing.

Made with Flourish

How To Track Progress

Over the past decade or so, Australia’s emissions reduction policies – such as they are – have focused on an increasingly narrow range of emission sources and reduction opportunities, in particular electricity generation.

Only now are electric vehicles beginning to be taken seriously, while energy efficiency – a huge opportunity to cut emissions and costs – is typically ignored.

Our paper proposes a large set of new indicators, designed to show what’s happening (and not happening) across the energy sector.

The indicators fall into four groups:

  • greenhouse gas emissions from energy use

  • primary fuel mix including for electricity generation

  • final energy consumption including energy use efficiency

  • the fuel/technology mix used to deliver energy services to consumers.

Our datasets excludes the effects of 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns. They’re based on data contained in established government publications: The Australian Energy Statistics, the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory and the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ national accounts and population estimates.

By systematically tracking and analysing these indicators, and combining them with others, Australia’s energy transition can be monitored on an ongoing basis. This would complement the great level of detail already available for electricity generation. It would also create better public understanding and focus policy attention on areas that need it.

In some countries, government agencies monitor the energy transition in great detail. In some cases, such as Germany, independent experts also conduct systematic and substantial analysis as part of an annual process.

The Road Ahead

Australia has begun the journey to a zero-emissions energy sector. But we must get a move-on in transport, industry and buildings.

The technical opportunities are there. What’s now needed is government regulation and policy to encourage investment in zero-emissions technologies for both supplying and using all forms of energy.

And once available, the technology should be deployed now and in coming years, not in the distant future.

Read more: Check your mirrors: 3 things rooftop solar can teach us about Australia's electric car rollout The Conversation

Hugh Saddler, Honorary Associate Professor, Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, Australian National University and Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Australian National University

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

New Plan To Revitalise NSW's Oldest Park By Installing Mountain Bike Trails

One of Sydney's most loved natural destinations, the spectacular Royal National Park is set for a major revitalisation. Greater Sydney Branch Director Deon van Rensburg said the draft Plan of Management (PoM) maps out how the Park will be protected and showcased as one of the nation's most important natural areas.

"With around 6 million visits per year Royal National Park is one of Australia's most popular parks. It is also on Australia's National Heritage List as a place of outstanding significance to the nation," Mr van Rensburg said.

"Royal National Park together with nearby Heathcote National Park and Garrawarra State Conservation Area, protect one of the most biodiverse areas in Australia, supporting more than 1000 plant and 350 animal species, including some of the most significant vegetation remaining in the Sydney Basin.

"Management priorities include freshwater wetlands, heathlands, rainforest, shorelines and grassy woodlands that support the Parks' rich animal biodiversity.

"The world's second oldest national park, Royal is a stunning place and one of our most visited parks where sites like Wattamolla and Audley attract thousands of visitors every weekend.

"The Plan will guide the future management and protection of the natural and cultural values, while providing opportunities for people of all ages, cultures and abilities to enjoy these much-loved places.

"This includes improvements and restoration at popular visitor precincts including upgrades to the historic 82-year-old Audley Boatshed, providing undercover space for picnics and a new open pavilion so that visitors can continue to enjoy the beautiful Port Hacking River.

"At Wattamolla, another popular visitor precinct, new amenities include better picnic areas, access improvements and a new walking track to the beach.

"To manage sustainable mountain biking in these areas a Royal Parks Mountain Biking Plan is also available for public comment.

"This is a great way for the millions of people who love and use these Parks to have a say in how these precious natural assets are managed into the future," Mr van Rensburg said.

The Plan now on exhibition has been prepared with extensive consultation from key stakeholders and your views are important.
You can have your say until 2 August 2021 at Royal parks Draft Plan of Management: public consultation.

The most endangered seals in the world once called Australia home

Peter TruslerAuthor provided
James Patrick RuleMonash UniversityErich FitzgeraldMuseums Victoria, and Justin W. AdamsMonash University

Monk seals are one of the most endangered marine mammals alive today, with just over 2,000 individuals remaining in the wild. These seals live in warm waters, specifically the tropics and the Mediterranean.

Hunting by sailors in the past resulted in the extinction of the Caribbean monk seal by the end of the 1950s. It also heavily reduced the numbers of the two remaining populations, in Hawaii and the Mediterranean.

Given how rare monk seals are today, it is hard to imagine a time when they were abundant. However, fossils from Australia show monk seals used to be much more widespread.

Monk seals only survive today in the Mediterranean and the tropics. Peter TruslerAuthor provided

Two fossils from Beaumaris and Hamilton in Victoria have turned out to be the remains of ancient monk seals. This discovery, part of an ongoing effort to investigate Melbourne’s globally important marine fossils, was outlined by our team in a paper published in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

How Are Monk Seals Different From Other Seals?

Monk seals are from a completely different group to the fur seals and sea lions that live in Australian waters today. Australia’s warm environment in the past made it an ideal habitat for true seals, the group to which monk seals belong.

These seals would have coexisted with Australia’s ancient megafauna, such as giant kangaroos and the oddball palorchestids.

Read more: In a land of ancient giants, these small oddball seals once called Australia home

This discovery was made when our team revisited two fossils from Museums Victoria’s collections, the identity of which has been a mystery for 40 years.

When we analysed them, they turned out to be the oldest evidence of monk seals found so far, at roughly 5 million years old. The fossils are earbones, the part of the skull that contains the structures needed for hearing. The anatomy of earbones means they are very useful for helping palaeontologists identify what animal fossils belong to.

Ancient fossils found at Beaumaris and Hamilton in Victoria, Australia, belong to 5 million year old monk seals. Erich FitzgeraldAuthor provided

Together with the recently discovered Eomonachus (a 3 million-year-old New Zealand monk seal), these fossils demonstrate that monk seals had a long history in Australasia. These discoveries have now almost doubled the number of geographic regions monk seals used to occupy in the past, and confirm they used to be a much larger group.

What Happened?

If monk seals were so widespread down under in the past, why are they no longer here? The short answer is climate change.

Around 2.5 million years ago, the onset of the ice ages changed the world’s oceans, making the waters colder and sea levels lower. This led to extinctions in many marine mammal groups, including the monk seals. In short, monk seals disappeared in the southern hemisphere, leaving them only present in the Mediterranean and the tropics.

Read more: Scientists thought these seals evolved in the north. 3-million-year-old fossils from New Zealand suggest otherwise

Despite monk seals being protected from hunting today, these fossil discoveries suggest their troubles may be far from over. Their fossil relatives have now demonstrated they are susceptible to environmental change.

Rising sea levels are already threatening the Hawaiian species, and human-driven changes also endanger the Mediterranean species.

Without continued protection, the remaining monk seals may soon disappear along with their extinct relatives.The Conversation

This illustration shows reconstructions of fossil monk seals and their modern relatives. Peter TruslerAuthor provided

James Patrick Rule, Research Fellow, Monash UniversityErich Fitzgerald, Senior Curator, Vertebrate Palaeontology, Museums Victoria, and Justin W. Adams, Senior Lecturer, Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, Monash University

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

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

Avalon Golf Course Bushcare Needs You

We're so short of helpers we've had to cancel for the time being. Meanwhile the weeds will go gangbusters. 
We used to meet on the second Wednesday afternoon of each month. Could you come if we worked on another day or time? say a morning, or on a weekend day? 
Contact Geoff Searl on 0439 292 566 if you'd like to help. He'd love to hear from you. 

We have fun using the Tree Popper, here with our supervisor from Dragonfly Environmental. We can lever out quite big Ochnas, aka Mickey Mouse plant from Africa.  We want to bring back the bush, not let the weeds win!

Ochna or Mickey Mouse plant has yellow flowers in spring, then lots of green berries that turn black when ripe. Seedlings come up in hundreds. Ochna has a very strong taproot but the steady pressure of the Tree Popper lifts the plant out of the ground easily. The alternative control is repeated scraping and painting with Roundup, very slow and time consuming. If you have an Ochna you cant remove, you can enjoy the flowers, then PLEASE prune it so that berries can't develop.

Pittwater Reserves

Annie Wyatt Reserve - A  Pictorial

These hot days are tough on our wildlife - please put out some water in a shaded location and if you come across an animal that is in distress, dehydrated or injured - please contact your local wildlife rescue group:
Photo: Bronwyn Gould

New Shorebirds WingThing  For Youngsters Available To Download

A Shorebirds WingThing educational brochure for kids (A5) helps children learn about shorebirds, their life and journey. The 2021 revised brochure version was published in February 2021 and is available now. You can download a file copy here.

If you would like a free print copy of this brochure, please send a self-addressed envelope with A$1.10 postage (or larger if you would like it unfolded) affixed to: BirdLife Australia, Shorebird WingThing Request, 2-05Shorebird WingThing/60 Leicester St, Carlton VIC 3053.

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 -

Local Opportunities: Youth Advisory Group + Plan And Run A Youth Event

Council are currently seeking people for their Youth Advisory Group. They want to hear from young people aged 12 - 21 to help shape the future of our area.

You can be the voice of youth programs, events and services and tell them what’s important to you. You will meet new like-minded friends and bring your ideas to life, encouraging positive change in your community and amongst peers.

Upskill yourself and enjoy benefits like free entry to youth events including band nights. You will attend monthly meetings and have access to various training throughout the year. 
Read the Terms of Reference and Complete your details on the Application Form by Sunday 27 June 2021.

Council are also looking for young people aged 15 to 25 years old to participate in an exciting new youth event. Through a series of workshops run by industry professionals, you will have the opportunity to develop skills in project management and event planning. Then it's all up to you! In teams, you will plan, organise and run an event for youth on the Northern Beaches. 

This is your chance to make a difference in your local community, meet new people and learn valuable job-ready skills. If you have any questions about the project, please contact the library. 

Expressions of interest close Sunday 27 June. Please note, you must live, work or go to school/educational institution on the Northern Beaches. 

NSW Young Environmental Citizens Of The Year

June 10, 2021
A Year 7 support unit class has shown the power of collaboration after winning a NSW environment award. The support unit class at Coonabarabran High School has been awarded the prestigious title of NSW Young Environmental Citizens of the Year.

The award was announced by NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean on the weekend to coincide with World Environment Day.

The Coonabarabran High School D7 Support Unit Class’ was acknowledged for its environmental leadership in developing eco-sustainability programs and its significant contributions to the school’s Return and Earn program.

It is the second award the students have received this year after they were honoured during the Warrumbungle Shire Council Australia Day ceremony with the Young Environmental Citizen of the Year Award.

Mr Kean said the students at Coonabarabran High were “making a real difference in their local communities and setting an important example for others to follow”.

“The youngsters are an inspiration to all schools around the state,” Mr Kean said.

Head teacher, Support Unit Sharon Rankmore said the students had been recognised at the school's assembly this week to mark their achievements.

“We are so proud our students,” she said. “Their leadership has been a true positive in our school.

“This award is a significant achievement for the class because it reinforces to them their potential and the power of collaborative action.”

Mrs Rankmore said the recycling program started when the Coonabarabran High School Support Unit was first opened in 2005.

It involved students entering classrooms to collect the recycling boxes and transferring the contents to the collection centre.

The program was expanded in 2019 across the three support unit classes when eco-sustainability units were integrated into the Support Unit’s Science program with the help of a grant that led to the establishment of a learning garden.

Mrs Rankmore said they would use the award winnings to “grow’ the recycling program to include composting food scraps from recess and lunch.

This would be used in the food gardens the students maintained for their food technology classes.

“It's gratifying to know that a small group of students with disabilities in a small, rural NSW town are recognised for contributing to the health of the planet,” Mrs Rankmore said.

“This award will highlight the great learning that occurs in NSW public schools and in particular how we strive to ensure that our environments are inclusive of all students.

“For our community this recognition will certainly enhance the self-esteem of all involved - students, staff, and their families.”​

Past and present students who have been a part of the recycling program, from left: Aurora Price, School Learning Support Officer Venessa Houley, Alex Park, Tabitha Ward, Will Turner, Randall Rumbel and Chloe Snape.
Dolphin in Pittwater; randomly placed in your page this week for no apparent reason other than providing you with 3 seconds of 'oh, lovely, a dolphin!'. AJG photo.
Legends of the cold; check out these wonderful human beings, in shorts and on duty at Orange this week - so, if you thought it was slightly like Tasmania here this week, it was even more so in our western rural areas of the state. image by and courtesy NSW Police (photo) on Facebook. A great reminder that if you're having problems, the police are your mates!

The caption that went with this was; ''This local was a bit frosty, but soon warmed up once we got him a scarf and coffee. #snowpatrol''. 

Council Among Those To Showcase Local Acts On Make Music Day

June 9, 2021
Six grant recipients will receive a share of $90,000 in funding from the NSW Government to stage free live music events throughout the state as part of the annual global event, Make Music Day.

Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes congratulated the successful funding recipients who will each receive $15,000 which can be used to help fund live music events.

On June 20 and 21, public spaces across the state will come alive, showcasing great local talent with live performances,” Mr Stokes said.

“We know that the live music industry was one of the hardest hit during the pandemic and we’re keen to support them by using our public spaces for this series of free performances.”

The successful applicants are:
  • Northern Beaches Council - 50 musicians performing 45-minute sets across four locations including the Manly Corso, Berry Markets at Narrabeen Lagoon and Mona Vale Village Park and Dee Why Town Centre.
  • City of Parramatta Council and Sydney Olympic Park Authority - events in multiple public spaces including Parramatta Square, Cathy Freeman Park, Jacaranda Square, The Abattoir Heritage Precinct, Epping Railway Station and more, featuring 30 acts from Western Sydney’s live music scene;
  • Yours and Owls Event - Wollongong’s Globe Lane will be transformed to present Full Set Fest, to showcase grassroots and promising artists in the Illawarra;
  • Lisa Farrawell - in a First Nations-led initiative, local musicians will perform live on an outdoor stage for the Crescent Head community;
  • Blacklight Collective - for a one-day pop-up program in Coffs Harbour featuring dozens of local artists performing electronica, contemporary, Indian classical, percussion, jazz and more; and
  • Leeton Shire Council – for two acts including a soul, afrobeat and electronic artists to the Leeton Skate Park
Minister for the Arts Don Harwin said the funding was a fantastic opportunity to support local artists after the music sector was hit hard by COVID-19.

“Make Music Day recognises the joy that music brings to our lives,” Mr Harwin said.

“We are proud to invest in this initiative which celebrates our local musicians and enables them to showcase their talents and share their sounds as part of this free world-wide music extravaganza.”

Make Music Day is part of the NSW Government’s annual Festival of Place, which is a rolling program that highlights the importance and beauty of great public spaces and was introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local events will occur on Sunday June 20th from 10am to 4pm.

Mona Vale Village Park - one venue for Make Music Day 2021

Danica's Career Sets Sail Thanks To TAFE NSW

June 11, 2021
A Double Bay local, originally from Serbia, has credited TAFE NSW with helping her to land a dream job at a at an iconic local sailing club, with plans to open her own hospitality business one day. 

According to the ABS, women make up just 33 per cent of small business owners. 

After graduating from a Business and Law degree in her home country, 26-year-old Danica Milosavljevic studied a Certificate IV in New Small Business and a Diploma of Business at TAFE NSW Ultimo. She is now studying an Advanced Diploma of Business while working as an Assistant Bar Manager at Australian 18 Footers in Double Bay. 

“When I arrived in Australia, I was looking to gain practical skills and the TAFE NSW course has been perfect for me. It’s given me the skills and confidence to excel in my current position and hopefully open my own health food bar or café one day,” Ms Milosavljevic said. 

“I’ve enjoyed gaining hands on skills which can be applied to a variety of different industries and roles, and the knowledge, support, and guidance teachers like Frank Cremona provided me, particularly during the COVID-19 lockdown, was invaluable.” 

Acting Head Teacher of Business Frank Cremona said Danica is an exceptional student with a thirst for knowledge. 

“Danica approaches all of her work with positivity and through her studies at TAFE NSW she is now equipped with job-ready skills which will no doubt serve her well in her future endeavours. She has a bright future ahead of her,” Mr Cremona said. 

“TAFE NSW courses in Business are perfect for students like Danica who are looking to grow their technical and interpersonal skills and strengthen their knowledge of managing systems, budgets, business strategy, operational execution, effective team management, and marketing,” Mr Cremona said. 

To find out more about studying business courses at TAFE NSW, phone 13 16 01 or visit  

Sound Education Leads To Blockbuster Career

June 11, 2021
Meadowbank local Peter Climpson has hit the big time and found his dream gig – supporting the NSW film industry boom as an audio engineer on feature films and lifestyle and reality television.

After school, Mr Climpson wasn’t sure what he wanted to do but when his mum suggested he try the Certificate IV in Screen and Media (Television) at TAFE NSW he was keen to give it a go.

“It wasn’t until I arrived that I realised the TAFE NSW St Leonards television production studios had just had a six-million-dollar upgrade and now had better facilities than most television studios in Sydney,” Mr Climpson said.

“I quickly realised how close the teachers were to the industry, many were part time teachers still actively working and practising their craft in the film and television industry. You can’t buy the connections I made at TAFE NSW.”

Mr Climpson completed the Certificate IV in Screen and Media (Television) before continuing his studies with a Diploma of Music Industry (Sound Production) to consolidate his skills. Peter’s teacher Peter Gage said it’s a great time to be working in post-production as big-budget international blockbusters shooting in Australia are forecast to continue being a significant source of demand for local firms.

“The current film and television industry boom in NSW is driving up demand for skilled workers in the creative industries and creating opportunities for sound engineers and technicians,” Mr Gage said.

“The NSW Government has injected $175 million into the sector through the Made in NSW fund to support the attraction to NSW of significant international and domestic feature film and major TV drama productions.

“It’s a really exciting time to be in the industry and I encourage anyone considering a career in film or television to take a look at the range of courses on offer at TAFE NSW and let us help you get your foot in the door.”

In 2019 Mr Climpson worked on the feature film ‘Outback’ as Sound Designer, which was sold to Lionsgate and is currently streaming on Stan. He will soon complete work on another highly anticipated feature film - ‘Risen’. 

Mr Climpson says TAFE NSW was pivotal in helping him get his start in the industry, paired with a strong work ethic and dedication to the craft.

“The hands-on training at TAFE NSW was a significant draw card, there’s really no other way to learn what we do, than to do it.

“One of the best things I did while I was at TAFE NSW was work experience during the holiday breaks. This was a massive advantage because by the end of my course I had already had some experience, which was a lot more than what most other people who graduated in my year did.

“I think anyone considering studying at TAFE NSW should take it very seriously. You’ll get more out of the experience if you go all in and really apply yourself. Everything I know has come from someone else and it’s a gift when someone passes on that knowledge and advice.”

To find out more about the range of courses available at TAFE NSW including the Certificate IV in Screen and Media, visit or call 131 601.

Helena's On Her Way To A Ferry Impressive Career

June 8, 2021
With Australia relying on sea transport for 99% of exports and Newcastle being the world's largest coal export port, it makes sense that TAFE NSW Newcastle offers a wide range of maritime courses.

A former Web Manager is well on her way to becoming a fully qualified Chief Mate with the skills required to safely manage and operate any type of merchant ship thanks to TAFE NSW.

Helena de Carlos is studying a Bachelor of Applied Science (Nautical Science) after starting her career as the Web Manager at Greenpeace, where she was given the opportunity to join a ship to Papua New Guinea to advocate for Forest Action.

After a taste of life on the water Helena took some time off and hitchhiked around on boats in the Caribbean to get some seafaring experience.

“I volunteered as a Deckhand at Greenpeace and decided a life at sea is what I love so I’m now working towards a qualification as Chief Mate.

“Working on ships is an adventure, I have been able to tick off everything on my bucket list. Some of my favourites have been the Arctic Circle, Antarctica, the Amazon and Rio. I’d encourage anyone who has an interest in maritime to start with a Certificate I in Maritime Operations at TAFE NSW and I guarantee they’ll be hooked.”

TAFE NSW Newcastle Head Maritime Studies teacher Carmen Blanco, who has spent 30 years at sea and ashore in the Australian Maritime Industry, said career seafarers travel from across the globe to our doorstep to earn specialised maritime certifications such as Chief Mate, Master and Watchkeeper Deck.

“Many don’t realise TAFE NSW Newcastle is the only East Coast provider of the world’s highest seafarer qualification. The training students receive locally is recognised internationally as best-in-class. TAFE NSW is well known globally for our high quality teachers, facilities and technology,” said Captain Blanco.

“Our maritime studies qualifications, offered in partnership with the University of Tasmania, are recognised internationally and enjoy a solid reputation for authenticity. This is something several other countries cannot attest to; many seafarers find their qualifications aren’t recognised outside their own country so they need to become certified elsewhere.”

Australia’s largest training provider, TAFE NSW offers over 1200 courses, from certificates to degrees. Many can be studied online via TAFE Digital, when and where it suits. Visit or call 131 601. 

Night Drive For Learners

Do you know a learner driver who would benefit from this program? 
The first Tuesday of every month officers from the Traffic and Highway Patrol Command - NSW Police Force, with members of  Fire and Rescue NSW, take part in Night Drive for Learners. A free program hosted by Australian Racing Drivers' Club and Driving Solutions.

The free program gives learner drivers the opportunity to build confidence in their driving by having 2 hours of free driving around the track at Sydney Motorsport Park. 

As a value add officers setup a mock RBT site where drivers can practice driving through the site and the drivers and their supervisors can ask questions of the officers. Fire and Rescue NSW drive around the track with the learners, randomly engaging their lights and sirens. 

Photo: NSW Police Force

Karuah Mother Tour

Karuah is the new project from James Lange, an Avalon Beach raised, northern rivers based up and coming artist.

Karuah began writing and performing since the age of 13 and over the years has shared the stage with the likes of Angus and Julia Stone, Ocean Alley, Lime Cordiale, The Rubens, Kyle Lionhart, Iluka and The Veronicas, to name a few. Mainly performing to small intimate audiences where the listener can truly ‘drop in’, Karuah has headlined tours of Australia with his previous releases ‘Wildplum’ and ‘Insight’. 
Karuah has also supported Kyle Lionhart for his ’So Close’ tour in 2019, and has made the stage at Bluesfest 2019 and South Coast Soul Fest 2018/19. 

James is currently undertaking his Mother Tour and will be in his home town at the end of this month to support the release of his first single Mother from his debut album. Mother was written during Australia’s Fight For the Bight campaigns in late 2019, and so contains underlying notes of activism and empowerment. Expanding on his coined genre ‘Ethereal Folk’ Karuah indulges the listener through an almost meditative journey with hints of Bon Iver, Ry X and Ben Howard.

Karuah - Mother Tour - Avalon Beach
Fri., 25 June 2021: 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Avalon Baptist Church, 2 George Street, Avalon Beach

Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Competition 2021 Entries Now Open


''Our poets are encouraged to take inspiration from wherever they may find it, however if they are looking for some direction, competition participants are invited to use this year's optional theme to inspire their entries."

In 2021, the Dorothea Mackellar Memorial Society has chosen the theme “Rich and Rare.” As always, it is an optional theme, so please write about whatever topic sparks your poetic genius.

For a copy of the wonderful theme poster, please click here.


*PLEASE NOTE: If you're registering as an individual student, put your HOME address in your personal details and not your SCHOOL'S address! The address you list is where your participation certificate will be posted!*


(primary school and secondary school, anytime during the competition period)

Teacher/parent - registration completed online (invoice will be emailed within 2 weeks of registration)

Log in to your page.

Enter student details and submit poem(s) (cut and paste or type in poem content direct to the webpage) PLEASE DO NOT UPLOAD POEMS AS ATTACHMENTS AS THAT FUNCTION IS FOR POSTAL ENTRIES ONLY.

Repeat step 3 for every student/individual poem.



Have a read of the judges' reports from the previous year. They contain some very helpful advice for teachers and parents alike!

It is recommended for schools to appoint a coordinator for the competition.

Only a teacher/parent can complete the registration form on behalf of the student/child.

Log-in details: username is the email address and a password of your choice.

Log-in details can be given to other teachers/students for poem submission in class/at home.

Log-in as many times as necessary during the competition period.

Teachers can view progress by monitoring the number and content of entries.

Individual entries are accepted if the school is not participating or a child is home schooled. Parent needs to complete the registration form with their contact details. Please indicate 'individual entry' under school name and home postal address under school address.

Invoice for the entry fee will be sent to the registered email address within 2 weeks.

‘Participation certificate only’ option available for schools where pre-selection of entries has been carried out. Poems under this option will not be sent to judges, students will still receive participation certificate for their efforts.

Please read the Conditions of Entry before entering. Entries accepted: March 1 to June 30, results announced during early September.


Moved by words: how poetry helps us express our feelings

Patrick Semansky/AAP
Maria TakolanderDeakin University

Poetry has made something of a comeback in popular culture, thanks to America’s Amanda Gorman, who read her performance poems at a presidential inauguration and this year’s Super Bowl. Gorman has been described as bringing poetry to the masses.

However, when it comes to the mainstream, poetry has long been hiding in plain sight. Gorman’s spoken-word performances, which have been compared to hip hop, drew attention to poetry in music lyrics. But poetry is also visible in movies and on TV.

These media representations are interesting because they show how poetry is popularly understood in connection with feelings. And that popular wisdom chimes with findings in cognitive neuroscience about how language and, by extension, poetry work.

Read more: Ode to the poem: why memorising poetry still matters for human connection

Aside from films or TV series about poets, such as Dickinson or Paterson, poetry makes a cameo in some of our most iconic films, where it is said to represent or intensify a range of emotions. These include love (Before Sunrise), mad ambition (Citizen Kane), nostalgic patriotism (Skyfall), pride (Invictus), nihilism (Apocalypse Now) and trauma (The Piano).

Poetry, representative of emotion, is also frequently used to symbolise humanity. This is particularly apparent in films about clones.

In the Tom Cruise blockbuster Oblivion, when the clone Jack Harper recites a poem from Thomas Babington Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome this reinforces his legitimacy. In Blade Runner, Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty misquotes William Blake:

Fiery the angels fell; deep thunder rolled around their shores; burning with the fires of Orc.

What emerges from poetry’s onscreen appearances, then, is a popular understanding of it as an expression of human feeling and evidence of genuine humanity.

Cognitive Neuroscience

This intuitive understanding of poetry resonates with findings in cognitive neuroscience. Leaving behind theories of the brain that suggest it operates like a computer and theories of language that focus on “mental grammar”, many scientists now acknowledge the body and emotion as the foundations of both cognition and speech.

Of particular interest is the role of mirror neurons. These brain cells fire when an action is observed or performed, and they tell us a lot about how we understand the actions of others. They suggest understanding comes from a mirroring or imitation that takes place in the brain but is acted out or felt in the body.

An example is the contagious effect of a smile. When we observe someone smiling, we mirror that action to understand it.

Something similar happens when understanding language. Words contagiously move us. As neuroscientist Christian Keysers explains in The Empathic Brain, if you hear or read the word “lick”, the part of your brain that moves your mouth is activated to aid understanding. The same happens if you hear or read the word “kick”. As a result, we feel the meaning of these words in our bodies.

What about producing words? Speech is fundamentally a motor activity, which evolved from gesture. We are moved to speak, and we literally move — our lips, our tongue, our lungs, our stomach muscles, and often even our hands — to express ourselves.

As infants, we begin learning language in interaction with a caregiver, imitating the shapes of their mouth, and waving our arms and legs in excitement and frustration at the repetitive noises they make, until eventually we are able to imitate their sounds. Those sounds are accompanied by feelings, related most strongly to a desire to communicate beyond the boundaries of ourselves.

Of course, language develops into a more abstract system for communication. It can often remain a struggle, however, to give expression to feelings that are powerfully felt in the body, such as loneliness or grief or trauma. As John Hannah’s character says in Four Weddings and a Funeral, when trying to articulate his feelings about his dead partner, “Unfortunately there I run out of words”.

Read more: On poetry and pain

Rhymes And Rhythms

This is where poetry comes in, making use of the rhymes and rhythms that have helped us find speech from infancy, calling attention to the auditory qualities of language to convey meaning through feeling.

If we can’t do it ourselves, we quote someone else’s words, instinctively and ritualistically associating poetry with the expression of emotion.

This link to emotion, as well as child-like speech, undoubtedly goes some way to explaining another popular idea about poetry: that it signals “madness”. Biopics of poets feed this stereotype by overwhelmingly choosing poets with mental illnesses as their subjects — for instance, Sylvia and Pandaemonium, portraits of Sylvia Plath and Samuel Taylor Coleridge respectively.

However, cognitive neuroscience — and popular wisdom — suggest poetry actually exemplifies an important truth about language and human nature.

While poetry is regularly denounced for “not making sense”, our cognition and our language do not arise according to purely rational principles.

We are bodies wrought by feeling. Robin Williams’ character simplifies this truth in Dead Poets Society:

We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.The Conversation

Maria Takolander, Associate Professor in Creative Writing and Literary Studies, Deakin University

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

Introducing Australotitan: Australia's largest dinosaur yet spanned the length of 2 buses

Vlad Konstantinov, Scott Hocknull, Eromanga Natural History MuseumAuthor provided
Scott HocknullThe University of Melbourne

Today, a new Aussie dinosaur is being welcomed into the fold. Our study published in the journal PeerJ documents Australotitan cooperensis – Australia’s largest dinosaur species ever discovered, and the largest land-dwelling species to have walked the outback.

Australotitan, or the “southern titan”, was a massive long-necked titanosaurian sauropod estimated to have reached 25–30 metres in length and 5–6.5m in height. It weighed the equivalent of 1,400 red kangaroos.

It lived in southwest Queensland between 92–96 million years ago, when Australia was attached to Antarctica, and the last vestiges of a once-great inland sea had disappeared.

The discovery of Australotitan is a major new addition to the “terrible lizards” of Oz.

Meet Australotitan, Australia’s largest dinosaur species. (Eromanga Natural History Museum / )

Like Finding Needles In Haystack

Finding dinosaurs in Australia has been labelled an incredibly difficult task.

In outback Queensland, dinosaur sites are featureless plains. Compare that to many sites overseas, where mountain ranges, deep canyons or exposed badlands of heavily-eroded terrain can help reveal the ancient layers of preserved fossilised bones.

An Australian dinosaur site (right) compared to the dinosaur-rich badlands of Canada (left).

Today, the area where Australotitan lived is oil, gas and grazing country. Our study represents the first major step in documenting the dinosaurs from this fossil field.

Australotitan cooperensis was the largest dinosaur species to have walked outback Australia.

The first bones of Australotitan were excavated in 2006 and 2007 by Queensland Museum and Eromanga Natural History Museum palaeontologists and volunteers. We nicknamed this individual “Cooper” after the nearby freshwater lifeline, Cooper Creek.

After the excavation, we embarked on the long and painstaking removal of the rock that entombed Cooper’s bones. This was necessary for us to properly identify and compare each bone.

Excavating one of Cooper’s six pelvic bones, the left pubis. S. Hocknull, Queensland Museum & Eromanga Natural History Museum

Thousands Of Kilograms Bones In A Backpack

We needed to compare Cooper’s bones to all other species of sauropod dinosaur known from both Australia and overseas, to confirm our suspicions of a new species.

But travelling from collection to collection at various museums to compare hundreds of kilograms of fragile dinosaur bones was simply not possible. So instead, we used 3D digital scanning technology which allowed us to virtually carry thousands of kilograms of dinosaur bones in one seven kilogram laptop.

These kinds of research projects have created a new opportunity for museums and researchers to share their amazing collections globally, with researchers and the public.

From Dig to Digital Dinosaurs! 3D scanning technology allows researchers an unprecedented way to compare fossilised bones of enormous dinosaurs, and view these digital replicas virtually. S. Hocknull & R. Lawrence, Queensland Museum

And thanks to two decades of effort by palaeontologists, citizen scientists, regional not-for-profit museums and local landowners, there has been a recent boom in Australian dinosaur discoveries.

Read more: Fat-footed tyrannosaur parents couldn’t keep up with their skinnier offspring, fossil footprints reveal

We Are Family

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found all four of the sauropod dinosaurs that lived in Australia between 96-92 million years ago (including Australotitan) were more closely related to one another than they were to other dinosaurs found elsewhere.

However, we couldn’t conclusively place any of these four related species together in the same place at the same time. This means they could have evolved through time to occupy very different habitats. It’s even possible they never met.

The Aussie species share relations with titanosaurians from both South America and Asia, suggesting they dispersed from South America (via Antarctica) during periods of global warmth.

Or, they may have island-hopped across ancient island archipelagos, which would eventually make up the present-day terrains of Southeast Asia and the Philippines.

Meet the Eromanga sauropods. Green bones represent what parts of the skeleton have so far been discovered. S. Hocknull, Queensland Museum

Trampling Through The Cretaceous

Digitally capturing gigantic sauropod bones and fossil sites in 3D has led to some remarkable discoveries. Several of Cooper’s bones were found to be crushed by the footsteps of other sauropod dinosaurs.

What’s more, during Cooper’s excavation we uncovered another smaller sauropod skeleton — possibly a smaller Australotitan — trampled into a nearly 100m-long rock feature. We interpreted this to be a trample zone: an area of mud compressed under foot by massive sauropods as they moved along a pathway, or at the edge of a waterhole.

A sauropod trample zone (left) compared to a cattle trample (centre) and elephant trample (right). S. Hocknull & R. Lawrence, Queensland Museum & Eromanga Natural History Museum

Similar trampling features can be seen today around Australian billabongs, or waterholes in Africa where the largest plant-eaters, such as elephants and hippopotamuses, trample mud into a hard layer.

In the case of the hippopotamus, they cut channels through the mud to navigate between precious water and food sources. Life in Australia during the Cretaceous period can be pictured similarly, except super-sized.

In the present, out there in Australia’s dinosaur country, you might find yourself staring across a barren plain imagining what other secrets this world of long-lost giants will reveal.

Read more: Curious Kids: could dinosaurs evolve back into existence? The Conversation

Scott Hocknull, Senior Curator of Geosciences, Queensland Museum, and Honorary Research Fellow, The University of Melbourne

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

How an app to decrypt criminal messages was born 'over a few beers' with the FBI

David TuffleyGriffith University

Australian and US law enforcement officials on Tuesday announced they’d sprung a trap three years in the making, catching major international crime figures using an encrypted app.

More than 200 underworld figures in Australia have been charged in what Australian Federal Police (AFP) say is their biggest-ever organised crime bust.

The operation, led by the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), spanned Australia and 17 other countries. In Australia alone, more than 4,000 police officers were involved.

At the heart of the sting, dubbed Operation Ironside, was a type of “trojan horse” malware called AN0M, which was secretly incorporated into a messaging app. After criminals used the encrypted app, police decrypted their messages, which included plots to kill, mass drug trafficking and gun distribution.

graphic of padlock and tech symbols
Police used an encrypted app used by underworld figures to bust the crime network. Shutterstock

Millions Of Messages Unscrambled

AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said the idea for AN0M emerged from informal discussions “over a few beers” between the AFP and FBI in 2018.

Platform developers had worked on the AN0M app, along with modified mobile devices, before law enforcement acquired it legally and adapted it for their use. The AFP say the developers weren’t aware of the intended use.

Once appropriated by law enforcement, AN0M was reportedly programmed with a secret “back door”, enabling them to access and decrypt messages in real time.

A “back door” is a software agent that circumvents normal access authentication. It allows remote access to private information in an application, without the “owner” of the information being aware.

So the users — in this case the crime figures — believed communication conducted via the app and smartphones was secure. Meanwhile, law enforcement could reportedly unscramble up to 25 million encrypted messages simultaneously.

But without this back door, strongly encrypted messages would be almost impossible to decrypt. That’s because decryption generally requires a computer to run through trillions of possibilities before hitting on the right code to unscramble a message. Only the most powerful computers can do this within a reasonable time frame.

Read more: Cryptology from the crypt: how I cracked a 70-year-old coded message from beyond the grave

Scott Morrison and police official stand at lecterns
Police programmed a secret ‘back door’ into the app to carry out the sting. Dean Lewins/AAP

Providers Resist Pressure For ‘Back-Door’ Access

In the mainstream world of encrypted communication, the installation of “back-door” access by law enforcement has been strenuously resisted by app providers, including Facebook who owns WhatsApp.

In January 2020, Apple refused law enforcement’s request to unlock the Pensacola shooting suspect’s iPhone, following a deadly 2019 Florida attack which killed three people.

Apple, like Facebook, has long refused to allow back-door access, claiming it would undermine customer confidence. Such incidents highlight the struggle of balancing competing demands for user privacy with the imperative of preventing crime for the greater good.

Read more: Facebook is merging Messenger and Instagram chat features. It's for Zuckerberg's benefit, not yours

phone showing Apple and Facebook apps
Apple and Facebook have refused to allow back-door access, claiming it would undermine customer confidence. Shutterstock

Getting Criminals To Use AN0M

Once AN0M was developed and ready for use, law enforcement had to get it into the hands of criminal “underworld” figures.

To do so, undercover agents reportedly persuaded fugitive Australian drug trafficker Hakan Ayik to unwittingly champion the app to his associates. These associates were then be sold mobile devices pre-loaded with AN0M on the black market.

Purchase was only possible if referred through an existing user of the app, or by a distributor who could vouch for the potential customer as not working for law enforcement.

The AN0M-loaded mobiles — likely Android-powered smartphones — came with reduced functionality. They could do just three things: send and receive messages, make distorted voice calls and record videos — all of which was presumed to be encrypted by the users.

With time the AN0M phone increasingly became the device of choice for a significant number of criminal networks.

Police official points to screen showing phones and monitor
The AN0M-loaded devices were mobiles — likely Android-powered smartphones — but with reduced functionality. Dean Lewins/AAP

Building Up A Network Picture

Since 2018, law enforcement agencies across 18 countries, including Australia, had been patiently listening to millions of conversations through their back-door control of the AN0M app.

Information was retrieved on all manner of illegal activities. This gradually enabled police to etch a detailed picture of various crime networks. Some of the footage and images retrieved have been cleared for public release.

One major challenge was for police to match overheard conversations with identities — as the AN0M phone could be purchased anonymously and paid for with Bitcoin (which allows secure transactions that can’t be traced). This may help explain why it took three years before police openly identified alleged perpetrators.

It’s likely the evidence obtained will be used in prosecutions now that a multitude of arrests have been made.

The Future Of Encryption

Encryption technology is improving fast. It needs to — because computing power is also growing rapidly.

This means hackers are becoming increasingly capable of breaking encryption. Moreover, when quantum computers become available this problem will be further exacerbated, since they are massively more powerful than conventional computers today.

These developments will likely weaken the security of encrypted messaging apps used by law abiding people, including popular apps such as WhatsApp, LINE and Signal.

Strong encryption is an essential weapon in the cybersecurity arsenal and there are thousands of legitimate situations where it’s needed. It’s ironic then, that the technology intended by some to keep the public safe can also be leveraged by those with criminal intent.

Networks of organised crime have used these “legitmate” tools to conduct their business, secure in the knowledge that law enforcement can’t access their communications. Until AN0M, that is.

And while Operation Ironside may have sent a shiver through criminal subcultures operating around the world, these syndicates will likely develop their own countermeasures in this ongoing game of cat and mouse.

Read more: Seven ways the government can make Australians safer – without compromising online privacy The Conversation

David Tuffley, Senior Lecturer in Applied Ethics & CyberSecurity, Griffith University

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

Proceed to your nearest (virtual) exit: gaming technology is teaching us how people respond to emergencies

Ruggiero LovreglioMassey University

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) aren’t just for gaming anymore, they’re also proving to be useful tools for disaster safety research. In fact, they could save lives.

Around the world, natural and human-made disasters such as earthquakes, bushfires and terrorist attacks threaten substantial economic loss and human life.

My research review looked at 64 papers on the topic of using AR and VR-based experiments (mostly simulating emergency scenarios) to investigate human behaviour during disaster, provide disaster-related education and enhance the safety of built environments.

If we can investigate how certain factors influence people’s decisions about the best course of action during disaster, we can use this insight to further construct an array of VR and AR experiments.

Finding The Optimal Fire Desing

Research has shown the potential of AR and VR in myriad disaster contexts. Both of these technologies involve digital visualisation. VR involves the visualisation of a complete digital scene, whereas AR allows digital objects to be superimposed over a real-life background.

This figure helps explain the difference between VR, AR and the real world. Ruggiero LovreglioAuthor provided

VR has already played a key role in designing safety evacuation systems for new buildings and infrastructure. For example, in past research my colleagues and I have used VR to identify which signage is the best to use in tunnels and buildings during emergency evacuations.

A participant in the CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) at Lund University, in a VR-based tunnel evacuation experiment. Ruggiero LovreglioAuthor provided

In these studies we asked participants to rank different signs using a questionnaire based on the “theory of affordances”, which looks at what the physical environment or a specific object offers an individual. In other words, we explored how different signs can be sensed, understood and used by different people during emergencies.

Before building expensive new infrastructure, we can simulate it in VR form and test how different evacuation signage performs for participants. In the case of signage for tunnel exits, research showed:

— green or white flashing lights performed better than blue lights

— a flashing rate of one flash per second or four flashes per second is recommended over a slower rate of, say, one flash per four seconds.

— LED light sources performed better than single and double-strobe lights.

In another non-immersive VR study, we observed participants’ behaviours and identified which sign was the best to direct people away from a specific exit in case of an emergency (as that exit might lead towards a fire, for instance).

The results showed red flashing lights helped evacuees identify the sign, and the sign itself was most effective with a green background marked with a red “X”.

A sign with a green background marked with a red 'x'.
A green background marked with a red ‘x’. Joakim Olander (2015)Author provided

VR and AR are uniquely positioned to let experts study how humans behave during disasters — and to do so without physically harming anyone.

Read more: What is augmented reality, anyway?

From Pokemon Go To Earthquake Drills

Research projects have tested how AR superimpositions can be used to guide people to safety during a tsunami warning or earthquake.

In theory, the same approach could be used in other contexts, such as during a terror attack. AR applications could be built to teach people how to act in case of terror attacks by following the rule of escape, hide and tell, as advised by the government.

Such virtual applications have great potential to educate thousands of people quickly and inexpensively. Our latest VR study indicated this may make them preferable to traditional training.

Read more: Antarctica without windchill, the Louvre without queues: how to travel the world from home

In some of our experiments, several participants were immersed in simulated fire emergencies where they had to evacuate. We investigated the factors that influenced how participants navigated a space to reach an exit, and how they chose between several exits in different fire and social conditions.

Studies on this front have highlighted humans are social animals. In line with “social influence theory”, they tend to follow other people during emergencies. This is a crucial consideration for authorities tasked with designing or implementing disaster evacuation protocols.

Another common behaviour observed was that participants tended to use exits they were already familiar with.

While these findings aren’t necessarily surprising, they help confirm existing theories about public evacuation behaviours. They also help reinforce observations made during real-life evacuation scenarios — where human lives can hang in the balance.

The next challenge is to ensure that in the future, advanced AR and VR-based training applications do not traumatise or distress participants.

A VR simulation of a metro station, used in one of our research studies. Ruggiero LovreglioAuthor provided

The Myth Of Overwhelming Panic

It’s worth noting that in the experiments there were no signs of “panic” among participants. Indeed, research has shown feeling panicked is very rare in fire scenarios.

Rather, participants took several factors into account before choosing what they deemed was the best option. Generally, people in disaster situations try hard to choose the most reasonable option; whether it leads to danger is another matter.

Our research can help enhance the safety design of buildings, transport terminals and general evacuation protocols. In the meantime, it’s reassuring to know people will more or less rely on their rationality in emergency situations.

This story is part of a series The Conversation is running on the nexus between disaster, disadvantage and resilience. It is supported by a philanthropic grant from the Paul Ramsay foundation. You can read the rest of the stories here.The Conversation

Ruggiero Lovreglio, Senior Lecturer, Massey University

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

How rain, wind, heat and other heavy weather can affect your internet connection

Gordonekoff / Shutterstock
James Jin KangEdith Cowan University and Paul Haskell-DowlandEdith Cowan University

When your Netflix stream drops out in the middle of a rainstorm, can you blame the wild weather?

Quite possibly. The weather can affect the performance of your internet connection in a variety of ways.

This can include issues such as physical damage to the network, water getting into electrical connections, and wireless signal interference. Some types of connection are more vulnerable to weather than others.

The behaviour of other humans in response to the weather can also have an effect on your connection.

How Rain Can Affect Your Internet Connection

Internet connections are much more complicated than the router and cables in our homes. There are many networking devices and cables and connections (of a variety of types and ages) between our homes and the websites we are browsing.

How do we connect to the Internet?

An internet connection may involve different kinds of physical link, including the copper wiring used in the old phone network and more modern fibre optic connections. There may also be wireless connections involved, such as WiFi, microwave and satellite radio.

Example of multi-layered internet access. Ferran, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Rain can cause physical damage to cables, particularly where telecommunication networks are using old infrastructure.

ADSL-style connections, which use the old phone network, are particularly vulnerable to this type of interference. Although many Australians may be connected to the National Broadband Network (NBN), this can still run (in part) through pre-existing copper wires (in the case of “fibre to the node” or “fibre to the cabinet” connections) rather than modern optical fibres (“fibre to the home”).

Different types of NBN connection. Riick, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Much of the internet’s cabling is underground, so if there is flooding, moisture can get into the cables or their connectors. This can significantly interfere with signals or even block them entirely, by reducing the bandwidth or causing an electrical short-circuit.

But it isn’t just your home connection that can be impacted. Wireless signals outside the home or building can be affected by rainfall as water droplets can partially absorb the signal, which may result in a lower level of coverage.

Even once the rain stops, the effects can still be felt. High humidity can continue to affect the strength of wireless signals and may cause slower connection speeds.

Copper Cables And Changed Behaviour

If you are using ADSL or NBN for your internet connection, it is likely copper phone cables are used for at least some of the journey. These cables were designed to carry voice signals rather than data, and on average they are now more than 35 years old.

Only around 18% of Australian homes have the faster and more reliable optical-fibre connections.

There is also a behaviour factor. When it rains, more people might decide to stay indoors or work from home. This inevitably leads to an increase in the network usage. When a large number of people increase their internet usage, the limited bandwidth available is rapidly consumed, resulting in apparent slowdowns.

Read more: How to boost your internet speed when everyone is working from home

This is not only within your home, but is also aggregated further up the network as your traffic is joined by that from other homes and eventually entire cities and countries.

Heatwaves And High Winds

In Australia, extreme cold is not usually a great concern. Heat is perhaps a more common problem. Our networking devices are likely to perform more slowly when exposed to extreme heat. Even cables can suffer physical damage that may affect the connection.

Imagine your computer fan is not running and the device overheats — it will eventually fail. While the device itself may be fine, it is likely the power supply will struggle in extremes. This same issue can affect the networking equipment that controls our internet connection.

Satellite internet services for rural users can be susceptible to extreme weather, as the satellite signals have to travel long distances in the air.

Radio signals are not usually affected by wind, but hardware such as satellite dishes can be swayed, vibrated, flexed or moved by the wind.

Most Of The Time, Human Behaviour Is The Main Cause

For most users, the impact of rain will be slight – unless they are physically affected by a significant issue such as submerged cables, or they are trying to use WiFi outside during a storm.

So, can weather affect your internet connection? Absolutely.

Will most users be affected? Unlikely.

So if your favourite Netflix show is running slow during in rainy weather, it’s most likely that the behaviour of other humans is to blame — holed up indoors and hitting the internet, just like you.

Read more: Internet traffic is growing 25% each year. We created a fingernail-sized chip that can help the NBN keep up The Conversation

James Jin Kang, Lecturer, Computing and Security, Edith Cowan University and Paul Haskell-Dowland, Associate Dean (Computing and Security), Edith Cowan University

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

Something really beautiful — dipping into Ed Kuepper’s golden past

Ed Kuepper, right, performing with The Aints! in 2018. Perry Duffin/AAP
John WillsteedQueensland University of Technology

Ed Kuepper has been making groundbreaking music for nearly 50 years. As a member of The Saints, and after the release of their first single (I’m) Stranded in 1976, he was flung from Brisbane’s suburban wasteland into the pre-punk mayhem of London.

(I’m) Stranded was reviewed in Sounds magazine as “Single of this and every week”, and The Saints signed to EMI. Kuepper’s journey as a serious songwriter had begun.

Three separate albums of Kuepper’s music have just been released on vinyl, gathered under the title The Exploding Universe of Ed Kuepper. There are two compilations — one of his work with post-Saints band Laughing Clowns (1979-1985), another of singles from his life as a solo artist (1986-1996) — as well as a recent live recording of The Aints!, Kuepper’s vehicle for performing old Saints material as well as new work.

The young Kuepper. AAP/supplied

Three very different albums, but all ringing clearly with his voice and his vision.

The Laughing Clowns compilation — Golden Days When Giants Walked The Earth — beautifully evokes the energy and inventiveness of this critically acclaimed band.

Kuepper returned from London in the late 1970s with his family, and a desire to make something new. Back in Brisbane visiting his parents, and at a party in his honour, he was surprised by the presence of drummer Jeffrey Wegener and sax-man Bob Farrell. These two had come up from Melbourne with friend Ben Wallace-Crabbe and the inkling of a band was formed.

Kuepper had known Jeff at school, and Bob was around in the early days of The Saints, a band whose sound was based on a loose, 50s rock and roll feel. He wanted his next band to carry this vibe but looking more to 60s jazz. He remembers,

One of the big influences was actually a fairly unusual Tony Bennett album, The Beat of My Heart, where he had two or three drummers playing. I was interested in where things could go, rhythmically, and to pull the guitar back a bit.

The astonishing Clowns songs on Golden Days are all wrapped around the spine of Wegener’s drums and Kuepper’s guitar. The rhythms veer and slide, with changing time signatures; songs full of swing and sway, while melodies are juggled between voice, bass, piano and the saxophones of Farrell and later, Louise Elliot.

Kuepper thinks the band, for all its influences and many lineup changes, had a consistent sound; it “emerged fully formed on the first recording — I can’t think of too many other rock and roll groups that were like that”.

But nothing good lasts forever, and after one final tour with various band members falling prey to lifestyle choices while Kuepper valiantly tried to hold it all together, he collapsed Laughing Clowns in the last days of 1984.

Cultural Treasure

The second album in Exploding World gathers the singles from Kuepper’s solo work from 1986-1996. In 1989, on an August afternoon a month after my ejection from The Go-Betweens, I auditioned for his backing band, The Yard Goes On Forever. It was scary, I didn’t get the job, and I went out that night and got totally plastered. It’s entirely possible that I was under-prepared.

The singles, all 39 of them, show more shifts in Kuepper’s approach. Some elements remain, the brass sections and shuffly rhythms, but many others are new.

These are pop songs, catchy and melodic. The lyrics embrace the simplicity and purity of close relationships; his voice settles into his maturing creative life; and he takes the 12-string acoustic and places it in the centre of his sound, marrying it with choirs of women’s voices.

There are synths and sequencers and 60s fairground brass and Mellotrons. I have favourites, to be sure, from the couple of shows where I’ve played bass with Kuepper (at the Brisbane City Hall in 2009, and for Brisbane Festival in 2010). The Way I Made You Feel has all the slinky allure of a Prince track, while Everything I’ve Got Belongs To You is as good a love song as you can find.

But there is so much breadth here, such style: try La-Di-Doh, or Real Wild Life or Fireman Joe with its echoes of Max Merritt and Small Faces. There is a deep seam of wealth here, cultural treasure for all to share.

Judy’s Presence

Fifteen years ago, in the evening of the day of Grant McLennan’s funeral, I ended up at a table at a restaurant at Brisbane’s Powerhouse. I found myself sitting opposite Kuepper and his wife Judy Dransfield. They were lovely company in the last chapter of this difficult, heightened day. I realised I barely knew Ed, but I liked him. And Jude.

About a year after that dinner, I enjoyed an afternoon playing banjo under their house in the Brisbane suburbs. Sitting upstairs later with Jude; cups of tea and biscuits. The banjo was for a track on Jean Lee and the Yellow Dog, a family project. Says Kuepper:

We collaborated quite strongly on that album, where [Jude] wrote all the lyrics. Prior to that she’d done photography, and art and stuff like that, but [Jean Lee] was a really interesting thing — a good thing to have done.

Judy Dransfield’s distinctive artwork for his record covers, her photographs and her presence are all intrinsic to what we know of Kuepper.

The third album — The Aints! Live — captures the band (including Peter Oxley from The Sunnyboys and Paul Larsen, from Celibate Rifles) before recording their 2018 studio album The Church of Simultaneous Existence. They have that loose rock and roll feel Kuepper loves, wrapped up in energy and thunder.

Five years ago, as part of a fairly shambling, ongoing attempt to do something about Brisbane’s cultural heritage, I applied to the state government for money to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the release of (I’m) Stranded. We won the grant, and a mural was commissioned.

More importantly, there was money to stage a live show with The Aints!, where songs from 40 years earlier were revived and hammered out, within a hundred metres of The Saints’ old practice room.

Kuepper seemed pleased with the attention, though it’s sometimes hard to tell …

Ed Kuepper and Jim White have embarked on a national tour. They will perform at the Sydney Opera House on June 13.

Quotes in this story are from the author’s chat with Kuepper in mid-May.The Conversation

John Willsteed, Senior Lecturer, School of Creative Practice, Queensland University of Technology

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

Kapow! Zap! Splat! How comics make sound on the page

Unsplash/Joe CiciarelliCC BY
Victor Araneda JureMonash University

Typically, comics are considered a silent medium. But while they don’t come with an aural soundtrack, comics have a unique grammar for sound.

From Wolverine’s SNIKT! when unsheathing his claws, to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in The Death of Stalin (later made into a film) the use of “textual audio” invites comics readers to hear with their eyes.

Fundamental elements such as symbols, font styles and onomatopoeia (where words imitate sounds) mean reading comics is a cross-sensory experience. New and old examples show the endless potential of the artform.

comic book pages
Kaboom! and splosh! on every page. Unsplash/Miika LaaksonenCC BY

Holy Onomatopoeia Batman!

Onomatopoeia — isn’t unique to comics but comic artists have certainly perfected this figurative form of languagePOW! BAM! BANG! appear on the page when Batman and Robin land a punch. BLAM! is the sound made by the Penguin’s umbrella when it shoots from a distance.

The list of sounds represented by onomatopoeia is limitless in terms of creative potential. There are words that mimic sounds directly, such as SPLOSH! (the sound made by an object falling into water) and made-up sounds like that of Wolverine’s adamantium claws (as we will see further below).

The language of comics offers creative freedom to expand the aural lexicon. One online database lists over 2500 comic book sounds with links to comics images in which they’ve been used.

cowboy comic
Stan Lee’s Gunsmoke Western (1955) #68, with lettering and pencilling by Dick Ayers. The Comic Book Sound Effect Database

This can also present special challenges for translators. Sounds represented in comics can range from speech sounds (subject to language rules including those governing how syllables can be formed) to human-made non-verbal sounds like sneezes, to sounds made by objects and environments.

Visual context is important too. We only recognise the warning of Wolverine’s violent retribution in SNIKT! when the word is drawn and displayed next to the hairy mutant.

comics image of man with claws
Wolverine extends his claws. Author provided

Likewise, the word THWIP! by itself may not mean much. But when positioned in context it can imbue a comic page with excitement and adventure.

Imagine a young man dressed in a tight red-and-blue bodysuit diving at high speed from the top of the Empire State building. Suddenly, just before hitting the ground, THWIP! he shoots spider webs from his wrists, using them to swing from building to building. Both readers and the crowd of enthusiastic fans on the page react: “Here comes Spidey!”

The Way They Say It

Comic creators also use font style and size and different speech bubble shapes and effects to shout, whisper or scream language.

Bold, italics, punctuation, faded or irregular letters are used to emphasise different features of the written words: fear, courage, loudness or quietness.

In My Friend Dahmer, created by a school friend of the infamous serial killer, the protagonist is seen carrying a dead cat on his way home by a group of kids. Comics creator John “Derf” Backderf applies bigger-bold words in one of the kids’ speech balloon to emphasise the shouting and surprise of onlookers.

comic book page
My Friend Dahmer (2012) by Derf Backderf. Author provided

Read more: Heroes, villains ... biology: 3 reasons comic books are great science teachers

Music To My Eyes

The 1973 manga Barefoot Gen, written by Keiji Nakazawa, explores his firsthand experience of the bombing of Hiroshima and its aftermath.

Gen, the main character, sings through several pages of the story. The author uses a musical note symbol () to indicate where speech bubbles are sung. By the final pages of the fourth volume, Gen sings to celebrate that his hair is beginning to grow again after being affected by radiation poisoning.

When preceded by the easily recognisable musical symbol, it’s virtually impossible to read the dialogue without “hearing” a melody:

 “Red roof on a green hilltop …

A bell tower shaped like a pixie hat…

The bell rings, ding-dong-ding …

The baby goats sing along, baa-baa-baa …” 

Expanding on this concept, How to Talk to Girls at Parties by Neil Gaiman contains musical panels where the combination of drawings, words and signs present a soundtrack.

comic page
The How to Talk to Girls at Parties party scene (created by Neil Gaiman, Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá) gives us a sense of how the scene sounds to the characters in it. Author provided

In film terminology, this is diegetic sound — noises or tunes from within the storyworld — as opposed to a narrative voiceover or a musical soundtrack the characters can’t hear within the story.

In Gaiman’s comic a combination of illustrations, musical notes and words (including the onomatopoeic TUM for a base drum beat) convey the sense that music fills every room of the house where a party is taking place.

In the political satire comic that inspired a movieThe Death of Stalin creator Fabien Nury and illustrator Thierry Robin show lines from Mozart’s orchestral score for his Piano Concerto No. 23 at the bottom of two pages. This adds drama to a climactic scene where Russian leader suffers a stroke.

comics frames of stalin dying
The musical score can add pace and drama to an already dramatic scene. Author'

Next time you read a comic book, make sure you listen carefully. KABOOM!The Conversation

Victor Araneda Jure, Teaching Associate / Filmmaker, Monash University

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

Do vegan diets make kids shorter and weaker?

Evangeline MantziorisUniversity of South Australia

Research Checks interrogate newly published studies and how they’re reported in the media. The analysis is undertaken by one or more academics not involved with the study, and reviewed by another, to make sure it’s accurate.

Diets that exclude meat and fish (vegetarian) or all animal products including dairy and eggs (vegan) are becoming increasingly popular for health, environmental and ethical reasons.

Past research in adults has linked vegetarian and vegan diets with a reduced risk of heart disease but a greater risk of fractures, caused by low calcium intakes. But the impact on children has not been evaluated, until the release of a new study this week.

The researchers found a link between shorter heights and lower bone mineral content among vegan children, compared to meat-eaters. But they didn’t show vegan diets caused the difference. Nor can they say the differences will last into adulthood.

How Was The Study Conducted?

The paper, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined the differences in children aged five to ten years of age in Poland.

They looked at 187 healthy children between 2014 and 2016 who had been on their respective diets for at least one year: 72 children were omnivores (meat eaters), 63 were vegetarians and 52 were vegans.

The research team looked at the children’s nutrient intakes, body composition and cardiovascular risk – how likely they are to have heart disease or a stroke in the future.

The study was observational, so researchers didn’t make any changes to the children’s diets. They recruited children who were already eating these diets.

Specifically, it was a type of observational study called a cross-sectional study. They looked back at the children’s diets, growth and cardiovascular risk factors at a given time point.

Children at school eating.
The researchers tracked 187 children in Poland. Shutterstock

The research team ensured the children in the vegan and vegetarian group were similar to children in the omnivore group, in factors that impact growth and cardiovascular risk factors. These include sex, age, parental smoking, parental education, clinical characteristics of their mother’s pregnancy and, importantly, their parents’ height.

Read more: Are there any health implications for raising your child as a vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian?

What Did The Researchers Find?

The researchers found that compared to children on omnivore diets, children on vegan diets had a healthier cardiovascular risk profile, with 25% lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or unhealthy cholesterol).

However the vegan children had an increased risk of nutritional deficiencies. They were more likely to have lower levels of vitamin B12calciumvitamin D and iron in their diet.

Children on vegan diets had about 5% lower bone mineral content and were on average 3cm shorter in height. This is important, as the higher the bone mineral content, the higher the bone mineral density.

This 5% difference is concerning, as people have a limited period of time at this age in which they can optimise their bone mineral density; 95% of bone mass is attained by about 20 years of age. Lower bone densities are linked to higher rates of fractures in later life.

Vegetarians showed less pronounced nutritional deficiencies but, unexpectedly, a less favourable cardiovascular risk profile compared to both meat-eaters and vegans. The authors attributed this to a lower-quality diet, with these children consuming more processed foods.

Are There Any Problems With The Study?

Observational studies are only able to tell us if something is linked, not if one thing caused another. This study only tells us there is a link between these diets and the outcomes they looked at.

But in this study, there are plausible biological links between bone development and growth in children.

Calcium, vitamin D and protein are critical for bone development and growth. These nutrients may be lower in vegan diets, as they come mainly from animal products:

  • calcium is found in dairy products
  • vitamin D, which we normally get from exposure to sunlight on our skin, is also found in animal foods but in smaller amounts
  • protein from plant foods is considered of lower biological value than animal sources.

One single plant source of protein won’t provide you with all the essential amino acids (the protein building blocks your body is unable to make for itself) that are needed. Vegans need to make sure they eat a variety of plants so they get a good mix of all the essential amino acids.

Child swings from monkey bars at a playground.
Children get vitamin D from sunlight, but also small amounts from food. Shutterstock

So, why didn’t the researchers carry out an intervention study and change the diets of the children?

First, it would be difficult to find children and their families who are willing to change their diets for a long period.

Second, it would be unethical to put children on a diet potentially affecting their growth and cardiovascular risk factors.

This study, conducted in Poland, is the only one to look at growth and cardiovascular outcomes in vegan and vegetarian children.

One small study in children aged five to ten years isn’t enough for the scientific community to say these results are valid and we must act on them.

But it does give us clues about potential problems and what we can look out for.

As the researchers indicated, more observational studies are needed, and in different countries.

Read more: Have you gone vegan? Keep an eye on these 4 nutrients

So What Does It Mean For Children On Vegan And Vegetarian Diets?

This doesn’t mean every child who follows these diets is going to have these nutritional and health benefits or problems. And we also can’t say whether these problems will persist into adulthood.

But it does highlight potential risks which health practitioners and parents need to be aware of. And it’s a reminder to either find suitable replacements that align with the family’s diet philosophy, or prescribe supplements if a deficiency is diagnosed through a blood test.

In particular, parents and caregivers need to be careful their children are maintaining a good intake of protein from a variety of vegan sources (beans, lentils, nuts) and calcium (from calcium supplemented plant milks).

Mother and child shop for vegetables at the supermarket.
The study highlights potential risks for parents to be aware of. Shutterstock

Whether you’re following a vegan, vegetarian or meat-eating diet, you still need to make sure the diet is balanced across all food groups.

The study is also a reminder to minimise your family’s intake of processed foods which are high in salt, sugar and saturated fat, which are risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

If you’re concerned about your children’s diet, talk to your GP or an accredited practising dietitian, who can assess their growth and diet. – Evangeline Mantzioris

Blind Peer Review

The reviewer has provided an accurate assessment of the research paper.

The study highlights the importance of meal planning to optimise food and nutrient intakes of children whose usual dietary pattern is vegan or vegetarian and the need for regular use of fortified foods and/or dietary supplementation with vitamin B12 and vitamin D and potentially calcium and iron, particularly for vegans.

However, the results of the study may be a “best case scenario”, given most families participating were highly educated and hence likely to be more invested in planning family meals. It is possible other families might have less healthy dietary patterns, and therefore greater nutritional deficits.

Together with the results highlighted by the reviewer about bone mineral content and height, as well as iron and cholesterol levels, this study confirms both the potential risks and benefits associated with vegan and vegetarian diets in children.

A key message is that families following plant-based diets need more advice and support to optimise their food and nutrient intakes, and their children’s diet-related health and well-being. – Clare Collins

Read more: Pregnant women and babies can be vegans but careful nutrition planning is essential The Conversation

Evangeline Mantzioris, Program Director of Nutrition and Food Sciences, University of South Australia

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

Friday essay: a rare bird — how Europeans got the black swan so wrong

Bernard Spragg/flickr
David HaworthMonash University

The black swan is an Australian icon. The official emblem of Western Australia, depicted in the state flag and coat-of-arms, it decorates several public buildings. The bird is also the namesake for Perth’s Swan River, where the British established the Swan River Colony in 1829.

The swan’s likeness has featured on stamps, sporting team uniforms, and in the logo for Swan Brewery, built on the sacred Noongar site of Goonininup on the banks of the Swan.

But this post-colonial history hides a much older and broader story. Not only is the black swan important for many Aboriginal people, it was also a potent symbol within the European imagination — 1500 years before Europeans even knew it existed.

Native to Australia, the black swan or Cygnus atratus can be found across the mainland, except for Cape York Peninsula. Populations have also been introduced to New Zealand, Japan, China, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Right now, the breeding season of the black swan is in full swing across southern Australia, having recently ended in the north. In waterways and wetlands, people are seeing pairs of swans — a quarter of which are same-sex — tending carefully to their cygnets, seeing off potential threats with elaborate triumph ceremonies, or gliding elegantly across the water, black feathers gleaming in the winter sun.

Yet once upon a time in a land far away, such birds were described as rare or even imaginary.

swans on water
Winter is breeding season in Australia’s southern states. Unsplash/Mitchell LuoCC BY

The Impossible Black Swan

In the first century CE, Roman satirist Juvenal referred to a good wife as a “rare bird in the earth, and very like a black swan”.

Casual misogyny aside, this is an example of adynaton, a figure of speech for something absurd or preposterous — like pigs flying, or getting blood from a stone.

Read more: Guide to the Classics: Juvenal, the true satirist of Rome

Over the centuries, versions of the phrases “black swan” and “rare bird” became common in several European languages, describing something that defied belief. The expressions made sense because Europeans assumed, based on their observations, that all swans were white.

Around the same time that Juvenal coined these phrases, Ptolemy devised a map of the world that included an unknown southern continentTerra Australis Incognita. Many believed this distant southland was populated with monsters and fabulous races, like the Antipodes, imagined by Cicero as “men which have their feet planted right opposite to yours”.

In a quirk of history, both the impossible black swan and the hypothetical southland were indeed real. Even more unbelievably, they would be found at the same geographic coordinates.

Once They Were White

Black swans are significant totems for many Aboriginal people and incorporated within songlines and constellations (where they are called GnibiGinibi, or Gineevee).

Yet the Noongar people in WA, and the Yuin and Euahlayi in New South Wales, tell ancestral stories about white swans, which had most of their feathers torn out by eagles.

black and white print of early Australian river scene
Print by an unknown artist after a drawing by Frederick Garling or watercolour by Frederick R. Clause, who accompanied Captain Stirling on his 1827 trip down the Swan River. State Library of Western Australia

In the Noongar story Maali, the swan, is proud and boastful of its beauty, and has its white feathers ripped out by Waalitj, the eagle, as punishment. In the Yuin story the swan, Guunyu, humble and quiet, is attacked because the other birds are jealous of his beauty.

And in the Euahlayi story, two brothers are transformed into swans, or Byahmul, as part of a robbery. Later they are attacked by eagles as an act of revenge.

In each story, after the swans have their white plumage torn out, crows release a cascade of feathers, turning the swans black, except for their white wing tips. Their red beak still shows blood from the attack.

These stories are keenly observant of, and offer an explanation for, the black swan’s colouration. They acknowledge the possibility swans could be white — even though it’s unlikely First Nations people observed white swans in their surroundings prior to British settlement.

This contrasts starkly with the European assumption that, having never seen a black swan, they couldn’t possibly exist.

Painting of black swans
Australian painter Neville Cayley’s Black Swans (circa 1890). National Library Australia

Read more: 6,000 years of climate history: an ancient lake in the Murray-Darling has yielded its secrets

From Myth To Wonder

European assumptions were destined to shatter once Dutch ships began visiting Australia’s western coastline in the 1600s. Seeing the mythical black swan in the flesh must have been like seeing a unicorn emerge from the shadows of the forest.

In 1636, Dutch mariner Antonie Caen observed black birds “as large as swans” at sea off Bernier Island — probably the first recorded European sighting.

In 1697, Willem de Vlamingh’s expedition to the west coast sighted many swans on what they dubbed Swarte Swaane Drift or Black Swan River. Noongar people know this river as Derbarl Yerrigan. If de Vlamingh was amazed at the sight of black swans, he did not record it, simply noting, “They are quite black”. Three swans were captured and taken to Batavia (Jakarta), but died before they could be brought to Europe.

Reports of the black swan made it back to the Netherlands and then to England, but it took another century for its mythical status to dissipate completely.

English ornithologist John Latham gave the black swan its first scientific name, Anas atrata, in 1790. Yet knowledge of its existence was still not widespread.

In 1792, the botanist on Bruni d’Entrecasteaux’s expedition, Jacques Labillardiere, made note of black swans at Recherche Bay in Tasmania, apparently unaware they were already known to Europeans.

drawing of black swan
 The black swan (Chenopis atrata) by Ebenezer Edward Gostelow (1938). National Library Australia

In 1804, Nicolas Baudin’s expedition brought the first living specimens to Europe. These became part of the Empress Josephine Bonaparte’s garden menagerie at the Château de Malmaison.

The black swan had migrated from myth to the far edge of reality, joining the kangaroo and the platypus as awe-inspiring wonders from the distant, topsy-turvy southland — real, but only just.

Good Versus Evil

Black swans never established large populations in the wild after being brought to Europe. It’s speculated this is because black animals were considered bad omens, in league with witches and devils, and often driven away or killed.

Beliefs like these reflect the ancient assumption, found everywhere from the Dead Sea Scrolls to Star Wars, that darkness and the colour black represent evil and corruption, and that light and the colour white represent goodness and purity.

Frantz Fanon once argued that “the colonial world is a Manichean world”, in which light and dark, white and black, and good and evil are starkly divided. These divisions have been deeply implicated in the histories of colonialism and racism — often with devastating consequences.

Two Swans, One Dancer

The symbolic contrast of light and dark features heavily in Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s most famous ballet, Swan Lake. Prince Siegfried falls in love with Odette, the innocent and virtuous white swan. But he is tricked into promising himself to her double, the seductive and malevolent Odile.

The ballet’s story was inspired by a long tradition of European fairy tales depicting Swan Maidens, but Tchaikovsky was also reportedly inspired by the life of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, known as the Swan King. Both Ludwig II and Tchaikovsky were caught between the societal pressure to marry and their own same-sex desires.

The roles of Odette and Odile are often played by the same ballerina, a tradition that started in 1895, two years after Tchaikovsky’s death. But it was not until 1941 that Odile was first depicted wearing black, and afterwards became known as the black swan.

Swan Lake suggests a Manichean worldview in which good and evil are polar opposites, as far away from each other as Europe is from the Antipodes. By having the same ballerina portray both roles, the ballet also suggests the world is not so simple — things can be black or white, or both at once.

False Black Swans

For 1500 years, Europeans had been spectacularly wrong about the black swan. Once its existence was accepted, its transmogrification from myth to reality became a metaphor within the philosophy of science. The black swan had shown the difficulty of making broad claims based on observable evidence.

Austrian philosopher Karl Popper used the black swan in 1959 to illustrate the difference between science that can be verified versus science that can be falsified.

To verify that all swans are white is practically impossible, because that would require assessing all swans — yet a single black swan can disprove the theory. In 2007, essayist and mathematic statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb argued organisations and individuals should be robust enough to cope with “black swan events”: consequential but unexpected moments in history.

black and white photo of kids at lake with birds
Children with black swans and ducks in Centennial Park, circa 1934. Wikimedia Commons/State Library NSW

Read more: Friday essay: the long history of warrior turtles, from ancient myth to warships to teenage mutants

The White Black Swan

This Australian winter, those enjoying the sight of black swans and their cygnets might assume, based on observable evidence, that all Australian native swans are black. But as black swans have shown, and as Taleb argued, we should expect the unexpected.

Last month, some four centuries after Europeans were awe-struck by the sight of black swans on our waters, Tasmanian fisherman Jake Hume rescued a white-plumaged black swan, the only one known to exist.

white swan at vet
Odette, the white black swan, is recovering from bullet wounds. Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary/Instagram

The swan is not an albino, because it still has pigmentation around its beak and eye. Its white feathers are the expression of a rare genetic mutation. First sighted in the area in 2007, the bird was found riddled with shotgun pellets. It is recovering in Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary until ready to be released.

Simultaneously a black swan, a white swan, and a metaphor, this assumption-shattering “rare bird” captures the complex cultural history surrounding this species.The Conversation

David Haworth, Senior Research Officer, Monash University

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

First Insights From The Serious Incident Response Scheme

June 4, 2021
Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) indicates that aged care residential providers have been working hard to implement and fine-tune their approach to incident management.

In the first six weeks of the scheme (from 1 April to 12 May 2021), the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission has received 1,876 notifications which fall into the Priority 1 reportable incident category - that is, an incident in a residential aged care service that has caused, or could potentially have caused physical or psychological injury to a consumer, requiring medical or psychological treatment.

Each of these notifications is assessed by the Commission for the purpose of identifying whether further information is required from the service and/or regulatory action is warranted by the Commission.

The most common type of reported incident was unreasonable use of force, followed by neglect.

Commissioner Janet Anderson PSM said “The notifications received to date indicate that providers are responding actively and swiftly to their new reporting obligations under SIRS.”

A key part of SIRS is the requirement for providers to have in place an effective incident management system to reduce injuries and other incidents impacting consumers, and to respond appropriately to incidents if and when they occur.

Ms Anderson said, “An aged care organisation which has an effective incident management system is well-positioned to collect and use incident data to build a learning culture, helping staff to prevent similar incidents from occurring and to better protect the health, safety and wellbeing of aged care consumers.”

This is the first in a series of insight reports on SIRS that will aim to reflect back to the sector relevant data and information drawn from serious incident notifications and the regulatory treatment of these notifications. Information from incident notifications informs the Commission’s broader regulatory actions and also indicates areas where the Commission can clarify and build on its initial SIRS guidance.

SIRS is a new initiative that aims to help prevent and reduce the risk of abuse and neglect of older Australians in residential services. It complements existing provider obligations under the Aged Care Act and strengthens responsibilities for providers to prevent and manage incidents. It requires providers to use incident data to drive quality improvement, and to report serious incidents. Providers notify the Commission of reportable incidents by completing a notification form on the My Aged Care Provider Portal.

The SIRS Insight report is available on the Commission’s website. Detailed guidance about SIRS and the new reporting obligations is also available on the Commission’s website.

COTA NSW/Challenger Research Highlights Age Discrimination In The Workforce

June 10, 2021
New research into the treatment of older workers shows that many mature-age employees report experiencing discrimination in the workforce due to their age, and believe they are not receiving the same opportunities provided to other workers.

Experience, Knowledge and Commitment: Valuing Older Workers examines the employment challenges facing people over 50. The research found there are more instances of older employees having been laid off compared to their younger colleagues, while a stigma remains around their competency with technology and openness to change.

Older women in non-managerial roles, working part-time or on a casual basis, are more likely to report experiences of aged-based discrimination.

The research is part of a joint initiative by COTA NSW and Challenger and is aimed at addressing the underemployment of people over 50. Importantly, the research considers the issue from the perspective of both Australian employers and employees.

“Australia’s mature-aged workforce is skilled and able – and older people are healthier than at any other time in history,” said COTA NSW CEO Meagan Lawson. 

“But due to stigma and discrimination, there are fewer employment opportunities for people aged over 50.”

Key takeaways from the research include:· 
  • Many employers are unaware of age discrimination in the workforce but are willing to do something about it once it’s been identified.
  • Businesses need support to understand how they are tracking, and the steps they can take to improve employment of mature workers.
  • Older workers believe a change in attitude by employers would help them financially and emotionally.· There’s a great diversity within mature aged workers.
Ageing of the workforce is a critical challenge for the economy. In 1976 there were seven working people for every non-working person. In 2016 that had fallen to four to one, and according to the NSW Intergenerational Report, it will be two to one by 2056.

The benefits to individuals and the community go well beyond finance. Workforce participation is linked to better health outcomes and other positive well-being indicators. But the research shows many mature age workers feel they don’t get a fair go, with excuses ranging from over-qualification and younger managers feeling threatened, to poor cultural fit and bad for the corporate image.

“There is significant value to individuals, the community and the economy in supporting older people to work as long as they wish,” 

Challenger Chief Executive Officer Richard Howes said. “Increasing workforce participation for older Australians will not only help improve overall wellbeing but also contributes to financial security for a better retirement.”

Half the employers surveyed for the research thought they were doing enough to support older workers. While most employers have general workplace bullying, discrimination and equal opportunities polices in place, only a minority had specific policies that covered age discrimination in detail.

“Older workers should be more valued for the expertise, skills and experience they bring to the workplace, and building awareness around the issue of age discrimination with employers and employees of all ages is a key opportunity,” Ms Lawson said.

COTA NSW and Challenger are developing a toolkit to help employers implement age friendly practices. It includes improved education for managers to address unconscious bias and improve hiring practices, as well as programs to help promote flexible working arrangements and anti-age discrimination policies.

The toolkit will be available later in the year and will include initiatives: to forge stronger connections between workers of all ages within an organisation and; how to better train mature age jobseekers.

“While not all older workers are the same, some uniform initial steps should be taken to address the issue of age bias,” Ms Lawson said. “There needs to be better education and training, more rigorous internal policies and structures, greater cross pollination among workers, and better access to job opportunities for older workers.

NSW Government’s Cost Of Living Service

June 9, 2021
The NSW Government’s popular Cost of Living Service is being expanded as part of the 2021-22 NSW Budget. $6.6 million in funding will help customers right across the state to access the full range of benefits available to them from the service and a further $7.6 million from the Department of Customer Service will be redirected towards upgrading the service. Service NSW will also hire extra staff, which will allow for up to 500 customers a day to benefit from the service.  

This means that potentially every minute someone will save up to $600 per appointment.

This support will make it easier for customers to find and apply for government rebates and savings, access personalised support with face-to-face appointments gradually resuming from 1 July 2021.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said easing the cost of living for households remains a top priority for the Government in the 2021-22 NSW Budget.

“There are up to 70 savings offered by the Government, and more than $4 billion has been collectively saved by families since the program commenced in July 2017,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“Service NSW is a one-stop shop that takes the hassle out of finding savings by putting all the relevant information under the one roof.”

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said this year’s Budget would continue to drive our economic recovery from COVID by ensuring more people had money in their pockets to spend on the things that matter most to them.

“This increased investment will give more people the support they need to help them create a better future for themselves and their families,” Mr Perrottet said.

“A simple appointment could potentially save you hundreds of dollars. Whether it is Active Kids vouchers, energy rebates or Toll Relief, there are hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars’ worth of savings out there to help make life that little bit easier.”

Minister for Digital and Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello said specialised staff are on hand to do the heavy lifting for customers.

“Gone are the days of having to visit multiple websites and waste time calling different agencies. Our specialised one-stop shop staff can help customers identify their eligibility for savings and help them claim them,” Mr Dominello said.

“There have been 70,000 cost of living appointments since July 2018, with the average saving per appointment almost $600, which means more money being spent on the things that matter most.

“As the popularity of this program continues to grow, Service NSW will ensure more staff are made available to best support NSW residents.”

Examples of other savings available include pensioner travel vouchers, Low Income Household Rebate and the Regional seniors travel card.  

The following are savings among different Service NSW Centres for cost of living appointments: 

Centre                         Savings         Highest Individual Saving
Penrith                             $138,000    $4,738
Central Coast Centres $2,524,000 $14,000
Macarthur                 $937,000         $1,793
Armidale                         $1,400,000 $10,000 

For more information, and to find out what you may get savings on, visit

COTA Australia: Policy Alert No 18 Federal Budget 2021

June 10, 2021
Aged Care Reform was the centrepiece of this year’s Federal Budget, both in policy and financial terms. Responding to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety the Morrison Government announced a comprehensive package of reforms with a total additional expenditure over four years of almost $18 billion. This was the largest increase in any portfolio of government in this Budget.

Apart from aged care there are not huge gains in this Budget. There are a number of welcome measures in retirement income policy, and some small steps on increasing workforce participation. However, there is no substantive new support for mature age employment and support for vulnerable groups like pensioners and Jobseeker recipients who rent is still missing. Long-term solutions are still needed to ensure vulnerable older Australians are adequately supported. 

COTA Australia have examined the aged care reform package in detail later but will start with some of the measures in other areas.

New Research: Having A Say In Aged Care Co-Design

June 9, 2021
Older Australians overwhelmingly want a seat at the table when it comes to designing a new era in aged care following the Royal Commission, according to new research by National Seniors Australia.
The survey by National Seniors of 4,562 older Australians found that:

Australian seniors are passionate about older people being involved at all levels of aged care system reform.
Seniors currently feel that opportunities for them to be involved as co-designers of age care are minimal.
Seniors are wary of tokenistic gestures of engagement such as consultation processes that invite contributions but do not act on them.
Seniors are not just aged care recipients - many have valuable experience and expertise they can contribute in making changes to the aged care system.
National Seniors CEO and Director of Research, Professor John McCallum says the response highlights the risk of inherent ageism if it’s left to just bureaucrats alone to redesign aged care.

“The Royal Commission presented us with a once in a generation opportunity to get this right. We have no choice. We must listen to the voices of the people who will be most impacted by the new Aged Care Act.”

The research was co-released with the EveryAGE Counts campaign which said that co-designing aged care reform with older people tackles ageism at its root.

"Of course older people can and must be co-designers of the aged care system. The reason they have been largely excluded to date can be put down to ageism, pure and simple," said EveryAGE Counts Director Marlene Krasovitsky. 

"Older people bring perspective, insight and in many cases valuable expertise to the design process. They must be around the table.”

National Seniors has also suggested this research be used in the Federal Government’s search for a Council of Elders in helping reform aged care as recommended by the Royal Commission.

Nurse-Led Home Blood Transfusions Highlight New Trend In Healthcare

June 9, 2021
A trend from hospital to home-based care, accelerated during COVID-19, looks set to continue with the first evidence in Australia that regular blood transfusions can be safely performed in residential homes and aged care facilities.

The joint study, undertaken by the University of South Australia, the Royal District Nursing Service and SA Health, investigated 1790 blood transfusions involving 533 patients in South Australian homes and aged care facilities over a 15-year period.

Key findings included:
  • The system used to deliver blood products to the patients was efficient and safe;
  • There was less than one percent of adverse reactions, with these reactions not being serious and able to be managed by a registered nurse;
  • The gender and age of the patient and their setting (including aged care facilities) was not a barrier to receiving a blood transfusion at home, and did not influence the risk of an adverse reaction. 
The study overwhelmingly supports home blood transfusions for medically stable patients, according to UniSA lead researcher Dr Rebecca Sharp.

“Hospitals can be alienating and strange places for older people, especially those who have dementia,” Dr Sharp says. “It is better for eligible patients if a trained nurse can go to their home and perform the blood transfusion, following strict procedures.”

Study co-author and RDNS National Nursing Director Ms Lisa Turner says the research highlights RDNS meeting the growing trend of health care being delivered at home, not in hospitals, and leading the drive for the evidence base to support future care.

“Blood transfusions are not straightforward procedures, and our nurses are highly trained and specially skilled to conduct the transfusions safely in people’s homes,” Ms Turner says. “The RDNS is one of very few providers in Australia able to do this at any sort of scale, which is testament to our nurses’ expertise.

“Because we’re able to perform blood transfusions in homes safely, it has the added benefit of reducing the burden on our hospitals and public health system by freeing up beds and resources that can redirected towards other critical care.”

The study authors welcome the shift in healthcare from hospitals to homes in recent years as it cost effective, preserves, hospital beds, and better supports patient wellbeing.

“Treatment delivered at home is continuing to grow in importance – even more so during COVID – and our study shows that blood transfusions for stable patients could move in this direction too,” the authors say.,” the authors say.

“Adverse events associated with home blood transfusion. A retrospective cohort study” is published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing

Photo: Registered nurse Daniel Allmand giving a blood transfusion to RDNS client, Hartley.

If I could go anywhere: the dizzying spectacle of Gaudí's Basílica de la Sagrada Família

John WillsteedQueensland University of Technology

In this series we pay tribute to the art we wish could visit — and hope to see once travel restrictions are lifted.

We hadn’t packed bags yet, but it was about all that was left to do. I had compiled playlists to keep me diverted, amused, energised on the long flights. We’d pored over pictures and hopeful descriptions of poky little apartments in the right places, or spacious, sleek pads too far away from the action.

It took us three months to get the accommodation and the flights just so. The right amount of layover; the right seats for me and the kid and my sweetheart; the menus, the access options for my travelling companions and their idiosyncratic needs.

All the while, Antoni Gaudí’s dream cast its evening shadow over the park across the Carrer de la Marina. Darkening the playground, the streets of the Eixample and their endless cars; blurring the faces of the crowds that ebb and flow past and through the structure, dwindling at day’s end and disappearing into the larger tide of Barcelona at night.

Inside cathedral view up
Inside the Basilica. Unsplash/La Partida EternaCC BY

Since builders broke ground for the Basílica de la Sagrada Família under architect Francisco de Paula del Villar in 1882, the site has seen several architects and project managers. But Antoni Gaudí remains its creative heart.

Read more: Cathedrals of light, cathedrals of ice, cathedrals of glass, cathedrals of bones

An Otherworldly Mix Of Styles

When Gaudí turned his attention in 1909 to del Villar’s original neo-Gothic design, he mixed it with the organic flow of the Art Nouveau.

Using intricate upside-down models, with weighted strings tracing parabolic curves, reflected in mirrors, Gaudí created his own style.

Gaudí sculpted rather than drew, creating apartments and parks and public buildings whose undulating lines and unexpected textures weren’t really seen again until Frank Gehry’s iconic structures, such as the Olympic Fish Pavilion and the Bilbao Guggenheim, both in Spain. Like the Sagrada Família, these buildings are otherworldly, seeming to exist outside both time and gravity.

hanging chain sculpture
Gaudí used hanging chain models, like this one of the chapel in Park Güell, reflected in mirrors for his architectural designs. Allen Gathman/FlickrCC BY

Read more: If I could go anywhere: Florence's San Marco Museum, where mystical faith and classical knowledge meet

A Stop On Tour

The first time I saw the Basílica, it was a grey afternoon in late August, 1988. I was on vacation from touring as bassist with The Go-Betweens and fled London with a dear travelling companion to saunter/stagger through southern Portugal, then Lisbon and Spain.

Brisbane friend Peter Loveday was “our man in Barcelona” and graciously led us through the town, cracking open each day as a fresh delight. I loved a wine, back in those days, and a beer. Prawns, vodka, gin and mussels. Barcelona was made of such treats, but the greatest treat was Gaudí.

We lingered in the wonder of Park Güell, where architecture and nature entwine, and the view stretches south across the city to the blue of the Mar Balear. On the clearest of clear days you can see the mountains on Majorca.

colourful tiled benches and curves
A place to rest on a summer’s day of sightseeing at Park Güell. Denise Jones/UnsplashCC BY

We were tourists visiting Casa Milà and Casa Batlló, dumbstruck by the extraordinary colours and finishes (lots of murals and tiles, cool to the touch on a hot afternoon), the bespoke furniture and fittings, and the opulent, sensual design of the facades and interiors.

Towering Scale

The Sagrada Família stood apart from these architectural treasures. On that August afternoon, the scale of the cathedral was staggering. Not just in size, towering over this five-storey city, but in the depth of detail.

view of city
Under construction. Alex Reiss/UnsplashCC BY

The Basílica is based on a crucifix, with the two facades — the Passion and the Nativity — at the ends of the transept or crosspiece. Each of these facades is dense with sculpture — flowers, plants, animals, angels, saints and scenes from the Bible — and from each rises four belltowers.

The spiral staircase inside the eastern belltower of the Nativity facade was worn smooth, a fractal path tracing the interior of a Nautilus shell. The towers are just over 100 metres tall (the central tower will top 170 metres when completed sometime after 2026). With little room for passing on the stair and no handrail, the experience was dizzying.

We emerged into the afternoon high above the city, on a little bridge between the towers; the beginnings of the cathedral below us. We saw colourful glazes of the cimborio (domes or cups) capping the belltowers. The sight, as I later noted in my diary, brought tears. I’d been triggered by the vastness of the idea, the astonishing detail and the knowledge that Gaudí didn’t live to see it finished.

aerial view of gridded city
Barcelona Eixample’s grid residential district. Shutterstock

God’s Architect

In June 1926, at the age of 73 and after almost two decades of working on the Basílica, Gaudí stepped into the path of a tram a few blocks from the cathedral. “God’s architect”, the Catalan Modernist, was buried in the underground crypt of the Sagrada Família below the Basílica he designed.

I have returned to Barcelona a couple of times over the years but never to the Sagrada Família. Much has changed since the 31-year-old me climbed those stairs.

A century and a half in the making.

The nave has been built, with towering columns and stained-glass windows. More belltowers rise above the street, with more to come. It is within a handful of years of being completed, hopefully by the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death.

Our carefully laid travel plans would have seen us arrive in Barcelona early in July 2020. The pandemic put those plans (and much else) on hold. I enjoyed the quiet but ache for the trip we had imagined. I think I’ve waited long enough for a second visit to my favourite building.

Read more: If I could go anywhere: Japanese art island Chichu, a meditation and an education The Conversation

John Willsteed, Senior Lecturer, School of Creative Practice, Queensland University of Technology

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

Young Australians And COVID-19: More Depression And Anxiety, But Less Alcohol-Related Harm

June 11, 2021
Young Australians experienced an increase in depression and anxiety during COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 but consumed less alcohol, a new report by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at UNSW Sydney says. Concerningly, their increased mental health issues weren't offset by greater help-seeking from mental health professionals. 

The researchers used survey data from 1927 young people – with a median age of 22 – as part of the Australian Parental Supply of Alcohol Longitudinal Study (APSALS) cohort. They found half the cohort rated their mental health as having worsened in May-June 2020, when compared to August 2019 – March 2020.

“Young people may disproportionately experience certain stressors associated with the pandemic, such as reduced casual working hours and disruption to other structured activities like tertiary education,” says Ms Emily Upton, Research Officer at NDARC and Clinical Psychologist.

The report found that despite the surge in generalised anxiety and depression, there was no increased uptake of young people seeking out mental health support from health professionals.

“Young people generally have low engagement with mental health treatment and rely more on self-reliance strategies to cope with mental health problems,” says Ms Upton.

Lag in young people accessing support
The report found that although the Australian government introduced initiatives to increase access to mental health support during the pandemic, there may be a lag in young Australians accessing this support.

“Cost is a key barrier to treatment access for young people. Reduction in income during the pandemic may be a factor in continued low rates of help-seeking and while government rebates are available, these do not cover the entire cost of psychological treatment,” says Ms Upton.

In another report using the same APSALS survey data, the researchers found alcohol use among young people during the COVID-19 pandemic decreased.

Dr Philip Clare, Biostatistician at The Prevention Research Collaboration, University of Sydney, says overall alcohol consumption among young people during the restrictions in May and June 2020 declined. “It went down by 17 per cent compared to February 2020, and there was a 34 per cent decline in the rate of alcohol-related harms.”

The report found that changes in consumption appear to be driven by the COVID-19 restrictions.

Increase in drinking 'virtually'
“Young people generally consume more alcohol outside of the home, so we would expect alcohol consumption to decline during COVID-19 restrictions. However, we saw an increase in drinking alone and drinking ‘virtually’ with others,” says Dr Clare.

“Similarly, the decline in alcohol-related harms may be driven by the fact that drinking was more likely to occur alone or ‘virtually’ with others due to the need to isolate, which reduces the risk of harms such as fighting with strangers, and traffic accidents.”

The report stresses that alcohol-related trends in young people are also important to understand so the relevant harm reduction strategies can be implemented.

“Although drinking and harms decreased, we could see an increase in future due to loss in tolerance,” said Dr Clare.

People can access free and confidential advice about alcohol and other drugs by calling the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline – 1800 250 015.

World First From Australian University: New Drug To Halt Dementia After Multiple Sports Related Head Injuries

June 7, 2021
A world-first international study led by the University of South Australia has identified a new drug to stop athletes developing dementia after sustaining repeated head injuries in their career.

The link between concussion and neurogenerative diseases is well established, but new research findings could halt the progression of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in sportspeople who sustain repeated blows to the head.

Red area shows where the brain is inflamed after concussion. Image: UniSA

CTE is a progressive and fatal brain disease associated with the accumulation of a protein known as hyperphosphorylated tau which affects cognition and behaviour.

In a paper published in Scientific Reports, UniSA Emeritus Professor Bob Vink and colleagues show how repeated concussions can cause CTE and a way to block it with a specially developed drug.

The findings will potentially have significant implications for athletes who play contact sports -- such as boxers and footballers -- as well as military veterans sustaining head injuries in conflict.

The team of researchers from Adelaide, Melbourne and the United States say the brain releases a neurotransmitter called substance P in the event of a head injury, causing abnormal amounts of the tau protein to collect inside neurons.

"Tau protein tangles are a feature of CTE, which reportedly leads to memory problems, confusion, personality changes, aggression, depression and suicidal thinking," Prof Vink says.

"Our research shows that by blocking substance P with a specific drug, we can prevent the tau protein tangles from developing in the brain and causing neurological problems."

The treatment was successfully tested in animal models, giving hope that CTE can be prevented in humans.

Prof Vink says the next step is human clinical trials, but that could take several years given that currently CTE can only be diagnosed post-mortem.

A study of 14,000 Americans over 25 years, published in Alzheimer's and Dementia in March, showed that people who sustained even one head injury were 25 per cent more likely to develop dementia later in life. This risk increased with multiple traumatic brain injuries.

The Guardian also reported in April that an analysis of late AFLW player Jacinta Barclay's brain uncovered neurological damage at age 29, highlighting the risks of repeated concussions to both sexes. Previous research has focused on the impact of brain injuries in male athletes, but females are more likely to sustain concussions.

Professor Robert Vink.  Image: UniSA

Frances Corrigan, Ibolja Cernak, Kelly McAteer, Sarah C. Hellewell, Jeffrey V. Rosenfeld, Renée J. Turner, Robert Vink. NK1 antagonists attenuate tau phosphorylation after blast and repeated concussive injury. Scientific Reports, 2021; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-88237-0

Fundamental Advance In Understanding T Cell Immunity

June 7, 2021
Monash University researchers have provided a fundamental advance regarding how T cells become activated when encountering pathogens such as viruses.

The recent study published in Science, co-led by Professor Nicole La Gruta, Professor Jamie Rossjohn and Professor Stephanie Gras with first author Dr Pirooz Zareie from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, have found that T Cells need to recognise pathogens in a particular orientation in order to receive a strong activating signal.

T cells play a key role in the immune system by eliminating invading pathogens, such as viruses, and it is crucial to understand the factors that determine how and why T cells become activated after recognizing these pathogens.

T cells express on their surface a T cell receptor (TCR) that recognizes and binds to virus fragments (antigens) presented by infected cells. This recognition event can lead to T cell activation and killing of infected cells.

"The central issue is that there are millions of different T cell receptors (TCRs) in the human body, and a vast array of viruses, making it difficult to understand the rules around how T cell receptor recognition of a virus drives T cell activation. Indeed, it is a problem that has remained contentious for over 25 years" says Professor La Gruta.

"Our study has shown that the orientation in which the T cell receptor binds is a primary factor determining whether the T cell receives an activating signal," Professor La Gruta said.

"This is an advance in our fundamental understanding of how a T cell needs to 'see' pathogenic antigens in order to be activated," she said. "It has clarified a critical mechanism essential for effective T cell immunity. It is also relevant to the ongoing development of immunotherapies that aim to boost the activation of T cells."

Dr Pirooz Zareie stated: "a combination of technologies, including super-resolution microscopy, X-ray crystallography at the Australian Synchrotron, biochemical assays and using in vitro and in vivo experimental models from a variety of labs led to the findings."

The study represented a cross-disciplinary collaboration between researchers from the University of Utah, National University of Singapore, University of New South Wales and Monash University.

Pirooz Zareie, Christopher Szeto, Carine Farenc, Sachith D. Gunasinghe, Elizabeth M. Kolawole, Angela Nguyen, Chantelle Blyth, Xavier Y. X. Sng, Jasmine Li, Claerwen M. Jones, Alex J. Fulcher, Jesica R. Jacobs, Qianru Wei, Lukasz Wojciech, Jan Petersen, Nicholas R.J. Gascoigne, Brian D. Evavold, Katharina Gaus, Stephanie Gras, Jamie Rossjohn, Nicole L. La Gruta. Canonical T cell receptor docking on peptide–MHC is essential for T cell signaling. Science, 2021; 372 (6546): eabe9124 DOI: 10.1126/science.abe9124

UNSW Researcher Named 2021 Young Tall Poppy

June 7, 2021
Childhood cancer researcher Dr Orazio Vittorio has received a 2021 Young Tall Poppy Science Award for his work in developing treatments for childhood cancers.

Dr Orazio Vittorio has been named a NSW Tall Poppy for excellence in scientific research and science communication. Photo: Children's Cancer Institute

A leading UNSW researcher has been recognised in the 2021 NSW Young Tall Poppy Science Awards.

Dr Orazio Vittorio from UNSW Medicine & Health and Children’s Cancer Institute has been named a NSW Tall Poppy for his ground-breaking research and exceptional commitment to increasing science literacy in the community.

The Tall Poppy Science Awards, an initiative of the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS), acknowledge excellence in research and commitment to communicating science to a broad audience. The awards are held in each state to celebrate researchers across science, engineering and mathematics.

Dr Vittorio is among 10 researchers in New South Wales who have been recognised and will receive their awards at a ceremony in the coming weeks.

“I’m honoured to receive this award,” Dr Vittorio said. “I am passionate about improving survival rates in kids with cancers like brain tumours, where we haven’t seen any real improvement in the last 20 years.”

Dr Vittorio’s work has made major contributions to understanding neuroblastoma biology and to developing effective treatments for this and other aggressive childhood cancers. His discovery of the key role copper plays in cancer immune evasion – particularly that high levels of copper block an immune cell’s ability to recognise tumours – is a world-first achievement. His development of anti-cancer therapeutics is also internationally recognised.

Read more about Orazio Vittorio: 'Science saved my life': one doctor's incredible journey from cancer researcher to cancer survivor

“I am an innovator. I like to look in directions where no one has looked before. If you want to achieve something you never had, you need to do something you have never done,” he said.

UNSW Dean of Medicine & Health Professor Vlado Perkovic congratulated Dr Vittorio on receiving the prestigious award.

“Dr Vittorio is highly deserving of this award,” Professor Perkovic said. “His work on the role of copper in neuroblastoma – one of the deadliest childhood cancers – is exciting and raises the possibility of treatments being developed that will use the knowledge to improve outcomes.

“It’s through the work of outstanding scientists like Dr Vittorio that we discover new treatments which can offer hope to sufferers of cruel diseases such as neuroblastoma. I am thrilled to have him on our team at UNSW Medicine & Health.”

Dr Vittorio has also been recognised for his exceptional commitment to raising STEM awareness and increasing science literacy in the wider community. He regularly engages with the public and media to promote the value of scientific research and advocates for increased support for early-career researchers. Through the Children’s Cancer Institute, he has also been involved in the popular “Kick Cancer’s Butt” program, informing high school students about childhood cancer research.

Sugar Overload In Childhood May Be A Recipe For Long-Term Problems

June 8, 2021
Children who consume too much sugar could be at greater risk of becoming obese, hyperactive, and cognitively impaired, as adults, according to the results of a new study of mice led by QUT and published by Frontiers in Neuroscience.

The study resulted in a reduced risk of sugar-induced weight gain and other health problems when the mice were given a much smaller daily dose of sucrose, supporting World Health Organisation calls for a reduction in sugar intake by humans.

One of the lead authors, Queensland University of Technology neuroscientist Professor Selena Bartlett, says many children, adolescents, and adults in more than 60 countries, including Australia, have a diet consisting of more than four times the sugar (100g) recommended by the World Health Organisation (25g per person per day).

"More work needs to be done in the investigation of the long-term effects of sugar on adolescents and adults but our results with the mouse model are very promising," said Professor Bartlett.

"Recent evidence shows obesity and impulsive behaviours caused by poor dietary habits leads to further overconsumption of processed food and beverages but the long-term effects on cognitive processes and hyperactivity from sugar overconsumption, beginning at adolescence, are not known," said Professor Bartlett.

"Our study found long-term sugar consumption (a 12-week period with the mice which started the trial at five weeks of age) at a level that significantly boosts weight gain, elicits an abnormal and excessive stimulation of the nervous system in response to novelty. It also alters both episodic and spatial memory. These results are like those reported in attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders.

"Human trials would need to be done but it suggests a link to the long-term overconsumption of sugar, beginning at a young age, which occurs more commonly in the Western Diet and an increased risk of developing persistent hyperactivity and neurocognitive deficits in adulthood."

Professor Bartlett said while the concept of 'sugar addiction' and the classification of sugar as a substance of abuse were still being debated, there is increasing evidence of overlap in the brain circuitry and molecular signalling pathways involved in sugar consumption and drug abuse.

"People consume sugar and food to regulate energy balance, but also for pleasure and comfort. This hedonistic desire for palatable food is reward-driven and overeating can impact upon and even override our ability to regulate," Professor Bartlett said.

"It is increasingly considered that unrestricted consumption of high-sugar food and beverages within the Western Diet might be linked to the increased obesity epidemic. A strong association between attention-deficits/hyperactivity disorders and being overweight or obese have also been revealed.

"Taken together, these data suggest that sugar-induced obesity may participate to the developing pathogenesis of ADHD-like symptoms in western countries. In children, high sugar consumption correlates with hyperactivity and in adults, with inattention and impulsivity.

"What has been unclear though, is whether chronic overconsumption of sucrose -- starting from childhood -- would have the same negative impact on our nervous system, emotions or cognition throughout adulthood as other addictive drugs.

"This study on mice goes a long way to resolving that question. Our results show for the first time that long-term consumption of sucrose leads to significant weight gain and produces persistent hyperactivity and learning impairments."

QUT neuroscientist Professor Selena Bartlett

Co-lead author Dr Arnauld Belmer added that while the overall sugar consumption has dropped since the mid-1990s, obesity rates have climbed.

"This rise in obesity rates could result from a delayed effect of excess sugar, suggesting that adult obesity may be driven by high sugar intake over a life span," Dr Belmer said.

"Interestingly, our investigation with the mice found reducing the daily sucrose intake four-fold did prevent sugar-induced increase in weight gain, supporting the WHO's recommendation to restrict sugar intake by this amount would be effective. It could also limit the other negative consequences including hyperactivity and cognitive impairment."

Kate Beecher, Ignatius Alvarez Cooper, Joshua Wang, Shaun B. Walters, Fatemeh Chehrehasa, Selena E. Bartlett, Arnauld Belmer. Long-Term Overconsumption of Sugar Starting at Adolescence Produces Persistent Hyperactivity and Neurocognitive Deficits in Adulthood. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 2021; 15 DOI: 10.3389/fnins.2021.670430

$264 Million Data Centre Approved For Macquarie Park

June 5, 2021
A new $264 million data centre in Macquarie Park has been given the green light by the NSW Government paving the way for 450 new jobs.

Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes said the new centre would provide vital support to the growing digital economy.

“Our increased reliance on digital technologies means the demand for the physical infrastructure underpinning these technologies is growing,” Mr Stokes said.

“Fast-tracking data centre assessments are a key part of the NSW Government’s planning reforms because they are vital to supporting our economic growth.”

Member for Ryde Victor Dominello said the new data centre would be a welcome addition to Macquarie Park’s thriving business district.

“The data centre will create 400 construction jobs and up to 50 operational jobs, a significant boost for the area,” Mr Dominello said.

Construction of the data centre is expected to begin in September and be operational by March 2023.

This approval follows recent reforms and proposed changes to planning rules to support the faster delivery of data centres throughout NSW.

The state significant development threshold of $50 million for these types of developments has been lowered to $30 million until May 2023, with extra resources included to get them through the planning system more quickly.

The NSW Government is also considering feedback on proposed changes to planning rules that could see some data centres set up as complying development, subject to strict conditions.

Less Aviation During The Global Lockdown Had A Positive Impact On The Climate

June 2, 2021
High levels of aviation drive global warming, not only through greenhouse gas emissions, but also through additional clouds. This is the conclusion reached by scientists at Leipzig University, Imperial College London and the Institut Pierre-Simon Laplace in Paris. They studied the extent to which cirrus clouds caused by aircraft occurred during the global hard lockdown between March and May 2020, and compared the values with those during the same period in previous years. The study was led by Johannes Quaas, Professor of Theoretical Meteorology at Leipzig University, and has now been published in Environmental Research Letters.

Cirrus clouds, known for their high, wispy strands, contribute to warming the climate. When cirrus clouds occur naturally, large ice crystals form at an altitude of about 36 kilometres, in turn reflecting sunlight back into space -- albeit to a small extent. However, they also prevent radiated heat from escaping the atmosphere, and thus have a net heating effect. This is the dominant effect in cirrus clouds.

When the weather conditions are right, condensation trails form behind aircraft. These may persist and spread to form larger cirrus clouds. In this case, their effect on the climate is much greater than that of narrow contrails alone.

The researchers led by Professor Quaas analysed satellite images of clouds in the northern hemisphere, between 27° and 68° North, in the period from March to May 2020. They then compared these with images from the same period in previous years. "Crucially, our studies reveal a clear causal relationship. Since clouds vary considerably depending on the weather, we would not have been able to detect the effects of air traffic in this way under normal circumstances. The period of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic offered a unique opportunity to compare clouds in air traffic corridors at very different traffic levels.

Analysis of the data collected showed that nine per cent fewer cirrus clouds formed during the global lockdown, and that the clouds were also two per cent less dense," said Professor Quaas. "The study clearly demonstrates that aircraft contrails lead to additional cirrus clouds and have an impact on global warming." According to Professor Quaas, the data collected confirmed previous estimates based only on climate models: "Our study may improve the ability to simulate these effects in climate models."

Despite the team's findings, there has still not been enough research into the impact of aviation on global warming. A European research collaboration involving Professor Quaas's research group is currently investigating the precise mechanisms in detail. "The tough global lockdown has been helpful in terms of our research. In order to mitigate or even avoid the warming effect on the climate, flight routes could be adapted in the future to avoid cirrus cloud formation, for example by separating flight corridors," said the Professor of Theoretical Meteorology at Leipzig University.

Johannes Quaas, Edward Gryspeerdt, Robert Vautard, Olivier Boucher. Climate impact of aircraft-induced cirrus assessed from satellite observations before and during COVID-19. Environmental Research Letters, 2021; 16 (6): 064051 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/abf686

University Of Adelaide Study Finds Depression 50% Higher In Women With PCOS

June 8, 2021
Women diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) are 1.5 times more likely to have symptoms of clinical depression than women without the condition, a new study from the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute has found. This was the case whether or not women knew they had PCOS.

PCOS is a common endocrine disorder affecting around 12% of women. It is associated with a range of conditions including irregular periods, excess body hair, obesity and infertility. Despite being one of the most common endocrine conditions affecting women, there are few studies examining the pathways to diagnosis of PCOS.

Research indicates that receiving a formal diagnosis of PCOS is closely linked to seeking help for infertility, with women with diagnosed PCOS being four times more likely to have experienced difficulties becoming pregnant compared to undiagnosed women.

Researchers at the Robinson Research Institute undertook a community-based study of almost 1000 South Australian women that found around half of the 120 women with PCOS had not received a diagnosis by their early 30s.

“Our research and other findings point to depression in PCOS not simply being related to distressing symptoms, but possibly a physiological part of the condition itself.” - Professor Michael Davies

Published in Human Reproduction, the study 'Diagnosis delayed: health profile differences between women with undiagnosed polycystic ovary syndrome and those with a clinical diagnosis by age 35 years', went on to compare the health profiles of women with diagnosed and undiagnosed PCOS.

Lead author Dr Renae Fernandez said that attempting to start a family and having problems with fertility was a major predictor of receiving a PCOS diagnosis.

“This suggests that PCOS is commonly not identified until women attempt to get pregnant, meaning that they may be living with other distressing symptoms of PCOS for many years before they receive appropriate care and support.”

“The study found that 50% of women with PCOS, regardless of whether they were diagnosed, had clinical depression symptoms. This was 50% higher than among women without PCOS, indicating the increased risk of depression linked to PCOS is not due to the process of diagnosis, but occurs before the diagnosis.”

“These findings reinforce the recommendations of the International evidence-based guideline for the assessment and management of PCOS to screen all women with PCOS for depression and anxiety”, said senior author Professor Michael Davies from the University of Adelaide's Robinson Research Institute.

"Our research and other findings point to depression in PCOS not simply being related to distressing symptoms, but possibly a physiological part of the condition itself.”

This research has been funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Centre for Research Excellence in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.

New Insights Into Survival Of Ancient Western Desert Peoples

June 7, 2021
Researchers at the University of Adelaide have used more than two decades of satellite-derived environmental data to form hypotheses about the possible foraging habitats of pre-contact Aboriginal peoples living in Australia's Western Desert.

As one of the most arid and geographically remote regions of Australia, the Western Desert has always presented severe challenges for human survival. Yet despite the harsh conditions, Aboriginal peoples have maintained an enduring presence, continuously adapting to environmental variations through complex socioeconomic strategies.

In the study published in Scientific Reports, the researchers used Earth Observation data to model the most suitable habitats for traditional foraging activities, identifying where surface water was most abundant and vegetation was greenest to infer which areas of the landscape past Aboriginal peoples were likely to have utilised. The study also drew on previous research into traditional subsistence and settlement practices, enabling researchers to estimate daily foraging range in proximity to water.

Lead author of the study, Postdoctoral Researcher Dr Wallace Boone Law, says the fine scale of the satellite model developed enabled the team to depict the highly variable nature of environmental and hence potential foraging habitats in the Western Desert.

"Where earlier studies depicted the Western Desert as a relatively uniform environment, our study shows the region to be highly dynamic and variable, both in its environmental conditions and foraging potential," Dr Law said.

"For example, desert dunefields were once thought to have been a periodic barrier to occupation, but our work shows this is not true for all sandridge deserts. Some dunefield areas offer good foraging habitats, particularly amongst interdunal swale areas.

"However, we also found that there are large, impoverished regions of the Western Desert that would have been extremely challenging for survival, based on terrain ruggedness and access to food and water resources.

"We believe it is likely that some of these poorly-suited foraging areas would have been difficult for survival for the past 21,000 years, and because Aboriginal peoples were highly knowledgeable about the distribution of resources across the Western Desert, we hypothesise those locations would have been rarely used in the past. And further, we predict that the archaeological record of these difficult habitats will point to ephemeral episodes of occupation.

"We suggest that some low-ranked areas of habitat suitability were resource-poor and not economically attractive to foraging activities, even in the best environmental circumstances," said Dr Law.

The researchers hope that archaeologists can use the study to explore many large areas of the Western Desert that have yet to be thoroughly investigated.

"Our findings highlight how future models of forager land use can be integrated with Earth Observation data to better comprehend the environmental complexity and fine scale of resource variability in these vast, remote and diverse places," said Dr Law.

"We hope our research into the changing environment in pre-contact Australia will assist with fostering a new era of research in partnership with Indigenous communities to provide further understanding of the industrious, versatile and resilient Aboriginal peoples of the Western Desert."

W. Boone Law, Peter Hiscock, Bertram Ostendorf, Megan Lewis. Using satellite imagery to evaluate precontact Aboriginal foraging habitats in the Australian Western Desert. Scientific Reports, 2021; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-89642-1

Land systems of the Western Desert include (A) stony plains, (B) sand plains, (C) sandridge desert and (D) montane desert uplands. These coarse-scale geographical units feature prominently in past ecological and archaeological models of precontact Aboriginal land use. Recent satellite modelling depicts the highly varied suitability of foraging habitats within these arid land systems. Photos: W. Boone Law.

Wildlife Researcher Awarded Forrest Research Foundation Prospect Fellowship

June 1, 2021
Wildlife ecologist and geneticist, Dr Brenton von Takach, has been awarded a Prospect Fellowship by the Forrest Research Foundation to conduct research at Curtin University’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences. The 18-month fellowship will allow Dr von Takach to investigate the genomic and ecological consequences of vertebrate species declines occurring worldwide as a result of habitat degradation, invasive species, land clearing and climate change, including Australia’s own northern quoll and golden-backed tree-rat.

Curtin University Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne commended Dr von Takach for being recognised by the Foundation, which supports outstanding post-doctoral researchers to carry out important projects.

“Research conducted in the public sphere at universities offers a unique opportunity to advance, create and disseminate knowledge and support for that research is crucial,” Professor Hayne said.

“This fellowship recognises Dr von Takach’s excellent work in this area to-date and will allow him to acquire further data to protect threatened or declining vertebrate species.”

“This is particularly important in Australia, which has highly unique and diverse fauna and has been exceptionally vulnerable to the effects of environmental and land-use changes.”

Dr von Takach receives one of eight Prospect Fellowships awarded by The Forrest Research Foundation this year.

Nicola Forrest AO said COVID-19 and the challenges of the past 12 months have had a huge impact on the Australian research community.

“We are proud Forrest Research Foundation has been able to move quickly to respond to this challenge with funding through the Prospect Fellowship program,” Dr Forrest AO said.

“It’s very exciting to welcome these exceptional new minds to Western Australia. It is wonderful they will continue their vital work here, and further strengthen our state’s growing research community”.

Driving research and innovation in Western Australia, the Forrest Research Foundation awards scholarships and fellowships to top-performing young intellects from around the world to conduct research across a broad range of disciplines at any of WA’s five universities.

The Forrest Research Foundation was established in 2014, by Andrew and Nicola Forrest through their Minderoo Foundation.

Further information on the Fellowships can be found online here.

Dr Brenton von Takach. Image: Curtin University

Kookaburras Joined By Children In The Old Gum Tree

June 8, 2021
Maths next to a wildlife reserve? English under the shade of a gum tree? What about a science class wading through the wetlands? The latter is not uncommon but new evidence is emerging that nature-based learning has a multitude of benefits for children that extend beyond a real-life botany class collecting wildflowers.

A University of South Australia review has found growing evidence that taking the classroom outdoors may improve physical activity, learning, mental health and wellbeing, engagement in class and social skills.

In a paper published in Environmental Education Research, UniSA PhD candidate Nicole Miller and her colleagues have summarised 20 studies of nature-based learning from across the globe over the past 18 years.

“The evidence suggests that taking the classroom outdoors could be a great way to include more incidental physical activities into a child’s day,” Miller says.

The link between learning in nature and lower obesity rates is not new, but more significant than ever, given that only 19 per cent of Australian children are meeting the World Health Organization’s recommended levels of 60 minutes of moderate exercise a day.

“Globally, the figures are even worse, with a recent study of 12 countries showing that just 4.8 per cent of children aged between 5-19 years are doing moderate to vigorous exercise for an hour each day.”

WHO estimates that at least 340 million children and teenagers are overweight or obese, including 24 per cent of Australian children (ABS statistics), increasing their risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease later in life.

Nature-based learning can range from holding normal classes outdoors, to more strenuous activities such as constructing shelters, and group games.

Apart from the physical benefits, the evidence suggests that nature-based learning is more enjoyable and hands-on than in a traditional classroom, so children may be more likely to retain more knowledge and stay focused throughout the lesson.

Learning about the environment while in nature is an obvious benefit, but the researchers also referenced studies showing the mental health benefits in adults who had spent significant time in nature in their childhood.

“Previous research has found links that suggest adults with a low exposure to nature in childhood had significantly poorer mental health and a greater risk of psychiatric disorders,” Miller says.

A 2017 study of 48 children in Germany found that children’s stress levels significantly improved after nature-based learning in the forest. Also, a 2018 US study reported that learning outcomes improved students’ focus and behaviour.

“While the evidence is growing, more research is needed because it is still unclear which elements of nature-based learning, such as type, duration, frequency, and location, provide the most benefits,” Miller says.

The outcomes of nature-based learning for primary school aged children: a systematic review of quantitative research” is published in Environmental Education Research, at:

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.