Inbox and Environment News: Issue 499

June 20 - 26, 2021: Issue 499

Consultations On Wakehurst Parkway + Ingleside Development Closing Soon

Readers are reminded that the current consultations on these proposals, that both involved the removal; of vast swathes of bush and habitat for local wildlife, as well as being 'nursery' spaces for wildlife, will close soon. Visit:

Mona Vale Dunes Bushcare Group Planting-Out Installs 600 Natives

Volunteers from Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA) assisted by Council had a  great morning planting on Mona Vale Dunes on June 17th. About 600 plants went in, were watered and protected from rabbits with wire and bags. 

''Thanks so much everyone and our supervisors Toya from ABR and Adam from NBC. We're creating better habitat for wildlife as native plants host more insects than weeds. Nearby Fairy Wrens kept an eye on us and a calling Whitebrowed Scrub Wren stayed hidden. Millie found a baby bluetongue and we also found this big skink, yet to be identified. They were safely tucked back under nearby bushes. 

We will need to water again within a couple of weeks.'' PNHA said

Bangalley Head Landcare Group Progress

Another great day last Sunday June 13. With the help of some new volunteers we really got stuck into the Morning Glory and Trad. And very encouraging to see where the contractors have been at work since last month. A lot of work ahead yet though. Fantastic to see some Trad leaf smut taking hold where we released it last October. Yellow spots on the leaves are a good sign. Morning Tea together is a great time for a chat. 

Our next meeting will be 8.30 am Sunday July 11, at foot of track on Whale Beach Rd, near no 79.

Brookvale To Get Cooler And Greener With Installation Of 250 Trees

The Northern Beaches will receive a share of $9.9 million funding from the NSW Government, to increase tree cover and create cooler suburbs.

James Griffin MP, Member for Manly said Northern Beaches Council has secured $134,937 as part of the Greening our City program, to plant 250 trees in the Northern Beaches.

“Quality green and open public spaces are important to everyone,” Mr Griffin said. 

“This is an excellent initiative to boost the number of trees in Brookvale and Curl Curl to make it an even more comfortable and vibrant place for the community to enjoy.”

Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes said 20,000 trees will be planted across 23 council areas in Greater Sydney as part of the program.

“Greening our City is a wonderful program to increase our tree canopy. It was first launched in 2018 and has since delivered more than $15 million to local councils for planting 66,000 trees,” Mr Stokes said.

“We’re already more than halfway to meeting the Premier’s Priority to plant one million trees by 2022 and every tree planted from each of these programs gets us one step closer.”

Northern Beaches Council Mayor Michael Regan said the project will rejuvenate Brookvale and Curl Curl and will create green corridors within the high heat index areas of Brookvale Industrial area, Roseberry Street Industrial area and John Fisher Park Curl Curl.

“We are pleased to have been successful in our grant application to support to green those areas which have low tree canopy. 

“The trees will reduce the intense summer heat on the footpath and carpark areas and improve the look of these highly urbanised spaces.”

To increase community involvement and tree planting on private land, the NSW Government has also partnered with Bunnings Warehouse to give away 25,600 free trees to Greater Sydney households between June and October.

“Our tree giveaway with Bunnings is open to all 33 local government areas throughout Greater Sydney between June and October, allowing 10,500 eligible households to get their hands on more shade, privacy and fruit trees for their home,” Mr Griffin said.

“Applications can be made online and the local Bunnings store will be in contact when your trees are ready to be collected and planted.”

This third round of grants are being administered by Local Government NSW (LGNSW), on behalf of the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, and support the Premier’s Priority to plant one million trees by 2022.

A list of successful grant applicants is available at:

For more information on the tree giveaway visit:

Federal Consultation On Endangered Listing For The Koala Now Open - Closes July 30, 2021

Consultation on Species Listing Eligibility and Conservation Actions: Phascolarctos cinereus (Koala)
You are invited to provide your views and supporting reasons related to:

1) the eligibility of Phascolarctos cinereus (Koala) for inclusion on the EPBC Act
threatened species list in the Endangered category; and
2) the necessary conservation actions for the above species.

The purpose of this consultation document is to elicit additional information to better understand the status of the species and help inform on conservation actions and further planning. As such, the draft assessment should be considered to be tentative as it may change following responses to this consultation process.

Evidence provided by experts, stakeholders and the general public are welcome. Responses can be provided by any interested person.

Anyone may nominate a native species, ecological community or threatening process for listing under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) or for a transfer of an item already on the list to a new listing category. The Threatened Species Scientific Committee (the Committee) undertakes the assessment of species to determine eligibility for inclusion in the list of threatened species and provides its recommendation to the Australian Government Minister for the Environment.

Responses are to be provided in writing by email to: please include “Koala-Listing” in Subject field.
or by mail to:
The Director
Bushfire Affected Species Assessments Section
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
John Gorton Building, King Edward Terrace
GPO Box 858
Canberra ACT 2601
Responses are required to be submitted by 30 July 2021.


Koala Listing Strengthens Call For An Independent Environmental Compliance Agency

June 18, 2021
The World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia today welcomed the recommendation to uplist koalas in eastern Australia from vulnerable to endangered, but said this could have been avoided.

The Threatened Species Scientific Committee, which advises the federal government, has made a tentative assessment (on page 51) that “the Committee considers that the Koala is eligible for listing as Endangered” in eastern Australia because of population declines.

There will now be a public inquiry to confirm that assessment. It follows WWF-Australia, IFAW and HSI nominating the koala to be listed as endangered last year.

“Had Australia put in place an independent compliance agency in 2012 when the koala in eastern Australia was first listed as vulnerable, we could have avoided this day. But we didn’t, we kept on with business as usual,” said Stuart Blanch, WWF-Australia Senior Manager, Towards Two Billion Trees.

In fact last year WWF-Australia revealed that destruction of koala habitat actually increased after the iconic marsupial was listed as “vulnerable” in Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT.

“There was little to no consequence for those who didn’t follow our nature laws.

“If we don’t instate an independent environmental compliance agency, then we’ll keep marching our koalas to the extinction line across eastern Australia.

“This sad milestone could be a turning point for the Regeneration of Australia, but it requires reform and a commitment to a nature positive way forward.

“The decline of our Australian icon also shines the spotlight on why Australia needs to rise to meet the global ask of securing 30% of Australia’s landscape under protection.

“While the government recently celebrated meeting ocean protection targets, it is failing to meet the 30% land protection targets being called for globally.

“Australia also needs to commit to a target at the climate COP that is koala safe, because climate change is causing extreme drought and bushfire conditions – major extinction threats to koalas alongside clearing.

“WWF is confident that Australia can not only turn around the sad decline of Australia’s icon, but actually double the number of Koala’s across Eastern Australia by 2050.

Draft National Recovery Plan For The Koala (Combined Populations Of Queensland, New South Wales And The Australian Capital Territory)

AWE have drafted a National Recovery Plan for the Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) (combined populations of Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory). It is proposed that this plan be made under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). They invite you to comment on this draft national recovery plan by 24 September 2021.

What is the Draft National Recovery Plan for the Koala (combined populations of Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory)?
The combined population of Koalas in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory are listed as threatened under the EPBC Act. The Koala populations of Victoria and South Australia are not listed as threatened under the EPBC Act and therefore are not covered by this recovery plan. The National Recovery Plan for the Koala identifies national-level strategic actions to support recovery of the EPBC Act listed Koala. It aligns with relevant state and territory planning, programs and strategies to ensure we are all working together to save the Koala.

What is the purpose of this consultation?
The 3-month public consultation process gives Australians the chance to have their say on the draft plan that sets out the research and management actions necessary to stop the decline, and support the recovery, of the nation’s threatened Koalas.

All comments received during the public consultation period will be considered by the Minister for the Environment in making the final recovery plan.

Provide your feedback
We invite you to comment on this draft national recovery plan.

Who can respond to the consultation?
Everybody can have their say and we encourage feedback from members of the general public as well as representative organisations, land managers, community groups and the scientific community.

How long is the consultation open for?
Submit your feedback by 24 September 2021.

How can I provide my comments on the recovery plan?
To have your say, use our survey portal below to answer questions, upload a submission, or both.

Alternatively, you can send your submission via:

Post: Attn Koala Recovery Plan team

Protected Species and Communities Branch
Biodiversity Conservation Division
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
GPO Box 858
Canberra ACT 2601

Or email: link) with "Recovery Plan" in the subject heading.

What next
We provide your feedback to the:

Threatened Species Scientific Committee
Minister for the Environment.
The Minister will consider the feedback received in making the final recovery plan, on advice of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee.

Conservation advice and listing assessment
The National Recovery Plan is not the only koala document out for public consultation. The draft conservation advice and listing assessment for the koala has been released for public consultation as well. The public consultation period closes on 30 July 2021. Information on how you can provide comment can be found at

Any relevant information arising from the listing assessment will be considered in the final version of the draft National Recovery Plan for the Koala.

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.

Heat Spells Doom For Australian Marsupials

June 17, 2021
When animals are hot, they eat less. This potentially fatal phenomenon has been largely overlooked in wild animals, explain researchers from The Australian National University (ANU).

According to lead author Dr Kara Youngentob, it means climate change could be contributing to more deaths among Australia's iconic marsupials, like the greater glider, than previously thought.

"Hot weather puts all animals off their food. Humans can deal with it fairly well; we usually have plenty of fat reserves and lots of different food options," Dr Youngentob said.

"But it's much more serious for animals with highly specialised diets, like greater gliders. If they don't eat regularly, they don't meet their nutritional requirements to stay alive. They also get most of their water from their food, so not eating leads to dehydration too.

"Even night-time temperatures can get hot enough to cause nocturnal animals to lose their appetite during heatwaves.

"A lot of the focus until now has been on the impact of climate change on food quality and quantity, but the bigger picture here is that hot animals eat less even if they have plenty of food."

We already have evidence that marsupials have trouble processing the natural toxins in eucalyptus leaves at high temperatures. But in this scenario, hot temperatures alone, even with a toxin free diet, can stop them from eating enough to stay alive.

Dr Youngentob said there are a few things we can do to address the issue, including protecting sources of food.

"If you're eating less, the small amount you do eat needs to be more nutritious. Not all eucalypts have the same level of nutrients, so we need to identify and protect those areas of the forest that have the best quality food for these animals," Dr Youngentob said.

"We should restore degraded forest with more nutritious food trees too.

"We also need to look closely at what makes some forests cooler, and what contributes to forests getting hotter so we can protect and expand those cooler microclimates."

Kara N. Youngentob, David B. Lindenmayer, Karen J. Marsh, Andrew K. Krockenberger, William J. Foley. Food intake: an overlooked driver of climate change casualties? Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2021.04.003

Public Concern On Human Health Impact Of Plastic Pollution

June 16, 2021
The impact of marine plastic pollution on human health tops a list of health-related concerns over marine threats in a large scale survey which could help shape policy over how best to protect our oceans.

Researchers at the University of Exeter led a survey of more than 15,000 people across 14 European countries, plus Australia, as part of the interdisciplinary European collaboration called the Seas, Oceans and Public Health in Europe (SOPHIE) Project, funded by Horizons 2020.

Working with colleagues from the European Marine Board, the University of Vienna and the University of Queensland, the SOPHIE project investigated public perceptions towards various marine topics, including marine plastic pollution. The new study, published in Global Environmental Change, found that both Europeans and Australians were highly concerned about the human health impact of marine plastic pollution, ranking it top of 16 marine-related threats in terms of cause for concern, including chemical or oil spills, marine biodiversity loss and climate change related effects such as sea-level rise and ocean acidification.

The research comes as plastic pollution is widely acknowledged as a major cause for international concern. Tiny particles of plastic known as microplastic have been found in all sea life sampled, meaning they are likely to be ingested by humans. However, while much is known about the ecological damage, including to marine life and other wildlife, the potential impacts on human health are inconclusive. The study found that people surveyed supported more research to understand the impact of marine plastic pollution on our health.

Lead author Sophie Davison, of the University of Exeter's European Centre for Environment and Human Health, said: "Plastic pollution is one of the fastest-growing environmental challenges on our planet. Yet, while the damage to marine life is well understood, the impact on human health remains unclear. Our study indicates that this is of grave concern to the public, and that there's widespread support for more research in this area."

Research has shown that plastic pollution breaks down to miniscule particles of microplastic, which find their way into the guts of sea creatures, birds and other wildlife. Yet to date, the evidence surrounding if and how they affect humans, for example by ingesting them through eating seafood, is limited.

Co-author Mathew White, an environmental psychologist at the University of Vienna, said the paper aimed to inform decision-making around policy on plastic pollution and funding for research into potential human health impacts. He said: "Given that marine plastic pollution is a global challenge and all of society contributes to some degree to the plastic consumption cycle, we urgently need to find ways of connecting the high level of concern with ways of curbing the leakage of plastic into the environment."

The findings echo a recent poll of 8,000 people, conducted by the Government's Department for the environment, food and rural Affairs. The survey found that three quarters of respondents felt that plastic pollution and litter was the greatest threat to the health of the seas, and 94 per cent of people believe the health of oceans and humans are inextricably linked, in turn echoing a warning from researchers led by Exeter which set out an action plan to instigate the first stages of change.

The University of Exeter is a world leader on microplastics research, including the biological impact on marine animals, and developing a new method to test for different types of plastic simultaneously.

Sophie M.C. Davison, Mathew P. White, Sabine Pahl, Tim Taylor, Kelly Fielding, Bethany R. Roberts, Theo Economou, Oonagh McMeel, Paula Kellett, Lora E. Fleming. Public concern about, and desire for research into, the human health effects of marine plastic pollution: Results from a 15-country survey across Europe and Australia. Global Environmental Change, 2021; 102309 DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2021.102309

NSW Government To Tackle Plastics And Waste

June 13, 2021
Plastics like single-use lightweight bags, cotton-buds, straws and stirrers will be phased out, and green bins for food and organic waste will be rolled out across the state, under the NSW Government’s plastics plan and waste strategy.  Premier Gladys Berejiklian said more than $356 million will be invested over five years to implement the nation leading plans to protect the environment and promote recycling.  

“We want NSW to be a leader when it comes to reducing waste, maximising recycling and protecting our environment, but we want to do it in a way that drives job creation and innovation," Ms Berejiklian said. 

“The community has high expectations and we need to make sure we put in place the best plans for the future while also giving businesses and councils enough time to adjust to the phase-outs and find sustainable alternatives.”

Environment Minister Matt Kean said we must reduce the plastics ending up in the environment because we are on track to see more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. 

“The single-use items we are phasing-out will stop an estimated 2.7 billion items of plastic litter  from ending up in our environment and waterways over the next 20 years,” Mr Kean said. 

“We can’t keep sending our scraps to languish in landfill when there are huge opportunities to turn our trash into treasure.

“Under our plans, every household will have access to a separate bin for their food and organic waste for the first time in NSW. 

“This will not only deliver on our commitment to achieve zero emissions from organics in landfill by 2030, but will also grow our economy by extracting more resources like biogas from our waste.  

“In addition, we will lead by example and help stimulate new markets for sustainable products by adopting an ‘if not, why not’ approach to the use of recycled materials in government procurement.”

Small businesses will be supported to transition to new products before the phase-outs come into effect. Exemptions will also be available for members of the community who rely on particular single-use plastics for disability or health needs.

A statewide education campaign will be rolled out to provide households with clear information on how to get onboard with the new waste programs, and learn how to properly dispose of their food and organic waste. 

The government will also continue to work closely with councils, with $206 million in funding available to support local government to deliver these ambitious plans, including $65 million to support the rollout of green bins.

The NSW Government will consult on and introduce the necessary legislation and regulations to deliver on the plans to Parliament in the coming months. 

Read more on the Waste Strategy and the Plastics Action Plan

Prioritising The State's Coastline For Future Generations

June 17, 2021
A sustainable, secure and safe coastline for future generations is at the forefront of a new five-year strategic plan released today by the NSW Government, which outlines the state’s priorities and commits significant funding and resources to support NSW councils futureproofing their coastal environment.

Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock said the Future Directions Statement for NSW’s Coastal and Estuary Management Program acknowledges the pivotal role local councils play in managing the state’s vast coastal environment.

“The priorities in this new statement focus on steps local councils and the community can take to ensure we leave our beautiful coastal environment in a better place for our future generations to enjoy,” Mrs Hancock said.

“Last year, I called for a strategic document that showcased the NSW Government’s intentions and aspirations for the Coastal and Estuary Management Program over the next 12 months, two years and five years.

“In developing the Future Directions Statement, we listened to what local councils had been saying and sought additional feedback from the sector, other agencies and key coastal management stakeholders on what the priorities should be.”

The Future Directions Statement commits the NSW Government to 54 actions under five priority areas including:
  1. Delivering outcomes;
  2. Reviewing legislation and updating guidance;
  3. Supporting coordination, collaboration and engagement;
  4. Providing science and information; and
  5. Funding and financing.
Minister Hancock said the statement will help encourage even more collaboration in managing the state’s shared vision and goals for the NSW coastline.

“The result is a well thought out program of strong actions to strategically address how we manage complex coastal issues that require a coordinated and collaborative approach,” Mrs Hancock said.

“I encourage all coastal councils to continue to develop their management programs as a priority and set their long-term strategy for managing the coast and estuaries.”

For further information and to view the Future Directions Statement, visit Future Directions Statement.

Piece Of Foreshore History Secured

June 16, 2021
One of the most picturesque parks on the foreshore of Sydney Harbour is now entirely public space after the remaining parcel of private land was bought by the NSW Government.

Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes said the purchase of the remaining part of Blues Point Reserve at McMahons Point enables the whole park to now be accessible for generations to come.

“Blues Point Reserve is one of our most popular foreshore parks, with spectacular views of Sydney Harbour and Sydney Harbour Bridge, but for decades there was a private property cutting the park in two,” Mr Stokes said.

“Our parks define Sydney as the emerald city but I believe we can do more – create more parkland, grow more trees, conserve more bushland and rehabilitate what has been degraded.

“Bringing this parcel of land into public ownership is a great example of how the NSW Government is expanding and creating more public parkland.”

Member for North Shore Felicity Wilson said this was a commitment she made to her community before the 2019 election, and to deliver the final piece of the puzzle is a great win for locals who have supported the Government’s efforts to secure the site.

“Our community has long sought the acquisition of 1 Henry Lawson Ave for an expanded park and I am proud to have secured this outcome. This acquisition is another investment in increasing local parks, this time right on the waterfront of Sydney Harbour,“ Ms Wilson said.

“Once the Sydney Metro works are finished there will be the opportunity to undertake further improvements to deliver an enhanced and expanded public space across the entire Blues Point Reserve.”

Fencing Riverbanks Program Cuts Off Access For Wildlife To Water

June 17, 2021
The NSW Government has today announced eligible landholders and community groups can apply for a share of $7.5 million from the NSW Government to fund valuable projects through the Fencing Northern Basin Riverbanks Program.

Minister for Agriculture and Minister for Western NSW Adam Marshall said a highlight of the program was the construction of 500 kilometres of riparian riverbank fencing.

“This program is a win-win for landholders and native fish species,” Mr Marshall said. “The fencing funded through this initiative will not only keep livestock safe, but by controlling their access to areas of our river system, it will also help improve water quality and fish habitat.

“The beauty of this program is it will allow funding to be provided to grass roots projects that will make a real difference, so I encourage landholders who think they could be eligible to contact their closest Local Land Services (LLS) office.”

The program is targeting riverbanks across NSW include stretches of the Darling, Macquarie, Little, Bell, Gwydir, Macintyre and Dumaresq rivers.

Landholders from the Central Tablelands, Northern Tablelands, North West, Central West and Western LLS regions are encouraged to enquire.

Round one Expressions of Interest close on Friday, 19 November 2021 and can be lodged via the LLS website.

Other activities under the program will include exotic woody weed control, revegetation, river re-snagging for fish habitat and minor erosion control works that protect native fish and contribute to a healthier river system.

Minister for Water Melinda Pavey said improving water quality would go a long way to better supporting our environment, farmers and regional communities.

“Severe drought over the past three years certainly stressed our river system, but as NSW recovers, it’s important we are finding ways to better protect environmentally sensitive areas of the Basin,” Mrs Pavey said.

However, the wildlife that needs to access this water for a drink was not mentioned once during the announcement, nor were any plans to decrease the extinction rate of species such plans enable.

NSW State Government's Plans To Open Western NSW To Coal Mining Open For Feedback

Public consultation is now underway into the proposed release of land known as Hawkins and Rumker 160km north west of Sydney, with consultation over a third parcel - known as Ganguddy-Kelgoola still to come. The three mooted coal release parcels cover 60,369 hectares in a region where the economy is currently built around sustainable agriculture and nature-focused tourism. There are also large areas of public land and more than 84% native vegetation cover. 

A report, ''Western Coalfields Strategic Release Mapping and Analysis'', based on spatial analysis conducted by Earthscapes Consulting, shows the risks the community, existing industries, and the environment face if coal mining is allowed to proceed in the region.

Within the three “strategic coal release areas”, the consultants found:
  • Forty-five recorded Aboriginal heritage sites and an additional 13 sites that are restricted and location data not supplied in the proposed coal release areas. 
  • Twenty-two threatened fauna species and six threatened flora species including the koala, the critically endangered regent honeyeater and the endangered spotted-tailed quoll, as well as four plant species endemic to the Rylstone/western Wollemi area.
  • One thousand, eight hundred and fifty-four hectares of groundwater dependant ecosystems. 
  • Six thousand, six hundred and thirty-four hectares  of potential threatened ecological communities. 
  • Thirty-six water bores.
  • One hundred and twenty kilometres of stream channels in good condition and 118 kilometres of stream channels classed as a high level of fragility. 
The report also showed the potential coal release areas adjoin the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, stretching more than 100km along the western edge of the WHA.

The World Heritage Commission has asked the NSW Government for a cumulative impact assessment of mining impacts on the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. This assessment appears not to be complete, even though it was due by the end of 2020.

University of NSW environmental scientist, local, and writer, Dr Haydn Washington said, “The coal release areas are full of diverse and significant natural and cultural heritage. 

“The Coricudgy and Nullo State Forests have already been recommended for addition to the World Heritage Area by the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area Committee.

The proposal is open for feedback until July 28, 2021 at:

Keith Pitt’s Gas And Oil Basin “Release” Plans For Destruction Of Channel Country

June 16, 2021
Resource Minister Keith Pitt’s has continued in his enthusiastic spruiking of plans to tear up sustainable outback agricultural enterprises and the last free flowing desert rivers in the world to fracking is utterly removed from reality, according to Lock the Gate Alliance.

Mr Pitt reportedly told the APPEA conference in Perth today that the Cooper Basin in Queensland and South Australia is the next cab off the rank for the Morrison Government’s “Strategic Basin Plan”, and part of its ongoing fracking or 'gas led recovery' extra tax on farmland, water, and the environment.

“The Cooper Basin underlies the Lake Eyre Basin, which includes globally significant desert rivers that have been earmarked for protection in Queensland since 2014,” said Lock the Gate Alliance Queensland spokesperson Ellie Smith.

“Keith Pitt can talk about fracking Lake Eyre Basin all he wants, but the fact is it is the states who make decisions on fracking applications, and Queensland has an unfulfilled promise to protect the floodplains.

“His comments totally ignore widespread local opposition to gas and oil extraction on the globally significant Channel Country floodplains.

“This push will put at risk the clean, green export beef industry in the area, the tourism sector, and important cultural sites for Traditional Owners.

“Mr Pitt should be sticking up for Queenslanders and the agricultural sector, not sacrificing them to appease multinational fracking giants.”

Channel Country grazier Angus Emmott said, “The Cooper Basin underlies the heartland of Queensland’s Channel Country - this is one of the world’s last remaining great free-flowing desert river and wetland systems.”

“Plans to open up the Cooper Basin for unconventional gas fracking would be insensitive to the graziers and Traditional Owners of the Channel Country who have been fighting for many years to keep this river system protected from industrial activity such as gas fracking. 

“Such activity would compromise the Channel Country way of life and the desire for a sustainable future built on agriculture and tourism.

“Every drilling rig will need a road, a pipeline and perhaps even a wastewater storage pond. This will result in an industrialised landscape - threatening the nature, water, people and organic pastures the Channel Country is known for.”

Bin Trim App Helps Waste Industry And Councils Guide Business Recycling

June 15 2021
Councils, waste service providers, consultants and industry groups now have free access to the Bin Trim web application to help the businesses they work with to reduce waste, recycle more and save money.

Users of the Bin Trim App can access waste data from various industry sectors and locations, generate high-level reports by local government area, industry sector and volume and weight.

They can also track their progress through helpful graphs and charts.

The user-friendly App guides users to enter the types and amount of waste produced by their business and the user will then receive a free and easy action plan to reduce waste, save money and improve the environment.

The public dashboard on the Bin Trim App will allow users to search for broader statistical waste information from a database of more than 36,000 businesses.

“Councils and industry can use the Bin Trim App to engage with their clients, prepare waste assessments and tailor waste advice to their needs,” said EPA Executive Director Liesbet Spanjaard.

“Users can access industry-specific data and tailored waste reduction action plans to help the businesses they are working with.”

The Bin Trim program has supported over 36,000 NSW businesses with free advice from independent assessors who help small business to improve their waste management.

To date the NSW Government has awarded $21.73 million to 91 grantees who will engage with over 37,589 businesses through the Bin Trim program by August 2021.

Bin Trim is funded under the nine-year Waste Less Recycle More initiative and is designed to help achieve NSW recycling targets for the business sector.

Visit the EPA website for more information or to access the Bin Trim App

Boris Johnson overstates Morrison’s climate ambition, as Australia-UK trade agreement reached

Michelle GrattanUniversity of Canberra

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson put Scott Morrison on the spot when he told their joint news conference he thought the Australian PM had “declared for net zero by 2050”.

When Johnson made the statement a journalist interjected to point out Morrison’s policy was to get to net zero “preferably” by 2050.

Johnson pressed on to say this was “a great step forward when you consider[…] the situation Australia is in. It’s a massive coal producer. It’s having to change the way things are orientated, and everybody understands that.

"You can do it fast. In 2012 this country had 40% of its power from coal. It’s now less than 2%, going down the whole time. […] I’m impressed by the ambition of Australia. Obviously we’re going to be looking for more the whole time, as we go into COP26 in November.”

The net zero moment came as the two stood together to announce they had reached an in-principle agreement on a free trade deal between Britain and Australia – the first such deal the United Kingdom has done post Brexit.

Johnson had been asked whether he wanted Australia to go beyond its present 2030 emissions reduction target.

Morrison has been under strong pressure from both Johnson and United States President Joe Biden to embrace the 2050 target. But he has so far not done so, despite edging towards it. His position is to get to net zero “as soon as possible, preferably by 2050.”

Formally embracing the target would threaten a fight within the Nationals that could destabilise the party’s leader Michael McCormack.

Nationals Senate leader Bridget McKenzie warned this week:

“There is no agreement with the second party of this Coalition government on any target date for zero emissions. In fact it would fly in the face of the Nationals public policy commitment.”

The free trade agreement, which still has details to be finalised, would reduce barriers on the mobility of workers between the two countries as well on trade in goods and services.

The deal would promote more exchange of young people, allowing them to stay and work in each country for three years instead of two. This arrangement would apply to people up to age 35 rather than 30, as at present.

The federal government says Australian producers and farmers would “receive a significant boost by getting greater access to the UK market” while Australian consumers would “benefit from cheaper products, with all tariffs eliminated within five years, and tariffs on cars, whisky, and the UK’s other main exports eliminated immediately” the agreement started.

Australia would within five years place less onerous conditions on British backpackers, who presently have to spend a set time working in agriculture, or other sectors of labour shortage in regional Australia, to get an extension of their visa.

A separate agriculture visa would be established for UK and Australian visa holders, to get more two way traffic (for example, of shearers) in the agricultural sector.

Over 10 to 15 years the UK would liberalise Australian imports of beef and sheep meat, with shorter periods for sugar and dairy products.

The agricultural sectors in both Britain and Australia expressed concerns when the agreement was being negotiated. In Australia farmers have been worried about the possibility of losing labour if the conditions on backpackers were scrapped.

Johnson said the deal would be good for British car manufacturers and the export of British financial and other services, and he hoped for the agricultural sectors on both sides.

On agriculture “we’ve had to negotiate very hard. […] This is a sensitive sector for both sides, and we’ve got a deal that runs over 15 years and contains the strongest possible provisions for animal welfare.”

The removal of the farm work requirement would make it easier for British people and young people to go and work in Australia, he said.

Morrison said the deal would open the pathway to Britain’s entry into the The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

He also indicated it was “enormously helpful” in the context of the difficulties with China. “Where you have challenges with one trading partner from time to time, then the ability to be able to diversify your trade into more and more countries is incredibly important.”

Morrison and Johnson discussed the final points of the agreement in principle over a dinner meeting at 10 Downing Street. Their talks also included climate change.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Australia needs construction waste recycling plants — but locals first need to be won over

Salman ShooshtarianRMIT University and Tayyab MaqsoodRMIT University

Strong community opposition to a proposed waste facility in regional New South Wales made headlines earlier this year. The A$3.9 million facility would occupy 2.7 hectares of Gunnedah’s industrial estate. It’s intended to process up to 250,000 tonnes a year of waste materials from Sydney.

Much of this is construction waste that can be used in road building after processing. Construction of the plant will employ 62 people and its operation will create 30 jobs. Yet every one of the 86 public submissions to the planning review objected to the project.

Residents raised various concerns, which received widespread local media coverage. They were concerned about water management, air quality, noise, the impact of hazardous waste, traffic and transport, fire safety and soil and water. For instance, a submission by a local businessman and veterinary surgeon stated:

“The proposed facility is too close to town, residences and other businesses […] Gunnedah is growing and this proposed development will be uncomfortably close to town in years to come.”

Map showing location of the proposed waste recycling facility in Gunnedah
The location of the proposed waste recycling facility in Gunnedah. Source: Google Maps (2021)Author provided

The general manager of the applicant said descriptions such as “toxic waste dump” were far from accurate.

“It’s not a dump […] Its prime focus is to reclaim, reuse and recycle.”

He added: “[At present] the majority of this stuff goes to landfill. What we’re proposing is very beneficial to the environment, which is taking these resources and putting them back into recirculation. The reality is the population is growing, more waste is going to get generated and the upside is we’re much better processing and claiming out of it than sending it to landfill.”

Read more: We create 20m tons of construction industry waste each year. Here's how to stop it going to landfill

Why Are These Facilities Needed?

According to the latest data in the National Waste Report 2020, Australia generated 27 million tonnes of waste (44% of all waste) from the construction and demolition (C&D) sector in 2018-19. That’s a 61% increase since 2006-07. This waste stream is the largest source of managed waste in Australia and 76% of it is recycled.

However, recycling rates and processing capacities still need to increase massively. The environmental impact statement for the Gunnedah project notes Sydney “is already facing pressure” to dispose of its growing construction waste. Most state and national policies – including the NSW Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Strategy 2014-2021NSW Waste and Resource Recovery Infrastructure Strategy and 2018 National Waste Policy – highlight the need to develop infrastructure to effectively manage this waste.

Read more: The 20th century saw a 23-fold increase in natural resources used for building

Why, Then, Do People Oppose These Facilities?

Public opposition to new infrastructure in local neighbourhoods, the Not-in-My-Back-Yard (NIMBY) attitude, is a global phenomenon. Australia is no exception. We have seen previous public protests against waste facilities being established in local areas.

The academic literature reports the root causes of this resistance are stench and other air pollution, and concerns about impacts on property values and health. Factors that influence individuals’ perceptions include education level, past experience of stench and proximity to housing.

Protesters march behind a sign reading 'We demand fair development'.
Local communities around the world have protested against local waste management plants that they see as a threat to their health. United Workers/FlickrCC BY

What Are The Other Challenges Of Recycling?

Our research team at RMIT University explore ways to effectively manage construction and demolition waste, with a focus on developing a circular economy. Our research shows this goal depends heavily on the development of end markets for recycled products. Operators then have the confidence to invest in recycling construction and demolition waste, knowing it will produce a reasonable return.

Read more: The planned national waste policy won't deliver a truly circular economy

A consistent supply of recycled material is needed too. We believe more recycling infrastructure needs to be developed all around Australia. Regional areas are the most suitable for this purpose because they have the space and a need for local job creation.

To achieve nationwide waste recycling, however, everyone must play their part. By everyone, we mean suppliers, waste producers, waste operators, governments and the community.

Today we are facing new challenges such as massive urbanisation, shortage of virgin materials, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and bans on the export of waste. These challenges warrant new solutions, which include sharing responsibility for the waste we all generate.

Read more: A crisis too big to waste: China's recycling ban calls for a long-term rethink in Australia

What Can Be Done To Resolve Public Concerns?

Government has a key role to play in educating the public about the many benefits of recycling construction and demolition waste. These benefits include environmental protection, more efficient resource use, reduced construction costs, and job creation.

Government must also ensure communities are adequately consulted. A local news report reflected Gunnedah residents’ concern that the recycling facility’s proponent had not contacted them. They initiated the contact. One local said:

“I do understand the short-term financial gains a development like this will bring to the community, but also know the financial and environmental burden they will cause.”

Feedback from residents triggered a series of consultation sessions involving all parties.

A robust framework for consulting the community, engaging stakeholders and providing information should be developed to accompany any such development. Community education programs should be based on research.

For instance, research indicates that, unlike municipal waste recycling facilities, construction and demolition waste management facilities have negligible to manageable impact on the environment and residents’ health and well-being. This is due to the non-combustible nature of most construction materials, such as masonrt.

Such evidence needs to be communicated effectively to change negative community attitudes towards construction and demolition waste recycling facilities. At RMIT, through our National Construction & Demolition Waste Research and Industry Portal, we continue to play our part in increasing public awareness of the benefits.

Read more: With the right tools, we can mine cities The Conversation

Salman Shooshtarian, Research Fellow, RMIT University and Tayyab Maqsood, Associate Dean and Head of of Project Management, RMIT University

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

An act of God, or just bad management? Why trees fall and how to prevent it

Gregory MooreThe University of Melbourne

The savage storms that swept Victoria last week sent trees crashing down, destroying homes and blocking roads. Under climate change, stronger winds and extreme storms will be more frequent. This will cause more trees to fall and, sadly, people may die.

These incidents are sometimes described as an act of God or Mother Nature’s fury. Such descriptions obscure the role of good management in minimising the chance a tree will fall. The fact is, much can be done to prevent these events.

Trees must be better managed for several reasons. The first, of course, is to prevent damage to life and property. The second is to avoid unnecessary tree removals. Following storms, councils typically see a spike in requests for tree removals – sometimes for perfectly healthy trees.

A better understanding of the science behind falling trees – followed by informed action – will help keep us safe and ensure trees continue to provide their many benefits.

tree lying on home
We must try to stop trees falling over to prevent damage to life and property. James Ross/AAP

Why Trees Fall Over

First, it’s important to note that fallen trees are the exception at any time, including storms. Most trees won’t topple over or shed major limbs. I estimate fewer than three trees in 100,000 fall during a storm.

Often, fallen trees near homes, suburbs and towns were mistreated or poorly managed in preceding years. In the rare event a tree does fall over, it’s usually due to one or more of these factors:

1. Soggy soil

In strong winds, tree roots are more likely to break free from wet soil than drier soil. In arboriculture, such events are called windthrow.

A root system may become waterlogged when landscaping alters drainage around trees, or when house foundations disrupt underground water movement. This can be overcome by improving soil drainage with pipes or surface contouring that redirects water away from trees.

You can also encourage a tree’s root growth by mulching around the tree under the “dripline” – the outer edge of the canopy from which water drips to the ground. Applying a mixed-particle-size organic mulch to a depth of 75-100 millimetres will help keep the soil friable, aerated and moist. But bear in mind, mulch can be a fire risk in some conditions.

Root systems can also become waterlogged after heavy rain. So when both heavy rain and strong winds are predicted, be alert to the possibility of falling trees.

Read more: Why there's a lot more to love about jacarandas than just their purple flowers

People inspect trees fallen on cars
A combination of heavy rain and strong winds can cause trees to fall. Shutterstock

2. Direct root damage

Human-caused damage to root systems is a common cause of tree failure. Such damage can include roots being:

  • cut when utility services are installed
  • restricted by a new road, footpath or driveway
  • compacted over time, such as when they extend under driveways.

Trees can take a long time to respond to disturbances. When a tree falls in a storm, it may be the result of damage inflicted 10-15 years ago.

tree uprroted
This elm, growing very close to a footpath, fell in Melbourne during a 2005 storm. Author provided

3. Wind direction

Trees anchor themselves against prevailing winds by growing roots in a particular pattern. Most of the supporting root structure of large trees grows on the windward side of the trunk.

If winds come from an uncommon direction, and with a greater-than-usual speed, trees may be vulnerable to falling. Even if the winds come from the usual direction, if the roots on the windward side are damaged, the tree may topple over.

The risk of this happening is likely to worsen under climate change, when winds are more likely to come from new directions.

4. Dead limbs

Dead or dying tree limbs with little foliage are most at risk of falling during storms. The risk can be reduced by removing dead wood in the canopy.

Trees can also fall during strong winds when they have so-called “co-dominant” stems. These V-shaped stems are about the same diameter and emerge from the same place on the trunk.

If you think you might have such trees on your property, it’s well worth having them inspected. Arborists are trained to recognise these trees and assess their danger.

Read more: The years condemn: Australia is forgetting the sacred trees planted to remember our war dead

car bumper stopped at fallen tree trunk
Storms can trigger falling trees which block roads. Shutterstock

Trees Are Worth The Trouble

Even with the best tree management regime, there is no guarantee every tree will stay upright during a storm. Even a healthy, well managed tree can fall over in extremely high winds.

While falling trees are rare, there are steps we can take to minimise the damage they cause. For example, in densely populated areas, we should consider moving power and communications infrastructure underground.

By now, you may be thinking large trees are just too unsafe to grow in urban areas, and should be removed. But we need trees to help us cope with storms and other extreme weather.

Removing all trees around a building can cause wind speeds to double, which puts roofs, buildings and lives at greater risk. Removing trees from steep slopes can cause the land to become unstable and more prone to landslides. And of course, trees keep us cooler during summer heatwaves.

Victoria’s spate of fallen trees is a concern, but removing them is not the answer. Instead, we must learn how to better manage and live with them.

Read more: Here are 5 practical ways trees can help us survive climate change The Conversation

Gregory Moore, Doctor of Botany, The University of Melbourne

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

Peatlands worldwide are drying out, threatening to release 860 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year

Yuanyuan HuangCSIRO and Yingping WangCSIRO

Peatlands, such as fens, bogs, marshes and swamps, cover just 3% of the Earth’s total land surface, yet store over one-third of the planet’s soil carbon. That’s more than the carbon stored in all other vegetation combined, including the world’s forests.

But peatlands worldwide are running short of water, and the amount of greenhouse gases this could set loose would be devastating for our efforts to curb climate change.

Specifically, our new research in Nature Climate Change found drying peatlands could release an additional 860 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, by around 2100. To put this into perspective, Australia emitted 539 million tonnes in 2019.

To stop this from happening, we need to urgently preserve and restore healthy, water-logged conditions in peatlands. These thirsty peatlands need water.

Peatlands Are Like Natural Archives

Peatlands are found across the world: the arctic tundra, coastal marshes, tropical swamp forests, mountainous fens and blanket bogs on subantarctic islands.

They’re characterised by having water-logged soil filled with very slowly decaying plant material (the “peat”) that accumulated over tens of thousands of years, preserved by the low-oxygen environment. This partially decomposed plant debris is locked up in the soils as organic carbon.

Read more: Peat bogs: restoring them could slow climate change – and revive a forgotten world

Peatlands can act like natural archives, letting scientists and archaeologists reconstruct past climate, vegetation, and even human lives. In fact, an estimated 20,500 archaeological sites are preserved under or within peat in the UK.

As unique habitats, peatlands are home for many native and endangered species of plants and animals that occur nowhere else, such as the white-bellied cinclodes (Cinclodes palliatus) in Peru and Australia’s giant dragonfly (Petalura gigantea), the world’s largest. They can also act as migration corridors for birds and other animals, and can purify water, regulate floods, retain sediments and so on.

Giant dragonfly on a branch
The giant dragonfly (Petalura gigantea) is listed as endangered under NSW environment law. Christopher Brandis/iNaturalistCC BY-NC

But over the past several decades, humans have been draining global peatlands for a range of uses. This includes planting trees and crops, harvesting peat to burn for heat, and for other land developments.

For example, some peatlands rely on groundwater, such as portions of the Greater Everglades, the largest freshwater marsh in the United States. Over-pumping groundwater for drinking or irrigation has cut off the peatlands’ source of water.

Together with the regional drier climate due to global warming, our peatlands are drying out worldwide.

What Happens When Peatlands Dry Out?

When peat isn’t covered by water, it could be exposed to enough oxygen to fuel aerobic microbes living within. The oxygen allows the microbes to grow extremely fast, enjoy the feast of carbon-rich food, and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

A marsh in Les Sables d Olonne, France. Some peatlands are also a natural sources of methane, which is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Arthur GalloisAuthor provided

Some peatlands are also a natural source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas with the warming potential up to 100 times stronger than carbon dioxide.

But generating methane actually requires the opposite conditions to generating carbon dioxide. Methane is more frequently released in water-saturated conditions, while carbon dioxide emissions are mostly in unsaturated conditions.

Read more: Emissions of methane – a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide – are rising dangerously

This means if our peatlands are getting drier, we would have an increase in emissions of carbon dioxide, but a reduction in methane emissions.

So What’s The Net Impact On Our Climate?

We were part of an international team of scientists across Australia, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, the US and China. Together, we collected and analysed a large dataset from carefully designed and controlled experiments across 130 peatlands all over the world.

In these experiments, we reduced water under different climate, soil and environmental conditions and, using machine learning algorithms, disentangled the different responses of greenhouse gases.

Our results were striking. Across the peatlands we studied, we found reduced water greatly enhanced the loss of peat as carbon dioxide, with only a mild reduction of methane emissions.

A swamp forest in Peru. Rupesh BhomiaAuthor provided

The net effect — carbon dioxide vs methane — would make our climate warmer. This will seriously hamper global efforts to keep temperature rise under 1.5℃.

This suggests if sustainable developments to restore these ecosystems aren’t implemented in future, drying peatlands would add the equivalent of 860 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year by 2100. This projection is for a “high emissions scenario”, which assumes global greenhouse gas emissions aren’t cut any further.

Protecting Our Peatlands

It’s not too late to stop this from happening. In fact, many countries are already establishing peatland restoration projects.

For example, the Central Kalimantan Peatlands Project in Indonesia aims to rehabilitate these ecosystems by, for instance, damming drainage canals, revegetating areas with native trees, and improving local socio-economic conditions and introducing more sustainable agricultural techniques.

Likewise, the Life Peat Restore project aims to restore 5,300 hectares of peatlands back to their natural function as carbon sinks across Poland, Germany and the Baltic states, over five years.

But protecting peatlands is a global issue. To effectively take care of our peatlands and our climate, we must work together urgently and efficiently.

Read more: People, palm oil, pulp and planet: four perspectives on Indonesia's fire-stricken peatlands The Conversation

Yuanyuan Huang, Research Scientist , CSIRO and Yingping Wang, Chief research scientist, CSIRO

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

'Unshackled' Palm-Destroying Beetles Could Soon Invade Australia

June 17, 2021
A destructive pest beetle is edging closer to Australia as biological controls fail, destroying home gardens, plantations and biodiversity as they surge through nearby Pacific islands. University of Queensland researcher Dr Kayvan Etebari has been studying how palm-loving coconut rhinoceros beetles have been accelerating their invasion.

"We thought we'd outsmarted them," Dr Etebari said.

"In the 1970s, scientists from Australia and elsewhere found that coconut rhinoceros beetles could be controlled with a beetle virus from Malaysia.

"This virus stopped the beetle in its tracks and, for the last 50 years or so, it more-or-less stayed put -- that is, until now.

"It seems that they are now unshackled from the virus in some places and could be in Australia before we know it."

In the last few years, the pest has spread to many South Pacific islands, including islands in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, causing severe agricultural and economic damage.

"If they spread to Australia, garden palms would be at risk, along with the country's emerging date industry, coconuts, oil palms, and many other palms, both wild in the forests and ornamental," Dr Etebari said.

UQ's Professor Michael Furlong said the research team investigated the beetle's population genetics and the incidence of the virus in specimens collected in Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu and the Philippines.

"We found that there have been several new waves of beetle invasions, not only one as we first expected," Professor Furlong said.

"And there are different populations of the beetle that we didn't recognise previously -- in the Solomon Islands for example, there are three populations of the beetle, and they are interbreeding."

The beetles all look alike, but the molecular tests show they are different.

"Similar to how scientists spot different strains of COVID-19, we are also detecting variations in the beetle virus," Professor Furlong said.

"This presents us with a complex problem: multiple types of beetles and beetle-controlling virus.

"The next step will be finding out how these virus variations behave in these different beetles, and how this can be used to control them.

"We know the virus doesn't kill the beetles outright, but probably affects the number of eggs a female lays and changes beetle behaviour, for example how far infected beetles can fly, so we need to explore these important aspects of the interaction too."

Dr Etebari said investing in research and new control methods was vital, not only for Australia's prosperity, but for humanitarian reasons.

"The coconut rhinoceros beetle remains a serious threat to livelihoods across Pacific islands, where the coconut tree remains their 'tree of life', providing essential resources like food, copra, building materials and coastal protection for five million vulnerable people," he said.

"It's imperative that Australian scientists help our neighbouring countries in the Pacific to tackle their emerging pests and diseases.

"And everything we're finding in the Pacific islands may later be critical to managing the beetle here in Australia."

It was supported by funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and The University of Queensland.

Journal References:

Kayvan Etebari, James Hereward, Apenisa Sailo, Emeline M. Ahoafi, Robert Tautua, Helen Tsatsia, Grahame V Jackson, Michael J. Furlong. Examination of population genetics of the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle (Oryctes rhinoceros) and the incidence of its biocontrol agent (Oryctes rhinoceros nudivirus) in the South Pacific Islands. Current Research in Insect Science, 2021; 1: 100015 DOI: 10.1016/j.cris.2021.100015
Kayvan Etebari, Rhys Parry, Marie Joy B. Beltran, Michael J. Furlong. Transcription Profile and Genomic Variations of Oryctes Rhinoceros Nudivirus in Coconut Rhinoceros Beetles. Journal of Virology, 2020; 94 (22) DOI: 10.1128/JVI.01097-20

Kayvan Etebari, Matan Shelomi, Michael J. Furlong. Identification of a Novel Picorna-like Virus in Coconut Rhinoceros Beetles (Oryctes rhinoceros). Virus Research, 2020; 287: 198100 DOI: 10.1016/j.virusres.2020.198100

Kayvan Etebari, Igor Filipović, Gordana Rašić, Gregor J. Devine, Helen Tsatsia, Michael J. Furlong. Complete genome sequence of Oryctes rhinoceros nudivirus isolated from the coconut rhinoceros beetle in Solomon Islands. Virus Research, 2020; 278: 197864 DOI: 10.1016/j.virusres.2020.197864
Photo: An adult coconut rhinoceros beetle. Image credit - Forest and Kim Starr 

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.

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 -

Seniors To Benefit From Regional Seniors Travel Card

June 16, 2021
For our regional readers
More than 300,000 seniors in the regions will benefit from reduced travel costs with the NSW Government committing $246 million to extend the Regional Seniors Travel Card for an additional two years. 

The Regional Seniors Travel Card is a $250 prepaid Visa card designed to ease the burden of travel costs for eligible seniors in rural, regional and remote areas. 

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro said seniors across NSW have benefited from the initial two-year travel card trial, with 337,500 cards issued in 2020 and more than 330,000 cards issued to regional seniors in 2021 so far. 

“Living in regional NSW is rewarding in so many ways, but every day we struggle with the tyranny of distance,” Mr Barilaro said. 

“This card has made a huge difference to the lives of seniors living in the bush who have fewer transport options than those living in the city and we’re excited to announce it will be offered again in 2022 and 2023.” 

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said the extension and expansion of the Regional Seniors Travel Card is part of several cost saving measures aimed at seniors in the upcoming State Budget.

“We know the cost of living is a big issue facing seniors and households, which is why the Regional Seniors Travel Card is being offered to even more people,” Mr Perrottet said.

“Increased funding will allow us to extend the card from 2022 to more seniors in the regions, including those eligible for the Age Pension and receiving either a Disability Support Pension or a Carer Payment from Services Australia.”

Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole said the Regional Seniors Travel Card has provided a significant boost to businesses across our regions.
“Having an extra $250 in their pocket has made it easier for regional seniors to get to the shops and medical appointments and stay connected locally and with friends and family living in other parts of the State. It’s also injected more than $108 million into regional economies, benefitting local taxi operators and fuel stations,” Mr Toole said.

“We’ve been reviewing the schemes that support people with disability and carers to ensure they meet the needs of those in the regions, including investing in community transport and a new smart card for the Taxi Transport Subsidy Scheme. We know these groups would also like to be eligible for the Regional Seniors Travel Card and we’re pleased to be able to make that happen as part of the next phase of this program.”

Member for Coffs Harbour Gurmesh Singh said it was great to see the program continue to expand, after first being trialled in Coffs Harbour. 

“Coffs Harbour seniors were the first to try the Regional Seniors Travel Card a year and a half ago and it’s wonderful to see how far the scheme has come since. It’s made a huge impact on our community and I’m glad it is set to continue for two more years,” Mr Singh said.

The Regional Seniors Travel Card can be used for pre-booked NSW Trainlink Regional trains and coaches, fuel and taxis.

From 2022, eligible applicants will include seniors who have reached the Age Pension age and are receiving:
  • the Age Pension through Services Australia or the Department of Veterans’ Affairs
  • a Disability Support Pension or a Carer Payment from Services Australia
  • a Service Pension issued by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs 
  • a Disability Pension through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs under the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 
  • a War Widow(er)’s Pension issued by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
People who hold a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card issued by Services Australia or the Department of Veterans’ Affairs are also eligible.

The regional boundaries for applicants will remain the same in 2022.

More information about which regional areas are included in this initiative can be found at Service NSW

Launch Of State Of The (Older) Nation 2021

In 2018 the COTA Federation released the first State of the (Older) Nation report. It was the first of its kind, looking at how Australia's ageing population felt about a range of issues.

We're hoping you'll be able to join us for the launch of the 2021 Report. It shows that three years on, many older people are feeling worse about the world - 33% say things are getting worse for their generation, fewer people are doing adequate exercise and more than one in two can be classified as vulnerable.

The discussion will be hosted by Meagan Lawson (COTA NSW CEO) and the panel will include Prof Anne Edwards (Chair, COTA Federation), Sue Leitch (COTA TAS CEO), Russ Gluyas (ACON) and Edith Chen (COTA VIC Volunteer).

RSVP for the Webinar now, and join the conversation. 

When - Thursday 24 June 2021
Time - 2.00-3.30pm
Where - This is a digital event using the zoom platform
Cost - Free!
RSVP - through zoom by Wednesday 23 June.

There are problems in aged care, but more competition isn’t the solution

Karen McFarland/Shutterstock
Ou YangThe University of MelbourneAnthony ScottThe University of MelbourneJongsay YongThe University of Melbourne, and Yuting ZhangThe University of Melbourne

The solution to most problems in most markets is more competition.

Whether it’s the market for hairdressers, for massage therapists or for general practitioners, usually, the more of them there are in any town or suburb, the greater is the range and quality they offer and the lower the price.

It’s part of the thinking behind a range of government legislation designed to increase competition and consumer choice in residential aged care.

Yet in research just published by the Melbourne Institute using the de-identified records of 2,900 nursing homes provided to the aged care royal commission we found no such effect.

No matter how competition was measured, we found no statistically-significant differences in price or quality as indicated by a range of measures including nursing hours worked per resident, assaults per resident, complaints per resident, the use of antipsychotic drugs and avoidable early deaths.

We measured the amount of competition for each nursing home in three ways: by the number of competitors within a 10-kilometre radius, the distance in kilometres to the nearest competitor and a measure of market concentration known as the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index.

Read more: Aged care, death and taxes after the royal commission

We found great variation in competition (much more in cities, much less in regions) along with slight decreases in competition in urban and remote areas (notwithstanding government measures designed to promote it) and minor increases in competition in regional Australia.

But we found no evidence linking competition to measures of quality of care, with the possible exception of registered nurse hours, although this linkage wasn’t present in all measures of competition.

Competition was weakly associated with price if at all.

Extract from report

On the other hand, we found strong links between ownership and quality of care.

For most measures of quality, government-owned facilities provided much higher quality of care than for-profit providers and not-for-profit providers.

On prices, government-owned facilities charged by far the lowest price per resident per day — 23% lower than for-profits and 8% lower than not-for-profits.

In trying to think of the reasons why competition should not result in competition on prices or on the quality of service, a number of possibilities present themselves.

Residents Know Little About What They Are Getting

One reason is that demand for aged care places often arises suddenly due to significant changes in health conditions such as falls, dementia and loss of balance meaning they have little choice but to use the first facility that becomes available.

Another is that consumers have little information about quality with which to make decisions. Unlike the United States and the United Kingdom, Australian authorities do not yet provide a five-star system of ratings that can be easily understood.

Read more: 4 key takeaways from the aged care royal commission's final report

And prices are extremely hard to understand.

Demand often arises from consumers who experience sudden changes in their cognitive and physical conditions that make it difficult to search for information, and weigh options and exercise choice.

With users hamstrung, there are few market forces to discipline providers.

We Could Empower Users…

Measures that would help include publishing quality ratings (recommended by the royal commission), simplifying prices (not recommended, although the commission recommends an independent pricing authority) and providing consumer advocates to help people navigate through the system (recommended).

Given that most consumers transition from home care to residential care, it would help if advocacy services were integrated into home care services.

An alternative would be to abandon the pursuit of competition and set up a system of enforced standards, funded for different categories of care along the lines of the casemix system used in hospitals.

…Or Regulate More Strongly On Their Behalf

Although this was recommended in the commission’s final report it would be harder to implement than it is in hospitals.

Aged care is about making life comfortable whereas health care is about fixing problems, making consumer preferences much more important in aged care.

Harnessing the power of consumer preferences is a worthy goal, and there is a great deal we can do to move toward it, but there’s a long way to go.The Conversation

Ou Yang, Research Fellow, The University of MelbourneAnthony Scott, Professor, The University of MelbourneJongsay Yong, Associate Professor of Economics, The University of Melbourne, and Yuting Zhang, Professor of Health Economics, The University of Melbourne

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

New Treatment Stops Progression Of Alzheimer's Disease In Monkey Brains

June 15, 2021
A new therapy prompts immune defense cells to swallow misshapen proteins, amyloid beta plaques and tau tangles, whose build-up is known to kill nearby brain cells as part of Alzheimer's disease, a new study shows.

Led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, the investigation showed that elderly monkeys had up to 59 percent fewer plaque deposits in their brains after treatment with CpG oligodeoxynucleotides (CpG ODN), compared with untreated animals. These amyloid beta plaques are protein fragments that clump together and clog the junctions between nerve cells (neurons).

Brains of treated animals also had a drop in levels of toxic tau. This nerve fibre protein can destroy neighbouring tissue when disease-related changes to its chemical structure causes it to catch on other cells.

"Our findings illustrate that this therapy is an effective way of manipulating the immune system to slow neurodegeneration," says Akash Patel, MS, an assistant research scientist in the Centre for Cognitive Neurology at NYU Langone Health.

The investigators say the treatment led to cognitive benefits as well. When presented with a series of puzzles, elderly monkeys given the drug performed similarly to young adult animals and much better than those in their age group that had remained untreated. The treated monkeys also learned new puzzle-solving skills faster than their untreated peers.

According to researchers, past treatment efforts targeting the immune system failed because the drugs overstimulated the system, causing dangerous levels of inflammation which can kill brain cells.

"Our new treatment avoids the pitfalls of earlier attempts because it is delivered in cycles, giving the immune system a chance to rest between doses," says study co-senior author Thomas Wisniewski, MD. He notes that no additional inflammation was seen in the treated monkeys. Wisniewski is the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman Professor in the Department of Neurology and director of the Centre for Cognitive Neurology at NYU Langone.

Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and has no known cure. Drug therapies designed to slow or manage the symptoms have failed, says Wisniewski, also director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at NYU Langone. A growing body of evidence has implicated the immune system, the set of cells and proteins that defend the body from invading bacteria and viruses, as a contributor to Alzheimer's disease. A subset of immune cells, those within the innate immune system, swallow and clear away debris and toxins from bodily tissues along with invading microbes. Studies have shown that these immune custodians become sluggish as a person ages and fail to clear toxins that cause neurodegeneration.

The new investigation, publishing as a cover article June 15 in the journal Brain, is the first to target the innate immune system with a potential therapy for the disorder in monkeys, according to Wisniewski. The CpG ODN drugs are part of a class of innate immune regulators that quicken these worn out immune custodians. He says the research team is also the first to use the "pulsing" drug administration technique to avoid excess inflammation, the immune-driven responses like swelling and pain that result from the homing in by immune cells on sites of injury or infection. While necessary to immune defenses and healing, too much inflammation contributes to many disease mechanisms.

For the investigation, the research team studied 15 female squirrel monkeys between 17 and 19 years old. Eight received a single dose of the drug once a month for two years while the rest were instead given a saline solution. The researchers observed the behavior of the two groups and compared brain tissue and blood samples for plaque deposits, tau protein levels, and evidence of inflammation.

Wisniewski notes that as they age, virtually all squirrel monkeys naturally develop a form of neurodegeneration that mimics Alzheimer's disease in humans, which makes them ideal for studying the disease.

"The similarities in aging between the animals studied and our own species give us hope that this therapy will work in human patients as well," says study co-senior author Henrieta Scholtzova, MD, PhD.

Scholtzova, an associate professor in the Department of Neurology at NYU Langone, cautions that the researchers only evaluated elderly monkeys who already showed significant signs of neurodegeneration. Further testing on younger animals, she notes, would allow them to assess the effectiveness of the treatment in earlier stages of the disease.

Scholtzova says the team next plans to begin testing CpG ODN therapy on human patients with mild cognitive impairments or in early stages of dementia. They also intend to study this treatment in related neurodegenerative illnesses.

Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health grants NS102845, NS079676, AG066512, and OD01 093840; Alzheimer's Association grant AARG 16440596; and a Cattleman for Cancer Research grant. Wisniewski and Scholtzova have been issued a patent for therapies developed from this treatment approach, from which both researchers and NYU Langone may benefit financially. The patents have been licensed to Empriver of Southborough, Mass. All of these relationships are being managed in accordance with the policies and procedures of NYU Langone.

Akash G Patel, Pramod N Nehete, Sara R Krivoshik, Xuewei Pei, Elizabeth L Cho, Bharti P Nehete, Margish D Ramani, Yongzhao Shao, Lawrence E Williams, Thomas Wisniewski, Henrieta Scholtzova. Innate immunity stimulation via CpG oligodeoxynucleotides ameliorates Alzheimer’s disease pathology in aged squirrel monkeys. Brain, 2021; DOI: 10.1093/brain/awab129

In neglecting the National Archives, the Morrison government turns its back on the future

Wes Mountain/The ConversationCC BY-ND
Judith BrettLa Trobe University

Why didn’t the federal government increase funding for the National Archives of Australia in its recent budget?

We know it wasn’t because of budget discipline. Money was splashed around on all sorts of worthy causes. And the emergency funding to save film and magnetic tape recordings from disintegration was modest: A$67 million over seven years.

Nor was it because a scorn for history is in the Liberal Party’s DNA. The party’s founder, Robert Menzies, was a history buff. His library, which is the centrepiece of the newly established Robert Menzies Institute at the University of Melbourne, is full of books of history and biography.

Moreover, his government established the precursor of today’s institution, the Commonwealth Archives Office, in 1961 so the records of the past could help guide the future. Prominent Liberals like Paul Hasluck and David Kemp have written histories, as has John Howard in The Menzies Era.

There are plenty of distinguished Liberal-aligned historians, and historians across the political spectrum supported the open letter to the prime minister, spearheaded by journalist Gideon Haigh and academic Graeme Davison.

Read more: Our history up in flames? Why the crisis at the National Archives must be urgently addressed

Some commentators have seen the failure to provide the archives with emergency funds as a skirmish in the culture wars against an intellectual and cultural left purported to be obsessed with identity politics. This, the argument goes, is of a piece with the government’s apparent hostility to universities, its increase in fees for humanities degrees and its parsimonious treatment of the arts.

But was it that deliberate? Perhaps it was just careless philistinism in a budget designed for a forthcoming election. It was a budget addressed primarily to groups of voters rather than to national problems, and the users of archives will never swing a marginal electorate. Last week, The Australian ran an editorial on the issue, which concluded: “Failure to fund the NAA properly is an oversight that must be corrected.”

Embracing history is in the Liberal Party’s DNA – its founder, Robert Menzies, was a history buff. Daniel Pockett/AAP

The government is wrong to think it is only professional and academic historians who use the archives. So do family historians, as the archives include personal records of hundreds of thousands of Australians. They are especially relevant to those of non-Anglo descent who had to apply to government authorities for various exemptions and entry permits. These include Indigenous Australians, Chinese living in Australia or displaced persons wanting to immigrate.

Haigh has pointed out that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s defence last year of his eligibility to sit in parliament depended on a document in the archives – the certificate of exemption from the provisions of the Immigration Act for his mother, then a seven-year-old girl deemed to be “stateless”.

The National Archives sit in the attorney-general’s department. Queensland Senator Amanda Stoker, who is assistant minister to the attorney-general as well as assistant minister for women and industrial relations, defended the government’s failure to provide the recommended emergency funding with the facile claim that “time marches on and all sources degrade over time”.

The government had nothing to be embarrassed about, she said, even when she was reminded Prince Charles had expressed his alarm at the threatened loss of records. Judging from her silly remarks, she seems to have given the subject little thought. The aim of the letter is to bring the archive’s budgetary neglect to the attention of the prime minister and his senior ministers.

Read more: Jenny Hocking: why my battle for access to the 'Palace letters' should matter to all Australians

While I do not think the neglect of the archives is a deliberate move in the culture wars, it is evidence of the Coalition’s truncated temporal imagination. This is in part an occupational hazard of politicians with their eyes on the electoral cycle. But it is also evident in the difficulty too many of the Coalition have in understanding what climate scientists have been telling them about the future, so they focus on present costs as if future costs will never arrive.

To understand the value of archives, we have to think not just about the past but about the future, when the present will be well and truly over. As the open letter says, the National Archives’ “most important users have not yet been born”, and we do not know what questions they will want to ask.

Thinking about time is difficult, wrenching oneself out of the dramas and routines of the present to fully imagine worlds that were and will be different, confronting our transience and our mortality.

Historians are experts in temporal imagining. They spend their days reading the words and examining the objects of the men and women who walked the world before us. We hope the prime minister will heed our words on the future’s desire for a memory bank of Australian life as full and rich as it can be.The Conversation

Judith Brett, Emeritus Professor of Politics, La Trobe University

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

Is it worth selling my house if I’m going into aged care?

Colin ZhangMacquarie University

For senior Australians who cannot live independently at home, residential aged care can provide accommodation, personal care and general health care.

People usually think this is expensive. And many assume they need to sell their home to pay for a lump-sum deposit.

But that’s not necessarily the case. Here’s what you need to consider.

Read more: So you're thinking of going into a nursing home? Here's what you'll have to pay for

You May Get Some Financial Support

Fees for residential aged care are complex and can be confusing. Some are for your daily care, some are means-tested, some are for your accommodation and some pay for extras, such as cable TV.

But it’s easier to think of these fees as falling into two categories:

  • an “entry deposit”, which is usually more than $A300,000, and is refunded when you leave aged care

  • daily “ongoing fees”, which are $52.71-$300 a day, or more. These cover the basic daily fee, which everyone pays, and the means-tested care fee.

To find out how much government support you’ll receive for both these categories, you will have a “means test” to assess your income and assets. This means test is similar (but different) to the means test for the aged pension.

Generally speaking, the lower your aged-care means test amount, the more government support you’ll receive for aged care.

With full support, you don’t need to pay an “entry deposit”. But you still need to pay the basic daily fee (currently, $52.71 a day), equivalent to 85% of your aged pension. If you get partial support, you pay less for your “entry deposit” and ongoing fees.

Read more: How to check if your mum or dad's nursing home is up to scratch

You Don’t Need A Lump Sum

You don’t have to pay for your “entry deposit” as a lump sum. You can choose to pay a rental-style daily cost instead.

This is calculated as follows: you multiply the amount of the required “entry deposit” by the maximum permissible interest rate. This rate is set by government and is currently at 4.01% per year for new residents. Then you divide that sum by 365 to give a daily rate. This option is like borrowing money to pay for your “entry deposit” via an interest-only loan.

You can also pay for your “entry deposit” with a combination of a lump sum and a daily rental cost.

As it’s not compulsory to pay a lump sum for your “entry deposit”, you have different options for dealing with your family home.

Option 1: Keep Your House And Rent It Out

This allows you to use the rental-style daily cost to finance your “entry deposit”.


  • you could have more income from rent. This can help pay for the rental-style daily cost and “ongoing fees” of aged care

  • you might have a special sentimental attachment to your family house. So keeping it might be a less confronting option

  • keeping an expensive family house will not heavily impact your residential aged care cost. That’s because any value of your family house above $173,075.20 will be excluded from your means test

  • you can still access the capital gains of your house, as house prices rise.

Lease sign on front fence of house
Renting out your house can be an option. from


  • your rental income needs to be included in the means test for your aged pension. So you might get less aged pension

  • you might need to pay income tax on the rental income

  • compared to the lump sum payment, choosing the rental-style daily cost means you will end up paying more

  • you are subject to a changing rental market.

Read more: Home-owning older Australians should pay more for residential aged care

Option 2: Keep Your House And Rent It Out, With A Twist

If you have some savings, you can use a combination of a lump sum and daily rental cost to pay for your “entry deposit”.


  • like option 1, you can keep your house and have a steady income

  • the amount of lump sum deposit will not be counted as an asset in the pension means test.


  • like option 1, you could have less pension income, higher age-care costs and need to pay more income tax

  • you have less liquid assets (assets you could quickly sell or access), which could be handy in an emergency.

Option 3: Sell Your House

If you sell your house, you can use all or part of the proceeds to pay for your “entry deposit”.


  • if you have any money left over after selling your house and paying for your “entry deposit”, you can invest the rest

  • as your “entry deposit” is exempt from your aged pension means test, it means more pension income.


  • if you have money left over after selling your house, this will be included in the aged-care means test. So you can end up with less financial support for aged care.

Read more: What adds value to your house? How to decide between renovating and selling

In A Nutshell

Keeping your house and renting it out (option 1 or 2) can give you a better income stream, which you can use to cover other living costs. And if you’re not concerned about having access to liquid assets in an emergency, option 2 can be better for you than option 1.

But selling your house (option 3) avoids you being exposed to a changing rental market, particularly if the economy is going into recession. It also gives you more capital, and you don’t need to pay a rental-style daily cost.

This article is general in nature, and should not be considered financial advice. For advice tailored to your individual situation and your personal finances, please see a qualified financial planner.

Correction: this article previously stated the amount of lump sum deposit will not be counted as an asset in the aged-care means test, as a pro of option 2. In fact, the amount of lump sum deposit will not be counted as an asset in the pension means test.The Conversation

Colin Zhang, Lecturer, Department of Actuarial Studies and Business Analytics, Macquarie University

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

Our own Nomadland: the Australians caught in a COVID blind spot

Amanda DaviesThe University of Western Australia and Sarah Prout QuickeThe University of Western Australia

Australians have been told to stay home during lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While evidence of the efficacy of this approach as a public health strategy during a pandemic is compelling, lockdowns and mobility restrictions are inevitably disruptive for many – virtually everyone. However, a group that has largely been overlooked is Australia’s nomadic population. Periods of lockdown are particularly challenging for these people, who live in vans, RVs, caravans and boats.

The impacts of restrictions on small businessestravellers, people in low-paid and insecure jobs who cannot work from homeschool children and homeless people have all been widely reported. But with little known about Australia’s nomads, this group has been largely left to their own devices to find secure accommodation and navigate through mobility and border restrictions.

Read more: Australia's mishmash of COVID border closures is confusing, inconsistent and counterproductive

While nomads do not have a conventional single residential address, or live in a brick and mortar home, they are not homeless. Their van, RV, caravan or boat enables them to be permanently mobile while living in their permanent home.

The viability of their nomadic lifestyle depends on being able to freely move from place to place. Free movement enables nomads to access work and social networks as well as minimise living costs.

With the focus now on vaccinating Australians and working out longer-term strategies for managing COVID-19, more attention must be given to this permanently mobile population.

Who Are Nomads?

The recently released US film Nomadland follows the travels of a middle-aged woman who lives permanently in van. The film has raised awareness about the growing nomadic population in the US, and the complex economic and social drivers of this growth.

Nomadland: “I’m not homeless, I’m just houseless,” the lead character says. “Not the same thing, right?”

In modern societies, nomads are best thought of as a diverse group of people who are consciously seeking an alternative housing solution that enables them to balance their social and economic resources, needs and aspirations. Their lives and lifestyles are closely connected to life on the road. For those still in the workforce, a nomadic lifestyle can enable them to find seasonal work year-round.

In Australia, the term nomad has been most often associated with “grey nomads”, a broad group of people who are typically retired or semi-retired. They travel seasonally to warmer areas for winter and to cooler areas for summer.

Read more: Grey nomad lifestyle provides a model for living remotely

How Many Nomads Live In Australia?

Our new research has revealed the exact size and characteristics of the Australian nomad population are unknown and challenging to determine. Estimates vary dramatically from between 2,500 to 40,000, depending on how the group is defined.

Our official population statistics struggle to “capture” the realities of a whole range of population subsets that do not have one permanent place of “usual residence”, which compounds the challenge. The Australian Census, for example, has only three categories for residents: being “at home”, “away from home”, or homeless on census night.

Without knowing the size of the nomad population, it is difficult to determine if the population is growing or by how much. However, recent reports from the UK and US suggest that, largely in response to financial pressures, those countries’ nomadic populations have grown.

As Australia’s property market tightens and housing affordability worsens, it is plausible that more people may opt to sell up their brick and mortar assets (or rent these out for an income) to live a more affordable nomadic lifestyle.

Read more: Soaring housing costs are pushing retirees into areas where disaster risks are high

Searching For A Place To Stay

The closure of national and state parks and informal camping grounds has caused problems for permanent grey nomads. While they are not homeless – their van, RV, caravan or boat is their home – the closure of parks and camping grounds forces them to find alternative safe locations.

For those who are working, travel is often planned to align with seasonal work needs in particular areas. Mobility restrictions and border closures are particularly problematic for those who rely on seasonal work.

COVID-19 lockdowns have left many of Australia’s nomads stranded.

An underpinning assumption of Australia’s public health measures to restrict the spread of COVID is that homes are generally not mobile and that people can remain within a location – albeit with disruption. Better information about the size, routes and characteristics of Australia’s nomad population may improve capacity to support them during periods of restrictions.

The Rise Of The Digital Nomad

While COVID-19 restrictions have thrown up many challenges, it appears opportunities are also emerging. Globally, many workplaces are moving work online and the digital nomad population has grown.

Digital nomads are people who work online to maintain a nomadic lifestyle.

Read more: What inspired digital nomads to flee America's big cities may spur legions of remote workers to do the same

So, while there is an urgent need to better ensure Australia’s nomads receive the supports and services they need during COVID-19 lockdowns and more broadly, it’s also worth keeping an eye on the growth of the digital nomad population. We need to consider what might be necessary to support this growing population into the future.The Conversation

Amanda Davies, Professor of Human Geography, The University of Western Australia and Sarah Prout Quicke, Senior Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, The University of Western Australia

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

NSW Government’s Cost Of Living Service

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

Kanlaya Turns Three!

On Monday 14 June, Asian Elephant calf Kanlaya at Taronga Western Plains Zoo celebrated her third birthday with a special enrichment feed. 

Kanlaya has really blossomed over the past three years. In the beginning she was quite shy but now she is an engaged learner who is keen to interact with her keepers and is a very social and playful calf.

Kanlaya is always busy and enjoys playing with four-year-old Sabai. They can be found out in the paddock running around together, fishing for apples in the pool or rolling in the mud.

“We often see Kanlaya alongside her aunty Thong Dee having a swim in the pool when it is raining which is also very special,” said Elephant Keeper Jackie Cantrell. 

Over the past 12 months Kanlaya has become more and more independent and playful. Guests to the Zoo would regularly see her on the other side of the paddock to her mum or aunty and she’ll be climbing or rubbing on logs, chasing birds or following Pathi Harn or Sabai around.

Kanlaya and four-year-old Sabai. Photo by Rick Stevens, Taronga Zoo media

There is so much development that happens for an elephant calf in the first few years of life. Some of these major milestones that Kanlaya has developed include learning to use her truck proficiently, being interested in the food mum is eating and beginning to consume solid food herself, slowly reducing milk intake from mum and learning how to behave around other elephants.

“One interesting aspect about Kanlaya’s growth and development is her weight gain. In the three years she has gained approximately 1100kgs, compared to Gung our adult bull elephant who has only put on 400kgs in the past three years,” said Jackie.

Kanlaya at one year of age. Photo: Taronga Zoo

Seeing Kanlaya be born and watching her grow over the past three years has been a very rewarding experience for many of the keepers.

“Being present to witness the birth of an elephant calf is pretty amazing and an opportunity very few people get to be a part of but it is even more special to be able to foster a relationship with Kanlaya and see her grow and develop.”

“Hopefully I will be present to see her eventually come full circle from calf to a mother of her own calf one day in the future, this would be an incredibly momentous occasion in my life as well as hers,” said Jackie.

Kanlaya was the second calf born here in Dubbo and our first female calf.  A lot of planning and preparation goes in to any birth and Kanlaya’s was no exception.

Back track to September 2016, we were training Porntip for Artificial Insemination (AI) and taking regular blood samples from her to track her progesterone levels.  By measuring her progesterone levels, we can actually determine the exact day that she will ovulate and time the AI for that day.  This requires a lot of planning and preparation, particularly because Kanlaya’s dad does not live in Dubbo, he lives at Perth Zoo in Western Australia.  So we organised all the logistics and then a team of specialist elephant reproductive vets flew to Perth to be ready.  We took blood on the morning of the 7 September 2016 and the results confirmed ovulation.  The team in Perth collected the semen sample straight away and then flew to Dubbo, via Sydney and arrived early that evening.  We did the artificial insemination at 8.30pm and the vets were fairly confident because the semen sample was great, 90% motility, and they could see on ultrasound that Porntip had just ovulated.  We did a second artificial insemination procedure the following morning to be sure. 

We then had to wait approximately three months (the length of an elephant cycle) before we could confirm that Porntip was pregnant and it was at this point we found out it was a success!  And then we started the long 22 months wait until our little calf would arrive.

Kanlaya was born on the 14th of June 2018 at 3.07am after a short and easy labour.  Her name means ‘beautiful lady’.  She is a very confident, playful and energetic calf. Kanlaya spends her the day with the herd and often leads the way out on to exhibit.  She loves receiving attention and her training is coming along nicely. 

Her Mum is Porntip and is 28 years old.  She has a laid back and easy going personality and is very maternal. Porntip is a great mother and aunty to the other calves in the herd.

Kanlaya’s dad Putra Mas lives at Perth Zoo with two other female elephants. Kanlaya is the first calf he has sired.  Putra Mas is exceptionally smart and seeks out attention from keepers to do activities, vocalizing to call them over.  Keepers at Perth Zoo say he is a perfectionist and learns new behaviours quickly.  Putra Mas is a big burley boy, is destructive and loves to play with his toys.  If he can break it, he will.

As Kanlaya grows and develops it is nice to see her personality coming out and the different traits she gets from her parents. It is a real pleasure to watch her grow and develop.

By Elephant keeper, Bec O’Riordan and Taronga Zoo

Kanlaya at one day old - photo by Rick Stevens, Taronga Zoo media

Solid Plastering: Artisans Of Australia

Published June 15, 2021 by NFSA
From the Film Australia Collection.  Made by Film Australia 1985. Directed by Keith Gow. A look at the intricate and varied process of restoring and retaining the original ornamental plasterwork on heritage buildings. Larry Harrigan, a third generation plasterer originally from Ireland, has taken seven years to restore the old Collingwood Town Hall, Melbourne, which was very badly decayed.

Do You Want To Be A Radio Broadcaster?

Radio Northern Beaches, the Peninsula’s own community radio station, is putting on a one-day Radio Skills Workshop on Saturday 17th July at the Station’s studios in Terrey Hills. The workshop is the first step for someone considering a career in radio broadcasting, or for those wanting to present their own show on Radio Northern Beaches.

The workshop is an introduction to a wide range of broadcasting skills including the fundamentals of interviewing, planning and creating your own radio show, microphone technique, panel operation, and digital audio editing.  The speakers include the Station’s Technical Director and several current programme presenters.  At the end of the day, everyone participates in a live to air show.

After completing the workshop, participants are welcome to join Radio Northern Beaches and, after four hands-on evening training sessions, to put forward their own pilot radio programme.

The workshop, which lasts from 9am to 4pm on Saturday 17th July, is limited to ten students and costs $140 for the day.  Bookings can be made through the Northern Beaches Community College website,

For further information, contact Andrew Goodman-Jones at 

Book review: Farmers or Hunter-gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate rigorously critiques Bruce Pascoe’s argument

Reconstruction of traditional dwelling, Lake Condah, 2020. Photo: Peter Sutton
Christine Judith NichollsAustralian National University

Eminent Australian anthropologist Peter Sutton and respected field archaeologist Keryn Walshe have co-authored a meticulously researched new book, Farmers or Hunter-gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate. It’s set to become the definitive critique of Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu: Black Seeds — Agriculture or Accident?

First published in 2014, Pascoe’s Dark Emu has spawned numerous derivatives. Pascoe contends that in pre-contact times, Australian Aboriginal people weren’t “mere” hunter-gatherers, but agriculturalists. Descriptors like “simple” or “mere” are anathema to people like me who’ve lived long-term with hunter-gatherers.

For many Australians, Pascoe’s book is a “must-read”, speaking truth to power. For such readers, Dark Emu seems a breakthrough text. Not so, in Sutton and Walshe’s estimation. Nor mine.

Underpinning Dark Emu is the author’s rhetorical purpose. This proselytising is partly achieved by painstaking “massaging” of his sources, a practice forensically examined by Walshe and Sutton. It has led to converts to Pascoe’s dubious proposition. But this willingness to accept Pascoe’s argument reveals a systemic area of failure in the Australian education system.

On the basis of long-term research and observation, Sutton and Walshe portray classical Australian Aboriginal people as highly successful hunter-gatherers and fishers. They strongly repudiate racist notions of Aboriginal hunter-gatherers as living in a primitive state.

In their book, they assert there was and is nothing “simple” or “primitive” about hunter-gatherer-fishers’ labour practices. This complexity was, and in many cases, still is, underpinned by high levels of spiritual/cultural belief.

Not Agriculturalists

As Sutton attests, seeds were and are occasionally deliberately scattered. But in classical Aboriginal societies they were never planted nor watered for agricultural purposes. Such aforementioned rituals are collectively called “increase ceremonies”. Sutton’s alternative term, “maintenance ceremonies”, invokes spiritual propagation as opposed to oversupply.

Their objective was continuing subsistence. Australia’s hunter-gatherer-fishers left an extremely light carbon footprint — the diametric opposite of many contemporary agricultural/industrial practices. The photo below, taken in 1932 or earlier, shows Pilbara people throwing yelka (nutgrass) — not threshing or scattering seeds.

The people in this photo are throwing pebbles and dust - not scattering or threshing seeds. It’s a maintenance ceremony for nutgrass (‘yelka’), to ensure spiritual reproduction. Ralph Piddington, ‘Totemic system of the Karadjeri tribe’, Oceania 4, 1932, pp. 376–93, Plate II.

Pascoe’s Sources And Approach

Pascoe draws on records of explorers and early colonists, also citing recent works, including Bill Gammage’s The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines made Australia. Dark Emu leans most heavily on the work of the late historian/ethnographer Rupert Gerritsen.

Read more: Friday essay: Dark Emu and the blindness of Australian agriculture

Counter-intuitively, Pascoe mainly cites non-Aboriginal sources. There is no real “voice” given to the few remaining people who lived traditional lives as youngsters, or are cited in books or articles.

While some have described Dark Emu as fabrication, Sutton and Walshe are more measured. They methodically show that in Dark Emu, Pascoe has removed significant passages from publications that contradict his major objectives. This boosts his contention that all along Aboriginal people were farmers and/or aquaculturalists.

One example concerns Pascoe’s quoting of the journal entries of the explorer Charles Sturt. Sutton writes:

Sturt is quoted [by Pascoe] on his party’s discovery of a large well and ‘village’ of 19 huts somewhere north of Lake Torrens in South Australia.

This “village” concept arose from colonial records, and is still sometimes used in recent articles.

Pascoe’s edit of Sturt’s original 1849 text breathes oxygen into Dark Emu’s polemical edge. It’s misleading at best. For Sturt’s diary reveals Aboriginal people didn’t live in “houses” in any single site all year round.

Page 153, Dark Emu Debate.

Such accounts destabilise Pascoe’s argument, reinforced by ethnographic, colonial, and archaeological records.

Hunter-gatherers did alter the country in significant ways — most Australians know about the ancient practice of firing the country, recently discussed in depth owing to our increasingly devastating bush-fires. This involved ecological agency and prowess. But expert fire-burning isn’t an agricultural practice, as Pascoe avers.

Wik people firing the country, middle Kirke River, Cape York Peninsula, 1977. Photo by Peter Sutton

Read more: Indigenous expertise is reducing bushfires in northern Australia. It's time to consider similar approaches for other disasters

Misidentification Of Implements

In a key chapter, Walshe homes in on Pascoe’s mis-interpretations of hunter-gatherer implements, which he labels “agricultural” tools. For instance, Pascoe misconstrues grooved “Bogan Picks” as heavy stones used for agricultural activity.

Walshe disputes Pascoe’s claim, stating that, “with their adze-shaped end and grooved midline for hafting, they were likely used in a similar way to stone axes.”

Wooden digging sticks were also used for breaking up the earth to extract yams when in season, among various other purposes — not for “tilling” or “ploughing” the soil in preparation for planting seeds.

Grooved (Bogan style) picks. Photo by Malcolm Davidson

Language used by early colonists and explorers — words like “village” and “picks” — befuddles readers. British colonists’ monolingualism meant they used English words, often imposed arbitrarily, to name never-before-seen hunter-gatherer implements. For example, “Bogan Pick” references the nearby Bogan River.

Hunter-Gatherer Mobility And Stasis

Sutton expertly summarises the experience of escaped convict, William Buckley, who spent 32 years travelling around country with the Wathawurrung people in Central Victoria.

Over time, Buckley became fluent in the language of his Wathawurrung hosts. Later, his oral account of the hunter-gatherer group’s approximate lengths of mobility and stasis at numerous sites was transcribed. It’s a unique document covering a significant timespan.

This account reinforces earlier chapters in Dark Emu Debate. Sutton and Walshe make it crystal clear that Aboriginal people weren’t “simple nomads” wandering around randomly, opportunistically searching for food and water. They knew their country intimately.

Rather, hunter-gatherers engaged in purposeful travel to sites with which they familiar and able to source seasonally available food, water and shelter at variable times of year.

Shelter Tree, Eden Valley 2021. Keryn Walshe

Another conspicuous weakness in Dark Emu’s approach, pinpointed by Sutton and Walshe, is Pascoe’s penchant for choosing exceptions to the general rule, implying that these atypical practices were widespread or universal. It’s another strategy to consolidate his argument but involves eliding vital information.

Pre-Contact Aquaculture

Pascoe offers two examples of “aquacultural” practice, one in Brewarrina (NSW) in the bed streams of the Barwon River, and the other in Lake Condah, in south-western Victoria.

He seizes on rock use in the Brewarrina fishery and Lake Condah’s fish and seasonal eel trapping as “proof” of Aboriginal people’s aqua/agricultural prowess — giving the impression they created these complex hydrological systems from scratch.

But Sutton writes, “The fish traps of Brewarrina … were not claimed as the ingenious works of human beings, but … regarded as having been put there in the Dreaming, by Dreamings.” Both he and Walshe readily acknowledge the fact that Aboriginal people use/d their human agency to create modifications. It’s not an either/or matter.

File:FMIB 36637 Brewarrina Fishery.jpeg - Wikimedia Commons
Brewarrina Fishery (‘Baiames Ngunnhu’), photograph Lindsay G. Thompson, 1893. University of Washington, Wikimedia Commons

However, a chapter written by Walshe throws light on the seismic activity that forged Lake Condah’s unique terrain and waterways. This area, she writes, is part of

a volcanic system … last active … 9,000 years ago, with a major eruption much earlier, about 37,000 thousand years ago, causing a massive lava flow across the pre-existing drainage system.

The natural tilt southwards, she explains, facilitated “naturally formed ancient river channels … to reach the Southern Ocean”.

This enabled migratory fish to spawn. Fish, and at certain times of year, eels, swam through both fresh and salty water — making for ease of catching. Local Aboriginal people moved the heavy stones into semi-circular formations to enable netting, spearing or grabbing by hand, possibly creating further semi-captivity of these food staples.

In this way, hunter-gatherers consistently and constantly “value-added” to, or enhanced, nature’s creation.

Lake Condah in the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape. Budj Bim/AAP

Read more: The detective work behind the Budj Bim eel traps World Heritage bid

Not A Bunfight

Pascoe’s skilful editing of his sources involves conscious, deliberate intervention. Does he hope Dark Emu will convince people to change their belief in the noxious evolutionary ladder, once uniformly, but still sometimes, applied to different groups of homo sapiens?

Or was his book written to prove Aboriginal people were/are more like Europeans, which could perhaps lead to much needed progress on reconciliation? Perhaps that accounts for its rapturous reception by many Australians, especially the young.

Why not simply celebrate the long-term achievements of hunter-gatherers?

Hunter-gatherers worked in concert with the natural world, not against it as most humans do today, resulting in insoluble difficulties such as overcrowding, pandemics and toxic agricultural and aquacultural practices. Survival depends on this. For eons, it ensured the continuity and the continuing existence of Australia’s hunter-gatherer people and their culture.

Farmers or Hunter Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate needs to be read carefully, keeping an open mind. The book’s focus is on both material and spiritual economies and their misrepresentation. Despite racist commentary from some, this isn’t an exclusively right or left-wing issue or a bunfight.

Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu will continue to be granted recognition, if not immortality. But Sutton and Walshe’s Dark Emu Debate will undoubtedly be acclaimed. As a critique of Pascoe’s book, it’s just about perfect — a volume with the twin virtues of rigour and readability.

Farmers or Hunter Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate is published by Melbourne University Press and will be released 16 June 2021.The Conversation

Christine Judith Nicholls, Honorary Senior Lecturer, Australian National University

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

This deep-sea creature is long-armed, bristling with teeth, and the sole survivor of 180 million years of evolution

C. Harding/Museums VictoriaAuthor provided
Tim O'HaraMuseums Victoria

Let me introduce you to Ophiojura, a bizarre deep-sea animal found in 2011 by scientists from the French Natural History Museum, while trawling the summit of a secluded seamount called Banc Durand, 500 metres below the waves and 200 kilometres east of New Caledonia in the southwest Pacific Ocean.

Ophiojura is a type of brittle star, which are distant cousins of starfish, with snake-like arms radiating from their bodies, that live on sea floors around the globe.

Being an expert in deep-sea animals, I knew at a glance that this one was special when I first saw it in 2015. The eight arms, each 10 centimetres long and armed with rows of hooks and spines. And the teeth! A microscopic scan revealed bristling rows of sharp teeth lining every jaw, which I reckon are used to snare and shred its prey.

False-colour scan of Ophiojura
Bristling teeth poke out from all eight jaws, ready to pierce and shred prey. The colour in this micro-CT scan reflects the density of the skeleton. J. Black/University of MelbourneAuthor provided

As my colleagues and I now report in Proceedings of the Royal Society BOphiojura does indeed represent a totally unique and previously undescribed type of animal. It is one of a kind — the last known species of an ancient lineage, like the coelacanth or the tuatara.

We compared DNA from a range of different marine species, and concluded that Ophiojura is separated from its nearest living brittle star relatives by about 180 million years of evolution. This means their most recent common ancestor lived during the Triassic or early Jurassic period, when dinosaurs were just getting going.

Since then, Ophiojura‘s ancestors continued to evolve, leading ultimately to the situation today, in which it is the only known survivor from an evolutionary lineage stretching back 180 million years.

Amazingly, we have found small fossil bones that look similar to our new species in Jurassic (180 million-year-old) rocks from northern France, which is further evidence of their ancient origin.

Scientists used to call animals like Ophiojura “living fossils”, but this isn’t quite right. Living organisms don’t stay frozen in time for millions of years without changing at all. The ancestors of Ophiojura would have continued evolving, in admittedly very subtle ways, over the past 180 million years.

Perhaps a more accurate way to describe these evolutionary loners is with the term “paleo-endemics” — representatives of a formerly widespread branch of life that is now restricted to just a few small areas and maybe just a single solitary species.

For seafloor life, the centre of palaeo-endemism is on continental margins and seamounts in tropical waters between 200 metres and 1,000 metres deep. This is where we find the “relicts” of ancient marine life — species that have persisted in a relatively primitive form for millions of years.

Read more: Dancing brittle stars tell an ancient tale of life and death in brutal seas

Seamounts, like the one on which Ophiojura was found, are usually submerged volcanoes that were born millions of years ago. Lava oozes or belches from vents in the seafloor, continually adding layers of basalt rock to the volcano’s summit like layers of icing on a cake. The volcano can eventually rise above the sea surface, forming an island volcano such as those in Hawaii, sometimes with coral reefs circling its shoreline.

But eventually the volcano dies, the rock chills, and the heavy basalt causes the seamount to sink into the relatively soft oceanic crust. Given enough time, the seamount will subside hundreds or even thousands of metres below sea level and gradually become covered again in deep-sea fauna. Its sunlit past is remembered in rock as a layer of fossilised reef animals around the summit.

Voyage Of Discovery

While our new species is from the southwest Pacific, seamounts occur worldwide and we are just beginning to explore those in other oceans. In July and August, I will lead a 45-day voyage of exploration on Australia’s oceanic research vessel, the RV Investigator, to seamounts around Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the eastern Indian Ocean.

These seamounts are ancient - up to 100 million years old — and almost totally unexplored. We are truly excited at what we may find.

Seamounts are special places in the deep-sea world. Currents swirl around them, bringing nutrients from the depths or trapping plankton from above, which feeds the growth of spectacular fan corals, sea whips, and glass sponges. These in turn host numerous other deep-sea animals. But these fascinating communities are vulnerable to human activities such as deep-sea trawling and mining for precious minerals.

Crinoids on a seamount
Life on a seamount. Feather stars and brittle stars have evolved multiple arms to reach up into passing currents. S. Samadi/MNHN/KANADEEP2Author provided

The Australian government recently announced a process to create new marine parks in the Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) regions. Our voyage will provide the data required to manage these parks into the future.

The New Caledonian government has also created a marine park in offshore areas around these islands, including the Durand seamount. These marine parks are beacons of progress in the global drive for better environmental stewardship of our oceans. Who knows what weird and wonderful treasures of the deep are yet to be discovered.

Read more: How we traced the underwater volcanic ancestry of Lord Howe Island The Conversation

Tim O'Hara, Senior Curator of Marine Invertebrates, Museums Victoria

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

9 in 10 LGBTQ+ students say they hear homophobic language at school, and 1 in 3 hear it almost every day

Jacqueline UllmanWestern Sydney University

Bills in the federal and New South Wales parliaments have sought to stop teachers talking about gender and sexuality diversity in the name of either religious freedom or parents’ rights.

If passed in its current form, the NSW Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 would prohibit teachers from discussing gender and sexuality diversity. It would also make offering targeted, requested support to gender and sexuality diverse (often known as LGBTQ+) students grounds for revoking teachers’ accreditation.

At NSW universities, the bill will mean programs that educate student teachers about the existence of LGBTQ+ students and how best to support them at school would be at risk of losing their accreditation. The same goes for registered professional development of NSW teachers.

Such bills fail to acknowledge the daily realities for many LGBTQ+ youth. These young people experience one of the highest rates of school bullying in the Asia-Pacific and are almost five times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers.

My recent report, Free2Be … Yet? — the second national study of Australian high school students who identify as gender and sexuality diverse — shows alarming rates of homophobic language used in Australian schools. And worse, it shows that, at least from the perspective of students, teachers rarely intervene.

What LGBTQ+ Students Said

The report presents findings from a national survey of 2,376 LGBTQ+ high school students, aged 13–18. The participants went to government, Catholic and independent schools.

The central aim of the research was to investigate the frequency of harassment and violence towards LGBTQ+ students at school. I also wanted to explore associations between elements of the school climate — with respect to gender and sexuality diversity — and the school well-being of these students.

Almost 30% of participants said they had personally experienced or witnessed physical harassment directed at LGBTQ+ students. This group told stories of violence at school, with limited teacher intervention or discussion about the issues.

Of 93% of students who said they had heard homophobic language at school, 37% heard this “almost every day”. Only 6% of students said adults “always” intervened to stop this language.

One year 9 girl who identifies as pansexual wrote:

My classmates call everyone faggots all the time and the teachers just pretend they don’t hear it.

In some cases, students wrote about how the LGBTQ+ student was blamed for the event:

A year 12 boy who identifies as gay said:

[A student] threw a rotten apple at the back of my head after telling me that the common room is for ‘normal straight people only’. The teacher present then told me I had to leave because I was causing trouble by being there.

LGBTQ+ students who went to schools where peers used homophobic and transphobic language more often and with less intervention from adults reported feeling significantly less connected to their school.

They also said they were less confident their teachers could manage bullying and keep them safe. And they were less assured their teachers were personally invested in them and their academic success.

A Diverse-Positive School Climate

A school climate that views gender and sexuality diversity positively is related to LGBTQ+ students’ sense of connection and personal investment in school.

In this survey, LGBTQ+ students scored worse than mainstream peers on nearly every measure of school-based well-being. This included their sense of connectedness to school, a known predictor of academic achievement.

Two boys walking in a school corridor.
LGBTQ+ students’ well-being at school can suffer depending on how the school sees diversity issues. Shutterstock

However, where LGBTQ+ students attended schools that explicitly named sexual orientation as a protected category in their harassment policy, those students’ school-based well-being exceeded those of their mainstream peers.

Around three-quarters of students who were in year 9 and above said it was “definitely” or “mostly” false they had learned about a range of gender and sexuality diverse identities in their health and physical education classes.

LGBTQ+ students who reported more inclusion of diversity issues in their curriculum had significantly better school-based well-being than LGBTQ+ students in schools with little to no inclusion.

Unsurprisingly, LGBTQ+ students with higher levels of these forms of well-being were significantly more likely to say they would attend university.

Teacher Attitudes Make A Difference

The study also measured how LGBTQ+ students perceived themselves academically — known as “academic self-concept”. This is measured using eight items that include statements such as: “compared to others my age, I am good at most school subjects” and “it is important to me to do well in most school subjects”.

The survey then asked students to indicate how true it was that their “teachers talk about same-sex attraction (lesbian, gay or bisexual people or topics) in a positive way”. Response options ranged from “definitely false” to “definitely true”.

Looking at students’ mean (average) academic self-concept score against their ratings of teacher positivity, results show that where students viewed their teachers as more positive about same-sex attraction across each of the six response options, they also reported higher academic self-concept.

Likewise, students were asked to indicate how frequently their teachers “do something or say something positive, like stop the student(s) or talk to them about using that language” when “negative language about lesbians, gays or bisexual people is used by students and a teacher or school staff member is present”. Response options ranged from “always” to “never”.

As the graph below shows, students who indicated that their teachers “always” intervened had the highest average academic self-concept, with students who indicated their teachers “never” intervened, reporting the lowest average academic self-concept.

These results show more training and encouragement should be given to Australia’s teachers to speak out against homophobic and transphobic harassment and violence in ways that educate students and reduce its incidence. Such efforts, alongside positive inclusion, can enable LGBTQ+ students to reach their full potential.

If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit Headspace.The Conversation

Jacqueline Ullman, Associate Professor in Adolescent Development, Behaviour and Wellbeing, Western Sydney University

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

Hidden women of history: Eliza Hamilton Dunlop — the Irish Australian poet who shone a light on colonial violence

Portrait of Eliza Hamilton Dunlop (no date), colour photograph of oil painting Wollombi Endeavour Museum
Anna JohnstonThe University of Queensland

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

Eliza Hamilton Dunlop’s poem The Aboriginal Mother was published in The Australian on December 13, 1838, five days before seven men were hanged for their part in the Myall Creek massacre.

About 28 Wirrayaraay people died in the massacre near Inverell in northern New South Wales. Dunlop had arrived in Sydney in February, and the Irish writer was horrified by the violence she read about in the newspapers.

Read more: How can we achieve reconciliation? Myall Creek offers valuable answers

Moved by evidence in court about an Indigenous woman and baby who survived the massacre, Dunlop crafted a poem condemning settlers who professed Christianity but murdered and conspired to cover up their crime. It read, in part:

Now, hush thee—or the pale-faced men
Will hear thy piercing wail,
And what would then thy mother’s tears
Or feeble strength avail!

Oh, could'st thy little bosom
That mother’s torture feel,
Or could'st thou know thy father lies
Struck down by English steel

The poem closed evoking the body of “my slaughter’d boy … To tell—to tell of the gloomy ridge; and the stockmen’s human fire”.

The graphic content depicting settler violence and First Nations’ suffering made Dunlop’s poem locally notorious. She didn’t shrink from the criticism she received in Australia’s colonial press, declaring she hoped the poem would awake the sympathies of the English nation for a people who were “rendered desperate and revengeful by continued acts of outrage”.

An Early Life As A Reader

Dunlop, the youngest of three children, was born Eliza Matilda Hamilton in 1796. Her father, Solomon Hamilton, was an attorney practising in Ireland, England and India. Her mother died soon after Dunlop’s birth, and she was brought up by her paternal grandmother.

Part of a privileged Protestant family with an excellent library, Dunlop grew up reading writers from the French Revolution and social reformers such as Mary Wollstonecraft.

In her teens, Dunlop published poems in local magazines. An unpublished volume of her original poetry, translations and illustrations written between 1808 and 1813 reveals her fascination with Irish mythology and European literature. She was deeply interested in the Irish language and in political campaigns to extend suffrage and education to Catholics.

Eliza Hamilton Dunlop, King John’s Castle on Carlingford Bay, Juvenile notebook, watercolour and ink. Milson Family Papers – 1810, 1853–1862, State Library of New South Wales, MLMSS 7683

In 1820, she travelled to India to visit her father and two brothers. The journey inspired poems about colonial locations — from the Cape Colony (now South Africa) to the Ganges River — that explored the reach and impact of the British Empire.

In Scotland in 1823, she married book binder and seller David Dunlop. David’s family history inspired poems such as her dual eulogy, The Two Graves (1865), about the bloody suppression of Protestant radicals in the 1798 Rebellion, during which David’s father Captain William Dunlop had been hanged.

The Dunlops had five children in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, where they were engaged in political activity seeking to unseat absentee English landlords, before leaving Ireland in 1837.

Settler Poetry And Politics

When The Aboriginal Mother was published as sheet music in 1842, set to music by the composer Isaac Nathan, he declared “it ought to be on the pianoforte of every lady in the colony”.

The cover of the music score of The Aboriginal Mother. Trove

Dunlop often wrote about the Irish diaspora in poems which were alternatively nostalgic and political. But she also brought her knowledge of the violence and divisiveness of colonisation, religion and ethnicity to her writing on Australia.

Her optimistic vision for Australian poetry encouraged colonial readers to be attentive to their environment and to recognise Indigenous culture. This reputation for sympathising with Indigenous people — and her husband’s arguments with settlers in Penrith about the treatment of Catholic convicts — were widely criticised in the press.

This affected David’s career as police magistrate and Aboriginal Protector: he was soon moved to a remote location. There, too, local landholders campaigned against his appointment and undermined his authority.

Indigenous Languages

When David was posted to Wollombi in the Upper Hunter Valley, Dunlop sought to expand her knowledge of Indigenous culture, engaging with Darkinyung, Awabakal and Wonnarua people who lived in the area.

She attempted to learn various languages of the region, transcribing word lists, songs and poems, and acknowledging the Indigenous people who shared their knowledge with her.

Some of Dunlop’s transcription between English and the language of the Wollombi people, dated from 1840. State Library of New South Wales

She wrote a suite of Indigenous-themed poems in the 1840s, publishing poems in newspapers such as The Eagle Chief (1843) or Native Poetry/Nung-ngnun (1848). These poems were criticised by anonymous letter writers, questioning her poetic ability, her knowledge and her choice of subject.

Some critics were frankly racist, refusing to accept the human emotions expressed by Dunlop’s Indigenous narrators.

The Sydney Herald had railed against the death sentences of the men responsible for the Myall Creek massacre, and Dunlop condemned the attitude of the paper and its correspondents. She hoped “the time was past, when the public press would lend its countenance to debase the native character, or support an attempt to shade with ridicule”.

Dunlop would publish with one outlet before shifting to another, finding different editors in the volatile colonial press who would support her.

Poetry Of Protest

Dunlop wrote in a sentimental form of poetry popular at the time, addressing exile, history and memory. She published around 60 poems in Australian newspapers and magazines between 1838 and 1873, but appears to have written nothing more on Indigenous themes after 1850. This popular writing also contributed to poetry of political protest, galvanising readers around causes such as transatlantic anti-slavery.

Read more: Five protest poets all demonstrators should read

The plight of Indigenous people under British colonialism inspired many writers, including “crying mother” poems that harnessed the universal appeal of motherhood.

Dunlop’s poems The Aboriginal Mother and The Irish Mother are linked to this literary trend, but her experience of colonialism lent her poetry more authority than writers who sourced information about “exotic” cultures from imperial travel writing and voyage accounts.

In the early 1870s, Dunlop collated a selection of poetry, The Vase, but she was never able to publish. Family demands and financial constraints precluded it.

Eliza Hamilton Dunlop, Title page, ‘The Vase’, paper. State Library of New South Wales, B1541

Dunlop died in 1880. Like many women of the time, her writing was neglected and forgotten, until it was rediscovered by the literary critic and editor Elizabeth Webby in the 1960s.

Webby identified Dunlop as the first Australian poet to transcribe and translate Indigenous songs, and as among the earliest to try to increase white readers’ awareness of Indigenous culture. Webby published the first collection of Dunlop’s poems in 1981.

Today, communities and linguists regularly use Dunlop’s transcripts for language reclamation projects in the Upper Hunter Valley.

Last year, 140 years after Dunlop’s death, Wanarruwa Beginner’s Guide — an introduction to one language of the Hunter River area — was published.

At the launch, language consultant Sharon Edgar-Jones (Wonnarua and Gringai) movingly recited one of the songs Dunlop transcribed: revitalising the words of the Indigenous women and men to whom Dunlop listened, when so few white Australians were listening at all.

Eliza Hamilton Dunlop Writing from the Colonial Frontier, edited by Anna Johnston and Elizabeth Webby, is out now through Sydney University Press.The Conversation

Anna Johnston, Associate Professor of English Literature, The University of Queensland

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

How the stunning abstract art of Hilma af Klint opens our eyes to new ways of seeing

Hilma af Klint, Group IX/UW, The dove, no 2. 1915. Oil on canvas, 155.5 x 115.5 cm. Courtesy of the Hilma af Klint Foundation. Kak174. Photo: The Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden
Joanna MendelssohnThe University of Melbourne

Review: Hilma af Klint, The Secret Paintings. Art Gallery of New South Wales.

In 1986, those art historians who see art as some form of linear progression “improving” with time received a rude shock. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s exhibition The Spiritual in Art — Abstract Paintings 1890 – 1985 introduced a hitherto unknown woman artist.

The issue was not just that this art was so exquisitely beautiful — but that the paintings had been painted in the early 20th century.

Hilma af Klint, Botanical study, 1890s. Watercolour and ink on paper, 35.8 x 22.4 cm. Courtesy of the Hilma af Klint Foundation. Hak1327. Photo: The Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden

Hilma af Klint was once known as a minor academic Swedish artist. Born in 1862, she had been one of the first women to graduate from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm and had exhibited at the Swedish General Art Association.

But these paintings on display in Los Angeles revealed another life, a different art. Her involvement with spiritualism had radicalised her art to such an extent she can only be described as one of the great abstract artists.

Her work was the sensation of the 2013 Venice Biennale, with a full scale retrospective organised by the Moderna Museet shown in Stockholm, Berlin and Malaga the same year. In 2018, New York’s Guggenheim Museum exhibition broke all attendance records. Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings brings her art to the southern hemisphere for the first time.

The transformation of af Klint from competent academic to inspirational mystical abstractionist is a result of the same ideas that influenced many of her contemporaries including KandinskyMondrianKlee and Malevich.

Rather than rewriting the history of art by slotting her in as a hitherto unknown great woman artist, it is probably more useful to consider these ideas and their impact on her art.

Scientific And Mystical Change

The scientific discoveries of the late 19th and early 20th century encouraged many to question the very nature of the universe.

In the 17th century, Isaac Newton discovered light was made of particles. In the early 19th century, Goethe’s Theory of Colours led many to see colour had spiritual and psychological powers. In the early 20th century, Max Planck demonstrated light particles had energy.

Hilma af Klint, Group 1, Primordial chaos, no 16. 1906-07. Oil on canvas, 53 x 37 cm. Courtesy of the Hilma af Klint Foundation. Hak016. Photo: The Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden

Many began to think that, if the universe was more than it seemed, then perhaps there were other lives living on different astral planes. Perhaps it was possible for some to be mediums, opening themselves to communicate with spirit guides to these worlds.

At the end of the 19th century a new religion, Theosophy, appeared, incorporating both ancient wisdom and modern science.

Today, this may seem esoteric in the extreme, but Theosophy offered an apparently logical and modern system of belief. Its spread was global, and was a major factor behind the liberation of colour in early Australian modernism. In Sydney in 1926, the Theosophical Society was sufficiently mainstream to start a radio station: 2GB.

Read more: Clarice Beckett exhibition is a sensory appreciation of her magical moments in time

It is not surprising af Klint should become a follower. What is surprising is the power of the art unleashed as a consequence.

In 1896, she joined with four colleagues in a group they called The Five whose investigation of the spirit world included automatic drawing.

Hilma af Klint, Untitled, 1908. Dry pastel and graphite on paper. 52.5 x 62.6 cm. Courtesy of the Hilma af Klint Foundation. Hak1258. Photo: The Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden

In 1906, her spiritual communications led to her spirit guide Amaliel “commissioning” a new series, The Paintings for the Temple. She later described this as “the one great task that I carried out in my lifetime.”

However, af Klint did not see herself as just a simple conduit for the spirits to control:

it was not the case that I was to blindly obey the spirits, but that I was to imagine that they were always standing by my side.

The first Paintings for the Temple were completed five years before Kandinsky proclaimed his revolutionary argument for abstraction in The Spiritual in Art.

In 1907 she painted her great series of works, The Ten Largest.

Hilma af Klint, Group IV, The ten largest no 3, youth. 1907. Tempera on paper mounted on canvas, 321 x 240 cm. Courtesy of the Hilma af Klint Foundation. Hak104. Photo: The Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden

They are, by any measure, a magnificent study of the seasons of life. Elements of nature, geometry and mysterious writing are traced through juvenile floral blues to orange youth, mauves and yellows of adulthood, then in the seeds of old age where the red paint is all scumbled and thin.

Installation view of The Ten Largest at the Hilma af Klint: The Secret Painting exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 12 June — 19 September 2021. Photo: Jenni Carter © AGNSW

The Value In Being Forgotten

To understand both why her art developed the way it did, and why it was so little known for so long, it is probably worth considering the events of her lifetime and her own position.

Hilma af Klint was from an aristocratic Swedish naval family. During the first world war, Sweden’s position was armed neutrality, but she was only too aware of the carnage. Her Swan series, started shortly after the outbreak of war, pitches white swan against black as forms become abstracted, looping in harmony, dissolving into geometry and pure abstraction — until at the very end the two swans are locked together. Each contained elements of the other.

Hilma af Klint, Group IX/SUW, The swan, no 1. 1914-15. Oil on canvas, 150-150 cm. Courtesy of the Hilma af Klint Foundation. Hak149. Photo: The Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden

In 1908, Hilma af Klimt showed the Paintings of the Temple to Rudolph Steiner. He failed to understand her work, and did not appreciate the way she saw herself as working with spirits.

This, as well as the burden of caring for her frail and blind mother, may be why she abandoned painting for four years. It may also be why she specified her art be kept secret until 20 years after her death.

There is also a more pragmatic reason. For all its studied neutrality, Sweden was very close to Germany as the Nazis assumed power: radical abstract art with mystical overtones could have caused problems.

Hilma af Klint, Group X, Altarpiece, no 1. 1915. Oil and metal leaf on canvas, 237.5 x 179.5 cm. Courtesy of the Hilma af Klint Foundation. Hak187. Photo: The Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden

Hilma af Klint died in 1944. In 1970, after seeing the riches of his aunt’s creative legacy, her nephew Erik offered her art to Sweden’s Moderna Museet. The gift was rejected out of hand when the director heard she was a mystic and a medium.

A year later Linda Nochlin published Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? — an essay ushering in a new era of scholarly reassessment of art by women.

Read more: Why weren't there any great women artists? In gratitude to Linda Nochlin

It was perhaps fortunate this gift was rejected. Almost all her art is now owned by the Hilma af Klint Foundation, created by her family. It will never be scattered by the art market nor be the subject of speculation by dealers.

Instead, it is both a constant resource for scholars and for audiences to marvel at the meditative beauty of her forms, the incandescence of her colour and the way she opens eyes to new ways of seeing.

Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings is at the Art Gallery of New South Wales until September 19, then City Gallery Wellington from December 4.The Conversation

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

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

Friendlyjordies producer arrest: what is the NSW Police Fixated Persons Investigations Unit and when is it used?

(YouTube: Friendlyjordies)
Keiran HardyGriffith University

A producer for YouTube comedian Friendlyjordies was recently arrested for allegedly stalking and intimidating NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, following investigations by the Fixated Persons Investigations Unit (FPIU) of the NSW police.

This unit, set up in the wake of the Lindt café siege, was created to monitor extremists and fixated persons who may not fall under Australia’s counter-terrorism laws but nonetheless pose a risk of serious violence.

At the heart of this case will be the charges of intimidation and stalking, but it also will raise questions around what constitutes a “fixated person” and when the use of this unit is appropriate.

Read more: Australia doesn't need more anti-terror laws that aren't necessary – or even used

Two Alleged Incidents

Kristo Langker, 21, produces videos for the popular YouTube channel Friendlyjordies, run by Jordan Shanks. At the time of writing, the channel has around 500,000 subscribers.

Shanks has appeared in videos alleging wrongdoing by NSW Nationals leader Barilaro, which Barilaro has strenuously denied. Lawyers for Barilaro say Shanks defamed the deputy premier in a number of “vile and racist” videos. The NSW deputy premier is now suing Shanks (and Google) for defamation.

Langker was arrested at a home in Dulwich Hill, Sydney, on June 4. The charges relate to two alleged incidents.

According to a Guardian Australia news report, the first allegedly occurred at a Macquarie University politics in the pub event. Langker and Shanks (who was dressed as Luigi from Mario Brothers) approached Barilaro and shouted “Why are you suing us?”. According to police, as reported in the Guardian, Shanks then left but Lankger stayed, repeating the question and allegedly “tussling with several persons in an attempt to get close” to Barilaro.

The second alleged incident involved Langker filming and speaking to Barilaro as he returned to his car after the funeral of rugby league player Bob Fulton. According to the same Guardian report, Langker asked the NSW deputy premier again, “why are you suing my boss?”. According to the report, this second incident allegedly occurred hours before Langker’s arrest.

Based on these alleged incidents, Langker was arrested by the FPIU and charged with two counts of stalking and intimidation. The offence attracts a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, where someone stalks or intimidates another person with intent to cause the person fear of physical or mental harm.

Langker has been released on bail under very strict conditions. He is even prohibited from possessing images or caricatures of the deputy premier, or “commenting on his appearance or behaviour”.

The Fixated Persons Investigations Unit

The FPIU was established in April 2017, shortly before the NSW coroner released his report into the Lindt café siege.

In announcing the new unit, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller referred to people who are “obsessed about issues, ideals or individuals” and are “plotting acts of violence” or “capable of acts of terrorism”.

The unit comprises 17 detectives and government mental health workers. It is based on similar units established previously in the UK and Queensland.

The FPIU is a specialist unit that performs risk assessments of people with obsessions, grievances or ideologies that may lead to serious violence. It can access a suspect’s medical records to assess the level of risk they pose.

People monitored by the FPIU include a man who bombed a couple’s car following months of online abuse, and another who was charged with terrorism offences after threatening Sydney police with a knife.

The NSW coroner supported the unit’s creation, calling it a “commendable” step towards improving terrorism prevention. He believed there was a clear gap in the identification and management of “lone-actor terrorists or fixated individuals”, who could fall through the cracks despite repeated warning signs of violence.

In response to questions from The Conversation, NSW Police said the FPIU investigates “fixated persons”, which is defined as someone who

has an obsessive preoccupation, pursued to an excessive or irrational degree with:

  • a public office holder or internationally protected person, or

  • other person/s nominated by the commissioner of police, or

  • a cause influenced by an extreme ideology (a “cause” is an intensely personal and idiosyncratic grievance or quest for justice).

Police might argue Langker fits under the first of these grounds, if the content and conduct towards Barilaro could be classed as obsessive and excessive. Langker’s lawyers have argued Langker’s arrest and bail conditions “strike at the core of our democracy”.

At trial, the issue will be whether the charges of stalking and intimidation can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, but the case may also set a precedent about what is fixated behaviour and an appropriate use of the FPIU. If that bar is set too low, there will be a serious risk to free speech and democracy. Of course, everything will turn on the evidence at trial, so we should watch this case closely.The Conversation

Keiran Hardy, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University

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

Why is everyone so obsessed with going to Mars? Here are some other worlds ripe for exploration

Cassini Imaging Team, Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Gail IlesRMIT University

Last month, China successfully landed and deployed the Zhurong rover on Mars, becoming the second country ever to set wheels on the surface of the red planet.

Last year the United States, the United Arab Emirates and China all launched missions to Mars, taking advantage of the relatively short journey time offered by the two planets’ unusually close proximity.

Why are planetary scientists so obsessed with Mars? Why spend so much time and money on this one planet when there are at least seven others in our solar system, more than 200 moons, countless asteroids, and much more besides?

Fortunately, we are going to other worlds, and there are lots of missions to very exciting places in our solar system — worlds bursting with exotic features such as ice volcanoes, rings of icy debris, and huge magnetic fields.

There are currently 26 active spacecraft dotted around our solar system. Some are orbiting other planets and moons, some have landed on the surfaces of other worlds, and some have performed fly-bys to beam back images. Only half of them are visiting Mars.

Included in those 26 spacecraft are long-term missions like Voyager 1 and 2 - which are still operational after over 40 years and have now left the Solar system and ventured into interstellar space. And it also includes some less famous, but no less weird and wonderful, spacecraft.

Active space probes in the Solar System. By Olaf Frohn - (image link), CC BY-SA 3.0,

Take the Juno spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter, for example. Launched in 2011, it arrived in orbit around Jupiter almost five years later. It is now measuring various properties of the giant planet, including its magnetic field, atmospheric conditions, and determining how much water is in Jupiter’s atmosphere. This will help theorists work out which planet formation theory is correct (or if new theories are needed). Juno has already surpassed its planned seven-year mission duration, and has been extended to at least 2025.

Rocky Ride

One of the most complex feats of astrodynamics was completed late last year when the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) not only landed a spacecraft on an asteroid, but in a spectacular slingshot manoeuvre, returned a sample to Earth.

Hayabusa2, named after the Japanese term for a peregrine falcon, completed a rendezvous with asteroid 162173 Ryugu in 2018, surveying the surface and taking samples.

Departing in 2019, Hayabusa2 used its ion engines to change orbit and return to Earth. On December 5, 2020, a sample-return capsule about the size of a hatbox and weighing 16 kilograms was dropped through Earth’s atmosphere, landing unscathed at the Woomera Test Range in Australia.

As JAXA begins analysing the rocks and dust collected on the Ryugu asteroid, Hayabusa2 is off on its travels once more - this time to meet up with a second asteroid, 1998 KY_(26), some time in 2031.

Well Of Knowledge

Not included in the list of planetary missions earlier, are those spacecraft trapped in “gravitational wells” within our Solar system.

There are special locations in orbits called “Lagrangian points”, which are gravitationally balanced spots between two bodies.

‘Lagrange Points’ are positions in space where the gravitational forces of a two body system like the Sun and the Earth produce enhanced regions of attraction and repulsion. These can be used by spacecraft to reduce fuel consumption needed to remain in position. NASA/WMAP Science Team

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is one of four spacecraft close to the Lagrangian point between the Earth and the Sun, roughly 1.5 million kilometres from Earth (about four times further away than the Moon).

It makes observations of the Sun’s outer layer and the solar wind, sending early warning back to Earth of potentially disastrous space weather. Geomagnetic storms from the Sun are powerful enough to hit the Earth with electromagnetic blasts so strong they have been known to take out country-wide power grids.

Another hostile location is our nearest planetary neighbour, Venus. Despite the searing temperatures and crushing pressures on the surface, NASA recently approved funding for two big missions to explore the origins of Venus and its atmosphere. The discovery of phosphine gas in the upper atmosphere led life scientists to believe life may exist at the more habitable and cooler temperatures of higher altitudes.

Read more: NASA is returning to Venus, where surface temperatures are 470°C. Will we find life when we get there?

Hot on the heels of the successful flight of the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars — the first flight of any powered aircraft on another world — NASA’s Dragonfly mission will fly a drone through the atmosphere of Saturn’s icy moon, Titan. Launching in 2026 and arriving in 2034, the rotorcraft will fly to dozens of promising locations on Titan looking for any chemical precursors or life similar to those on Earth.

So How Much Does All This Cost?

Governments tend to allocate relatively small amounts of their budgets to science and space exploration. Countries typically spend less than 1% of their budget on space missions — far less than social services or military defence.

Deciding what space missions will receive that money is very often driven by public interest. But trying to decide definitively which probe or spacecraft offers the most bang for buck is almost impossible.

When humans first set foot on the Moon, 25% of the world’s population watched the video with bated breath, inspiring several generations of space explorers for decades afterwards. You can’t put a price on that.The Conversation

Gail Iles, Senior Lecturer in Physics, RMIT University

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

Prehistoric ‘river boss’ is the largest extinct croc species ever discovered in Australia

Eleanor PeaseAuthor provided
Jorgo RistevskiThe University of Queensland and Steven W. SalisburyThe University of Queensland

Say hello to Gunggamarandu maunala, or the “hole-headed river boss” — the biggest extinct croc yet found in Australia, and an important addition to the jigsaw of crocodylian evolution.

The newly named species, known from a partial skull that was unearthed in Queensland’s Darling Downs region, belongs to a group called the tomistomines. Before this, tomistomines had never been found in Australia.

Today, there are only two crocodile species living in Australia: the Australian freshwater crocodile and the Indo-Pacific crocodile (also known as the estuarine or saltwater crocodile). The latter is the largest living reptile in the world, capable of reaching more than six metres in length and weighing more than a tonne.

Australia’s two living crocodile species: the freshwater crocodile (left) and the Indo-Pacific or saltwater crocodile (right). Jorgo Ristevski

As impressive as these two species are, there were many more types of crocs in Australia’s prehistoric past. Currently, there are 21 named species of extinct Australian crocodylians spanning the past 66 million years, an era known as the Cenozoic. Of these, 19 belong to a group called the Mekosuchinae, which was found only in Australia and the southwest Pacific.

Mekosuchines came in many shapes and sizes, ranging from less than two metres long to well over five metres, and with diverse snout shapes that indicate different lifestyles and methods of acquiring prey. Some were semi-aquatic ambush predators similar to today’s crocodiles and alligators, whereas others likely hunted on land. The last mekosuchines persisted on a few Pacific islands until they went extinct not long after human colonisation.

Endemic Crocodylian Overlords?

Crocodylian palaeontology in Australia has been particularly active over the past 30 years, especially during the 1990s when many significant discoveries were made. Since then, almost all studies have indicated that the vast majority of extinct crocodylians from Australia were mekosuchines. This has led to the perception that mekosuchines were the dominant, if not only, crocodylians in Australia, until the relatively recent arrival of true crocodiles (that is, members of the genus Crocodylus) such as the two species that survive today.

A continent represented by just a single group of crocodylians for more than 60 million years is rather unusual. With the exception of Antarctica, all other continents had representatives of more than one crocodylian group at some point of the Cenozoic. Crocodiles, gharials and alligators still live in Asia today, and the Americas are home to crocodiles, caimans and another species of alligator. Why should Australia be any different?

Read more: Crocodiles today look the same as they did 200 million years ago – our study explains why

As it turns out, our new discovery reveals crocs were not as lonely on this continent as we once thought, because Gunggamarandu maunala is Australia’s first recorded tomistomine crocodylian.

The name Gunggamarandu maunala is based on words from the languages spoken by the Barunggam and Waka Waka nations in the Darling Downs region. Gunggamarandu translates as “river boss”, and maunala means “hole head”, in reference to the large openings on the top of its skull that served as sites for attachment of large jaw muscles.

The fossil skull of Gunggamarandu maunala viewed from the top (left) and back (right). Jorgo Ristevski

Tomistomines are yet another group of crocodylians with a long fossil record, spanning more than 50 million years. Except for Antarctica, Australia was the only other continent where fossil remains of tomistomines had never been found. With the discovery of Gunggamarandu, Australia is now officially a member of the “once inhabited by tomistomines” club.

Today, there is only one living species of tomistomine in the world, the so-called false gharial, which lives in fresh water on the Malay peninsula and some Indonesian islands. One of the most obvious characteristics of this species, and its extinct relatives, are their long, slender snouts.

Hypothetical reconstruction of the skull outline of Gunggamarandu maunala. The human silhouette is 1.8 metres tall. Jorgo Ristevski

An Australian Croc… From Europe?

The discovery of a new crocodylian species is exciting in its own right, but the significance of our study doesn’t end there. As the first known tomistomine from Australia, Gunggamarandu proves that crocodylians on this continent were more diverse than we realised.

The region where Gunggamarandu was discovered – the Darling Downs – is the southernmost locality for any tomistomine in the world.

Map of Australia, with the black star indicating the Darling Downs region where the skull of Gunggamarandu maunala was found. Jorgo Ristevski

It’s not possible to tell exactly how big Gunggamarandu maunala was, because all we have so far is a partial skull. But the proportions of the fossil suggest it is the largest known extinct croc from Australia.

What’s more, CT scans of the skull allowed us to digitally reconstruct the brain cavity of the animal, resulting in the most detailed look of these anatomical features for an extinct tomistomine yet.

Left: an opaque digital model of the skull of Gunggamarandu maunala; middle: a transparent digital model of the skull, showing the brain cavity, a cranial nerve canal, and inner ear; right: the digitally reconstructed endocranial elements. Jorgo Ristevski

All of these are exciting discoveries. But arguably our most surprising finding regards the ancestry of Gunggamarandu. It is most similar to tomistomines that lived in Europe more than 50 million years ago, despite the fact Gunggamarandu maunala is between five million and two million years old.

This implies a “ghost lineage”, stretching some 50 million years into the past, linking the European and Australian tomistomines. It also suggests that more tomistomines, closely related to Gunggamarandu, may await discovery in Asia.

Exactly when tomistomines arrived in Australia is unclear, but the marine barrier between Southeast Asia and Australia would have been sufficiently small to cross for a crocodylian from at least 25 million years ago.

Read more: Friday essay: reckoning with an animal that sees us as prey — living and working in crocodile country The Conversation

Jorgo Ristevski, PhD candidate, The University of Queensland and Steven W. Salisbury, PhD; Senior Lecturer, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland

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

New Research Finds 1 Million Early Deaths In 2017 Attributable To Fossil Fuel Combustion

June 14, 2021
An interdisciplinary group of researchers from across the globe has comprehensively examined the sources and health effects of air pollution -- not just on a global scale, but also individually for more than 200 countries. They found that worldwide, more than one million deaths were attributable to the burning of fossil fuels in 2017. More than half of those deaths were attributable to coal.

Findings and access to their data, which have been made public, were published today in the journal Nature Communications.

Pollution is at once a global crisis and a devastatingly personal problem. It is analysed by satellites, but PM2.5 -- tiny particles that can infiltrate a person's lungs -- can also sicken a person who cooks dinner nightly on a cookstove.

"PM2.5 is the world's leading environmental risk factor for mortality. Our key objective is to understand its sources," said Randall Martin, the Raymond R. Tucker Distinguished Professor in the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis.

Martin jointly led the study with Michael Brauer, a professor of public health at the University of British Columbia. They worked with specific datasets and tools from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, the Joint Global Change Research Institute at the University of Maryland and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, as well as other researchers from universities and organizations across the world, amassing a wealth of data, analytical tools and brainpower.

First author Erin McDuffie, a visiting research associate in Martin's lab, used various computational tools to weave the data together, while also enhancing them. She developed a new global dataset of air pollution emissions, making it the most comprehensive dataset of emissions at the time. McDuffie also brought advances to the GEOS-Chem model, an advanced computational tool used in the Martin lab to model specific aspects of atmospheric chemistry.

With this combination of emissions and modelling, the team was able to tease out different sources of air pollution -- everything from energy production to the burning of oil and gas to dust storms.

This study also used new techniques to remote sensing from satellites in order to assess PM2.5 exposure across the globe. The team then incorporated information about the relationship between PM2.5 and health outcomes from the Global Burden of Disease with these exposure estimates to determine the relationships between health and each of the more than 20 distinct pollution sources.

As McDuffie put it: "How many deaths are attributable to exposure to air pollution from specific sources?"

Ultimately, the data reinforced much of what researchers already suspected, particularly on a global scale. It did offer, however, quantitative information in different parts of the world, teasing out which sources are to blame for severe pollution in different areas.

For instance, cookstoves and home-heating are still responsible for the release of particulate matter in many regions throughout Asia and energy generation remains a large polluter on the global scale, McDuffie said.

Apples to apples 
One unique aspect of this research is its use of the same underlying datasets and methodology to analyse pollution on different spatial scales.

"Previous studies end up having to use different emissions data sets or models all together," said first author Erin McDuffie. In those instances, it is difficult to compare results in one place versus another.

"We can more directly compare results between countries," McDuffie said. "We can even look at pollution sources in places that have implemented some mitigation measures, versus others that haven't to get a more complete picture of what may or may not be working."

And natural sources play a role, as well. In West sub-Saharan Africa in 2017, for instance, windblown dust accounted for nearly three quarters of the particulate matter in the atmosphere, compared with the global rate of just 16 percent. The comparisons in this study are important when it comes to considering mitigation.

"Ultimately, it will be important to consider sources at the subnational scale when developing mitigation strategies for reducing air pollution," McDuffie said.

Martin and McDuffie agreed that, while a takeaway from this work is, simply put, air pollution continues to sicken and kill people, the project also has positive implications.

Although pollution monitoring has been increasing, there are still many areas that do not have the capability. Those that do may not have the tools needed to determine, for instance, how much pollution is a product of local traffic, versus agricultural practices, versus wildfires.

"The good news is that we may be providing some of the first information that these places have about their major sources of pollution," McDuffie said. They may otherwise not have this information readily available to them. "This provides them with a start."

Erin E. McDuffie, Randall V. Martin, Joseph V. Spadaro, Richard Burnett, Steven J. Smith, Patrick O’Rourke, Melanie S. Hammer, Aaron van Donkelaar, Liam Bindle, Viral Shah, Lyatt Jaeglé, Gan Luo, Fangqun Yu, Jamiu A. Adeniran, Jintai Lin, Michael Brauer. Source sector and fuel contributions to ambient PM2.5 and attributable mortality across multiple spatial scales. Nature Communications, 2021; 12 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-23853-y

The map above shows that almost no country is untouched by the combustion of coal; only the small Pacific Island of Tokelau had zero coal-combustion related deaths in 2017. That same year, coal combustion was attributable to about 540,000 deaths worldwide. (Image: Global Burden of Disease-Major Air Pollution Sources)

Studying Wombat Burrows With WomBot: A Remote-Controlled Robot

June 8, 2021
A new robot -- named WomBot -- that can be used to explore and study wombat burrows is presented in a study published in the journal SN Applied SciencesWombats reside and sleep in burrows and occupy a different burrow every four to ten days. Parasitic mites that cause sarcoptic mange, a serious disease affecting wombats, are thought to be transmitted when wombats occupy each other's burrows but it has not been clear whether conditions within burrows promote this transmission.

Researchers from La Trobe University and the University of Tasmania, Australia developed WomBot in order to study environmental conditions within wombat burrows. The robot is remotely operated and moves using continuous tracks, similar to a tank tread. Its top speed is 0.15 metres per second and it is able to climb inclines of up to 22 degrees. Environmental sensors in WomBot can measure the temperature and humidity of a burrow while a gripper attached to its front can be used to place and retrieve additional environmental sensors. Front and rear cameras enable burrow visualisation. WomBot is 300 millimetres long and weights two kilograms, equivalent to one third of the length and one tenth of the weight of a wombat.

Robert Ross, the corresponding author, said: "Wombat burrows are challenging to study as they are narrow, muddy, can be dozens of metres long and contain steep sections and sharp turns. WomBot allows us to enter and explore these burrows without destroying them or using expensive ground-penetrating radar. This can help us better understand the environmental conditions within burrows that may facilitate sarcoptic mange transmission."

The authors used WomBot to explore a total of 30 wombat burrows in Tasmania during September 2020. They found that the average temperature inside the burrows was 15 degrees Celsius and the average relative humidity was 85%. Environmental sensors left in the burrows over a 24 hour period recorded that temperatures remained mostly constant at 11 degrees Celsius and relative humidity ranged from 85 to 95%. Temperatures outside of the burrow during this time ranged from three to 15 degrees Celsius and relative humidity ranged from 70 to 95%.

Previous research has suggested that the conditions that promote maximum survival of scabies mites are temperatures around 10 degrees Celsius and relative humidity between 75 and 97%, similar to the conditions observed inside the wombat burrows. The authors estimate that female mites could survive for between nine and ten days at the entrance to a wombat burrow and between 16 and 18 days inside a burrow, potentially allowing them to infect wombats.

Robert Ross said: "Our findings indicate that the environmental conditions within wombat burrows may facilitate sarcoptic mange transmission by promoting mite survival. WomBot could potentially be used to help reduce the spread of sarcoptic mange by delivering insecticide or ensuring burrows are empty before being temporarily heated in order to eradicate mites."

The authors caution that the environmental conditions observed over a 24-hour period within the burrows used in their study may not be representative of conditions inside all wombat burrows throughout the year. Further research could use WomBot to create three dimensional reconstructions of burrows or to collect soil samples from burrows in order to study mite prevalence.

Robert Ross, Scott Carver, Elizabeth Browne, Ba Son Thai. WomBot: an exploratory robot for monitoring wombat burrows. SN Applied Sciences, 2021; 3 (6) DOI: 10.1007/s42452-021-04595-4  Photo:  Wombat robot alongside a model wombat for comparison, supplied

Teenagers At Greatest Risk Of Self-Harming Could Be Identified Almost A Decade Earlier

June 15, 2021
Researchers have identified two subgroups of adolescents who self-harm and have shown that it is possible to predict those individuals at greatest risk almost a decade before they begin self-harming. The team, based at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge, found that while sleep problems and low self-esteem were common risk factors, there were two distinct profiles of young people who self-harm -- one with emotional and behavioural difficulties and a second group without those difficulties, but with different risk factors.

Between one in five and one in seven adolescents in England self-harms, for example by deliberately cutting themselves. While self-harm is a significant risk factor for subsequent suicide attempts, many do not intend suicide but face other harmful outcomes, including repeatedly self-harming, poor mental health, and risky behaviours like substance abuse. Despite its prevalence and lifelong consequences, there has been little progress in the accurate prediction of self-harm.

The Cambridge team identified adolescents who reported self-harm at age 14, from a nationally representative UK birth cohort of approximately 11,000 individuals. They then used a machine learning analysis to identify whether there were distinct profiles of young people who self-harm, with different emotional and behavioural characteristics. They used this information to identify risk factors from early and middle childhood. The results are published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Because the data tracked the participants over time, the researchers were able to distinguish factors that appear alongside reported self-harm behaviour, such as low self-esteem, from those that precede it, such as bullying.

The team identified two distinct subgroups among young people who self-harm, with significant risk factors present as early as age five, nearly a decade before they reported self-harming. While both groups were likely to experience sleep difficulties and low self-esteem reported at age 14, other risk factors differed between the two groups.

The first group showed a long history of poor mental health, as well as bullying before they self-harmed. Their caregivers were more likely to have mental health issues of their own.

For the second group, however, their self-harming behaviour was harder to predict early in childhood. One of the key signs was a greater willingness to take part in risk-taking behaviour, which is linked to impulsivity. Other research suggests these tendencies may predispose the individual towards spending less time to consider alternate coping methods and the consequences of self-harm. Factors related to their relationships with their peers were also important for this subgroup, including feeling less secure with friends and family at age 14 and a greater concern about the feelings of others as a risk factor at age 11.

Stepheni Uh, a Gates Cambridge Scholar and first author of the study, said: "Self-harm is a significant problem among adolescents, so it's vital that we understand the nuanced nature of self-harm, especially in terms of the different profiles of young people who self-harm and their potentially different risk factors.

"We found two distinct subgroups of young people who self-harm. The first was much as expected -- young people who experience symptoms of depression and low self-esteem, face problems with their families and friends, and are bullied. The second, much larger group was much more surprising as they don't show the usual traits that are associated with those who self-harm."

The researchers say that their findings suggest that it may be possible to predict which individuals are most at risk of self-harm up to a decade ahead of time, providing a window to intervene.

Dr Duncan Astle said: "The current approach to supporting mental health in young people is to wait until problems escalate. Instead, we need a much better evidence base so we can identify who is at most risk of mental health difficulties in the future, and why. This offers us the opportunity to be proactive, and minimise difficulties before they start.

"Our results suggest that boosting younger children's self-esteem, making sure that schools implement anti-bullying measures, and providing advice on sleep training, could all help reduce self-harm levels years later.

"Our research gives us potential ways of helping this newly-identified second subgroup. Given that they experience difficulties with their peers and are more willing to engage in risky behaviours, then providing access to self-help and problem-solving or conflict regulation programmes may be effective."

Professor Tamsin Ford from the Department of Psychiatry added: "We might also help at-risk adolescents by targeting interventions at mental health leaders and school-based mental health teams. Teachers are often the first people to hear about self-harm but some lack confidence in how to respond. Providing them with training could make a big difference."

Stepheni Uh, Edwin S. Dalmaijer, Roma Siugzdaite, Tamsin J. Ford, Duncan E. Astle. Two Pathways to Self-Harm in Adolescence. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.jaac.2021.03.010

Untapped Rice Varieties Could Sustain Crop Supplies In Face Of Climate Change

June 15, 2021
Local rice varieties in Vietnam could be used to help breed improved crops with higher resilience to climate change, according to a new study published in RiceEarlham Institute researchers are part of an international collaboration with genebanks and rice breeders in Vietnam -- championed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to help abolish world poverty and hunger -- are aiming to identify varieties that can survive an increasingly unpredictable climate.

The new genomic data they have generated will significantly support efforts to breed resilient rice crops for optimum global production.

The unparalleled geography and history of Vietnam, together with its diverse range of ecosystems and latitudinal range, means it has been blessed with a vast diversity of rice landraces.

Rice production in Vietnam is of enormous value, both as an export commodity and a daily food staple for the more than 96 million people who live there. An important part of diets worldwide, rice is a healthy, versatile and cheap carbohydrate.

However, climate change is threatening its wide availability, with the country's unique geography and environments putting Vietnam at particular risk.

Critically, it is the world's poorest that are most dependent on this crop, who are also under the most threat from climate change -- amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting food and nutrition security for billions of people.

Green super rice
To fully understand the uniqueness and potential of this native crop diversity, the research team analysed 672 Vietnamese rice genomes; 616 were newly sequenced, which encompass the range of rice varieties grown in the diverse ecosystems found throughout Vietnam.

The team of scientists discovered a previously overlooked 'I5 Indica' large rice subpopulation in some regions of Vietnam, which had not been used before to produce the more common elite rice varieties resulting from previous rice improvement studies.

These locally adapted rice varieties provide a potential source of novel genes that carry important agronomic traits, which can potentially be leveraged by future rice breeding programmes.

This will help with a new generation of 'Green Super Rice', designed to lower production input while enhancing nutritional content and suitability for growing on marginal lands -- resulting in a sustainable and resilient rice to better withstand extreme weather conditions.

First author Dr Janet Higgins at the Earlham Institute, said: "Vietnam has a rich history in rice breeding, especially at the local level. The adaptation to multiple environmental conditions and regional preferences has created a wide range of varieties.

"Studies like this suggest that this diversity constitutes a largely untapped and highly valuable genetic resource for local and international breeding programmes."

To understand how rice diversity within Vietnam relates to worldwide varieties, the team analysed nine landrace subpopulations that were likely adapted to the demands in the different regions of origin.

They then compared this new data to the previous global study on rice diversity in Asia, consisting of fifteen worldwide Asian subpopulations (from 89 countries) in the publicly available '3000 Rice Genomes Project'. From this, the Earlham Institute researchers discovered how the new rice varieties native to Vietnam were related to the global Asian data set -- leading to the I5 Indica subpopulation finding.

Sustainable rice breeding
This genetic diversity is a highly valuable resource when the highest rice production areas in the low-lying Mekong and Red River Deltas are enduring increasing threats from climate changes -- unpredictable weather patterns, increasing sea levels causing overflow of saltwater, and consequential drought in the upland areas.

Dr Higgins, explains: "Improved varieties, which are high yielding but can also be grown sustainably, are needed to ensure we can continue to meet the worldwide demand for rice. Salt and drought tolerance are related critical traits which need to be addressed in order to secure future rice production.

"This requires agronomic, smart crop management practices and genomic solutions to stop the vicious cycle of rice contributing to global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions from crop fields, and areas of production being threatened by climate change.

"We are now analysing the Indica I5 subpopulation in further detail. We hope to try and detect regions of the genome which have been selected in the Indica I5 subpopulation and relate these to traits of interest for sustainable rice crops.

"It would be fantastic if the IRRI were in a position to incorporate some of the Indica I5 varieties from Vietnam we describe in our study in their future breeding programmes. We believe this new data will massively help optimise sustainable rice production for global demand while protecting our planet."

Janet Higgins, Bruno Santos, Tran Dang Khanh, Khuat Huu Trung, Tran Duy Duong, Nguyen Thi Phuong Doai, Nguyen Truong Khoa, Dang Thi Thanh Ha, Nguyen Thuy Diep, Kieu Thi Dung, Cong Nguyen Phi, Tran Thi Thuy, Nguyen Thanh Tuan, Hoang Dung Tran, Nguyen Thanh Trung, Hoang Thi Giang, Ta Kim Nhung, Cuong Duy Tran, Son Vi Lang, La Tuan Nghia, Nguyen Van Giang, Tran Dang Xuan, Anthony Hall, Sarah Dyer, Le Huy Ham, Mario Caccamo, Jose J. De Vega. Resequencing of 672 Native Rice Accessions to Explore Genetic Diversity and Trait Associations in Vietnam. Rice, 2021; 14 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12284-021-00481-0

Rudeness Leads To Anchoring; Including In Medical Diagnoses

June 10, 2021
Have you ever been cut off in traffic by another driver, leaving you still seething miles later? Or been interrupted by a colleague in a meeting, and found yourself replaying the event in your head even after you've left work for the day? Minor rude events like this happen frequently, and you may be surprised by the magnitude of the effects they have on our decision-making and functioning. In fact, recent research co-authored by management professor Trevor Foulk at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business suggests that in certain situations, incidental rudeness like this can be deadly.

In "Trapped by A First Hypothesis: How Rudeness Leads to Anchoring" forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Foulk and co-authors Binyamin Cooper of Carnegie Mellon University, Christopher R. Giordano and Amir Erez of the University of Florida, Heather Reed of Envision Physician Services, and Kent B. Berg of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital looked at how experiencing rudeness amplifies the "anchoring bias." The anchoring bias is the tendency to get fixated on one piece of information when making a decision (even if that piece of information is irrelevant).

For example, if someone asks, "Do you think the Mississippi River is shorter or longer than 500 miles?," that suggestion of 500 miles can become an anchor that can influence how long you think the Mississippi River is. When it happens, it's difficult to stray very far from that initial suggestion, says Foulk.

The anchoring bias can happen in a lot of different situations, but it's very common in medical diagnoses and negotiations. "If you go into the doctor and say 'I think I'm having a heart attack,' that can become an anchor and the doctor may get fixated on that diagnosis, even if you're just having indigestion," Foulk explains. "If doctors don't move off anchors enough, they'll start treating the wrong thing."

Because anchoring can happen in many scenarios, Foulk and his co-authors wanted to study more about the phenomenon and what factors exacerbate or mitigate it. They have been studying rudeness in the workplace for years and knew from previous studies that when people experience rudeness, it takes up a lot of their psychological resources and narrows their mindset. They suspected this might play a role in the anchoring effect.

To test their theory, the researchers ran a medical simulation with anaesthesiology residents. The residents had to diagnose and treat the patient, and right before the simulation started, the participants were given an (incorrect) suggestion about the patient's condition. This suggestion served as the anchor, but then throughout the exercise, the simulator provided feedback that the ailment was not the suggested diagnosis, but instead something else.

In some iterations, before the simulation started, the researchers had one doctor enter the room and act rudely toward another doctor in front of the residents.

"What we find is that when they experienced rudeness prior to the simulation starting, they kept on treating the wrong thing, even in the presence of consistent information that it was actually something else," says Foulk. "They kept treating the anchor, even though they had plenty of reason to understand that the anchor diagnosis was not what the patient was suffering from."

This effect was replicated across a variety of other tasks, including negotiations as well as general knowledge tasks. Across the different studies, the results were consistent -- experiencing rudeness makes it more likely that a person will get anchored to the first suggestion they hear.

"Across the four studies, we find that both witnessed and directly-experienced rudeness seemed to have a similar effect," says Foulk. "Basically, what we're observing is a narrowing effect. Rudeness narrows your perspective, and that narrowed perspective makes anchoring more likely."

In general, the anchoring tendency is usually not a big deal, says Foulk. "But when you're in these important, critical decision-making domains -- like medical diagnoses or big negotiations -- interpersonal interactions really matter a lot. Minor things can stay on top of us in a way that we don't realize."

To provide additional insights into this phenomenon, the researchers also explored ways to counteract it. Rudeness makes you more likely to anchor because it narrows your perspective, so the researchers explored two tasks that have been shown to expand your perspective -- perspective-taking and information elaboration.

Perspective-taking helps you expand your perspective by seeing the world from another person's point of view, and information elaboration helps you see the situation from a wider perspective by thinking about it more broadly. Across their studies, the researchers found that both behaviours could counteract the effect of rudeness on anchoring.

While these interventions can help make rudeness less likely to anchor people, Foulk says these should be a last resort. The best remedy for the rudeness problem?

"In important domains, where people are making critical decisions, we really need to rethink the way we treat people," he says. "We never really did allow aggressive behavior at work. But we're fine with rudeness, and now we're learning more and more that small insults are equally impactful on people's performance."

And it needs to stop, he says.

"We tend to underestimate the performance implications of interpersonal treatment. We hear 'If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.' It's almost like being able to tolerate people's treatment of you is like a badge of honor. But the reality is that this bad treatment is having really deleterious effects on performance in domains that we care about -- like medicine. It matters."

This is the fourth paper in a string of Foulk's research showing that rudeness negatively impacts medical performance, where the impacts can be much bigger -- and much more dire -- than the insults, he says.

"In simulations, we're finding that mortality is increased by rudeness. People could be dying because somebody insulted the surgeon before they started operating."

Binyamin Cooper, Christopher R. Giordano, Amir Erez, Trevor A. Foulk, Heather Reed, Kent B. Berg. Trapped by a first hypothesis: How rudeness leads to anchoring. Journal of Applied Psychology, 2021; DOI: 10.1037/apl0000914

Soaking Up The Sun: Artificial Photosynthesis Promises Clean, Sustainable Source Of Energy

June 15, 2021
Humans can do lots of things that plants can't do. We can walk around, we can talk, we can hear and see and touch. But plants have one major advantage over humans: They can make energy directly from the sun. That process of turning sunlight directly into usable energy -- called photosynthesis -- may soon be a feat humans are able to mimic to harness the sun's energy for clean, storable, efficient fuel. If so, it could open a whole new frontier of clean energy. Enough energy hits the earth in the form of sunlight in one hour to meet all human civilization's energy needs for an entire year.

Yulia Puskhar, a biophysicist and professor of physics in Purdue's College of Science, may have a way to harness that energy by mimicking plants.

Wind power and solar power, harnessed by photovoltaic cells, are the two major forms of clean energy available. Adding a third -- synthetic photosynthesis -- would dramatically change the renewable energy landscape. The ability to store the energy easily, without requiring bulky batteries, would dramatically improve humans' ability to power society cleanly and efficiently.

Both wind turbines and photovoltaics have downside in terms of environmental effects and complicating factors. Pushkar hopes that artificial photosynthesis might be able to bypass those pitfalls.

"We and other researchers around the world are working incredibly hard to try to come up with accessible energy," Pushkar said. "Energy that is clean and sustainable that we can create with nontoxic, easily available elements. Our artificial photosynthesis is the way forward."

Photosynthesis is a complex dance of processes whereby plants convert the sun's radiance and water molecules into usable energy in the form of glucose. To do this, they use a pigment, usually the famous chlorophyll, as well as proteins, enzymes and metals.

The closest process to artificial photosynthesis humans have today is photovoltaic technology, where a solar cell converts the sun's energy into electricity. That process is famously inefficient, able to capture only about 20% of the sun's energy. Photosynthesis, on the other hand, is radically more efficient; it is capable of storing 60% of the sun's energy as chemical energy in associated biomolecules.

The efficiency of simple photovoltaic cells -- solar panels -- is limited by semiconductors' ability to absorb light energy and by the cell's ability to produce power. That limit is something scientists could surpass with synthetic photosynthesis.

"With artificial photosynthesis, there are not fundamental physical limitations," Pushkar said. "You can very easily imagine a system that is 60% efficient because we already have a precedent in natural photosynthesis. And if we get very ambitious, we could even envision a system of up to 80% efficiency.

"Photosynthesis is massively efficient when it comes to splitting water, a first step of artificial photosynthesis. Photosystems II proteins in plants do this a thousand times a second. Blink, and it's done."

Pushkar's group is mimicking the process by building her own artificial leaf analog that collects light and splits water molecules to generate hydrogen. Hydrogen can be used as a fuel by itself via fuel cells or be added to other fuels such as natural gas, or built into fuel cells to power everything from vehicles to houses to small electronic devices, laboratories and hospitals. Her most recent discovery, an insight into the way water molecules split during photosynthesis, was recently published in the journal Chem Catalysis: Cell Press.

Scientists in Pushkar's lab experiment with natural photosystem II proteins and synthetic catalysts combinations in attempts to understand what works best -- and why. She also puts a priority on using compounds and chemicals that are readily abundant on Earth, easily accessible and nontoxic to the planet.

Progress in artificial photosynthesis is complicated, though, by the fact that photosynthesis is so multifaceted, a fact bemoaned by biochemistry students everywhere.

"The reaction is very complex," Pushkar said. "The chemistry of splitting water molecules is extremely intricate and difficult."

Scientists have been working on artificial photosynthesis since the 1970s. That's a long time, but not when you remember that photosynthesis took millions of years to evolve. Not only that, but scientists believe that, unlike flight, communication or intelligence, photosynthesis has evolved only once -- about 3 billion years ago, only about 1.5 billion years into Earth's existence.

Pushkar posits that within the next 10-15 years, enough progress will have been made that commercial artificial photosynthesis systems may begin to come online. Her research is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Roman Ezhov, Alireza Karbakhsh Ravari, Gabriel Bury, Paul F. Smith, Yulia Pushkar. Do multinuclear 3d metal catalysts achieve O–O bond formation via radical coupling or via water nucleophilic attack? WNA leads the way in [Co4O4]n. Chem Catalysis, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.checat.2021.03.013

Fashion For Pointy Shoes Unleashed Plague Of Bunions In Medieval Britain

June 11, 2021
The British have suffered for their fashion for centuries according to a new study suggesting that a vogue for shoes with a pointed tip led to a sharp increase in hallux valgus of the big toe -- often called bunions -- in the late medieval period. Researchers investigating remains in Cambridge, UK, found that those buried in the town centre, particularly in plots for wealthier citizens and clergy, were much more likely to have had bunions -- suggesting rich urbanites paid a higher price for their footwear in more ways than one.

The fashion for extremely pointy 'poulaines' can be seen in this detail of a 15th century illuminated manuscript.

A University of Cambridge team also discovered that older medieval people with hallux valgus were significantly more likely to have sustained a broken bone from a probable fall compared to those of a similar age with normal feet.

Hallux valgus is a minor deformity in which the largest toe becomes angled outward and a bony protrusion forms at its base, on the inside of the foot.

While various factors can predispose someone to bunions, from genetics to muscle imbalance, by far the most common contemporary cause is constrictive boots and shoes. The condition is often associated with wearing high heels.

Archaeologists analysed 177 skeletons from cemeteries in and around the city of Cambridge and found that only 6% of individuals buried between 11th and 13th centuries had evidence of the affliction. However, 27% of those dating from the 14th and 15th centuries had been hobbled by longstanding hallux valgus.

Researchers point out that shoe style changed significantly during the 14th century: shifting from a functional rounded toe box to a lengthy and more elegant pointed tip.

In a paper published today in the International Journal of Paleopathology, the team from Cambridge University's After the Plague project argues that these "poulaine" shoes drove the rise of bunions in medieval Britain.

"The 14th century brought an abundance of new styles of dress and footwear in a wide range of fabrics and colours. Among these fashion trends were pointed long-toed shoes called poulaines," said study co-author Dr Piers Mitchell from Cambridge's Department of Archaeology.

"The remains of shoes excavated in places like London and Cambridge suggest that by the late 14th century almost every type of shoe was at least slightly pointed -- a style common among both adults and children alike."

"We investigated the changes that occurred between the high and late medieval periods, and realized that the increase in hallux valgus over time must have been due to the introduction of these new footwear styles," said Mitchell.

First author Dr Jenna Dittmar, who conducted the work while at Cambridge, said: "We think of bunions as being a modern problem but this work shows it was actually one of the more common conditions to have affected medieval adults."

The remains came from four separate sites around Cambridge: a charitable hospital (now part of St John's College); the grounds of a former Augustinian friary, where clergy and wealthy benefactors were buried; a local parish graveyard on what was the edge of town; and a rural burial site by a village 6km south of Cambridge.

Researchers conducted "paleopathological assessments," including inspecting foot bones for the bump by the big toe that is the hallmark of hallux valgus.

They found a sliding scale of bunion prevalence linked to the wealth of those interred on each site. Only 3% of the rural cemetery showed signs, 10% of the parish graveyard (which mainly held the working poor), creeping up to 23% of those on the hospital site.

Yet almost half those buried in the friary -- some 43% -- including five of the eleven individuals identified as clergy by their belt buckles, carried the mark of the bunion.

"Rules for the attire of Augustinian friars included footwear that was 'black and fastened by a thong at the ankle', commensurate with a lifestyle of worship and poverty," said Mitchell.

"However, in the 13th and 14th centuries it was increasingly common for those in clerical orders in Britain to wear stylish clothes -- a cause for concern among high-ranking church officials."

In 1215, the church forbade clergy from wearing pointed-toed shoes. This may have done little to curb the trend, as numerous further decrees on indiscretions in clerical dress had to be passed, most notably in 1281 and 1342.

"The adoption of fashionable garments by the clergy was so common it spurred criticism in contemporary literature, as seen in Chaucer's depiction of the monk in the Canterbury Tales," said Mitchell.

Across late medieval society the pointiness of shoes became so extreme that in 1463 King Edward IV passed a law limiting toe-point length to less than two inches within London.

The majority of remains with signs of hallux valgus across all sites and eras within the study were men (20 of the 31 total bunion sufferers). The research also suggests that health costs of foot fashion were not limited to bunions.

Dr Jenna Dittmar found that skeletal remains with hallux valgus were also more likely to show signs of fractures that usually result from a fall e.g. those to upper limbs indicating an individual tumbled forward onto outstretched arms.

This association was only found to be significant among those who died over 45 year old, suggesting youthful fashion choices came back to haunt the middle-aged even in medieval times.

"Modern clinical research on patients with hallux valgus has shown that the deformity makes it harder to balance, and increases the risk of falls in older people," said Dittmar. "This would explain the higher number of healed broken bones we found in medieval skeletons with this condition."

Jenna M. Dittmar, Piers D. Mitchell, Craig Cessford, Sarah A. Inskip, John E. Robb. Fancy shoes and painful feet: Hallux valgus and fracture risk in medieval Cambridge, England. International Journal of Paleopathology, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.ijpp.2021.04.012

Huge Prehistoric Croc 'River Boss' Prowled Queensland Waterways

June 14, 2021
A new species of large prehistoric croc that roamed south-east Queensland's waterways millions of years ago has been documented by University of Queensland researchers. PhD candidate Jorgo Ristevski, from UQ's School of Biological Sciences, led the team that named the species Gunggamarandu maunala after analysing a partial skull unearthed in the Darling Downs in the nineteenth century.

Artistic representation of Gunggamarandu maunala. Credit: Eleanor Pease.

"This is one of the largest crocs to have ever inhabited Australia," Mr Ristevski said.

"At the moment it's difficult to estimate the exact overall size of Gunggamarandu since all we have is the back of the skull -- but it was big.

"We estimate the skull would have been at least 80 centimetres long, and based on comparisons with living crocs, this indicates a total body length of around seven metres.

"This suggests Gunggamarandu maunala was on par with the largest Indo-Pacific crocs -- a Crocodylus porosus) -- recorded.

"We also had the skull CT-scanned, and from that we were able to digitally reconstruct the brain cavity, which helped us unravel additional details about its anatomy.

"The exact age of the fossil is uncertain, but it's probably between two and five million years old."

Gunggamarandu belonged to a group of crocodylians called tomistomines or 'false gharials'.

"Today, there's only one living species of tomistomine, Tomistoma schlegelii, which is restricted to the Malay Peninsula and parts of Indonesia," Mr Ristevski said.

"With the exception of Antarctica, Australia was the only other continent without fossil evidence of tomistomines.

"But with the discovery of Gunggamarandu we can add Australia to the 'once inhabited by tomistomines' list."

Despite its discovery, the fossil skull of Gunggamarandu maunala remained a scientific mystery for more than a century.

The specimen piqued the interest of then-young graduate student Dr Steve Salisbury in the 1990s, but a formal study was not done until Mr Ristevski began his examination.

"I knew it was unusual, and potentially very significant, but I didn't have the time to study it in any detail," Dr Salisbury said.

"The name of the new species honours the First Nations peoples of the Darling Downs area, incorporating words from the languages of the Barunggam and Waka Waka nations.

"The genus name, Gunggamarandu, means 'river boss', while the species name, maunala, means 'hole head'.

"The latter is in reference to the large, hole-like openings located on top of the animal's skull that served as a place for muscle attachment."

Alejandro Serrano‐Martínez, Fabien Knoll, Iván Narváez, Stephan Lautenschlager, Francisco Ortega. Neuroanatomical and neurosensorial analysis of the Late Cretaceous basal eusuchian Agaresuchus fontisensis (Cuenca, Spain). Papers in Palaeontology, 2020; 7 (1): 641 DOI: 10.1002/spp2.1296

No, it’s not just a lack of control that makes Australians overweight. Here’s what’s driving our unhealthy food habits

Gary SacksDeakin University and Sally SchultzDeakin University

Public health experts have long argued that when it comes to preventing obesity, we need to stop blaming individuals.

Our new online tool, released today, confirms we live in an environment where the odds of having a healthy diet are heavily stacked against us.

Unhealthy foods are readily available and heavily marketed to us by the food industry. This makes it very easy to over-consume unhealthy foods. It also makes it very difficult to consistently select healthy options.

Our online tool – Australia’s Food Environment Dashboard – brings together the best-available data to describe Australia’s food environments. For the first time, we have a clear picture of the ways our environment drives us to consume too much of the wrong types of foods.

How healthy are Australia’s food environments?

Supermarkets Heavily Promote Unhealthy Food

Australian supermarkets are a key setting in which unhealthy foods are pushed at us.

More than half of the packaged food on Australian supermarket shelves is unhealthy. At end-of-aisle displays, unhealthy products are promoted much more often than healthier products.

Read more: Supermarket price deals: the good, the bad and the ugly

Unhealthy products are also “on special” almost twice as often as healthy foods. What’s more, the discounts on unhealthy foods are much larger than the discounts on healthier foods.

And at checkouts, it’s almost impossible to pay for groceries without being exposed to unhealthy foods.

All of this intense marketing for unhealthy foods contributes to the unhealthy mix of products in our supermarket trolleys.

It’s difficult to ignore all the prompts to buy junk food. Shutterstock

Children’s Exposure To Junk Food Promotion

Australian children cannot escape unhealthy food marketing. As they travel to school, and play and watch sport in their community, kids are exposed to a constant barrage of promotions for unhealthy food and drinks.

When they turn on the TV they will see more than twice as many ads for unhealthy food compared to healthy food.

And when kids are on their mobile devices, they are hit with as many as ten unhealthy food and drink ads every hour.

It’s Worse In More Disadvantaged Areas

Our dashboard shows food environments in disadvantaged areas are less healthy than those in advantaged areas. The cost of a healthy diet is generally higher in low socioeconomic areas and is much higher in very remote parts of Australia.

Critically, the cost of a healthy diet is simply unaffordable (meaning it costs more than 30% of a household’s income) for people on low incomes and those living in rural or remote areas.

Read more: Supermarkets claim to have our health at heart. But their marketing tactics push junk foods

People living in low socioeconomic areas are also exposed to more promotions for unhealthy food. A study in Perth, for example, found low socioeconomic areas had a significantly higher ratio of unhealthy food ads to healthy ads within 500m of schools, compared to high socioeconomic areas.

Some Good News Stories

While almost all the key aspects of food environments in Australia are currently unhealthy, there are some areas that support health.

Our major supermarkets are leading the way in displaying the Health Star Rating on their home-brand product labels, which helps consumers make more informed food choices.

Read more: We looked at the health star rating of 20,000 foods and this is what we found

Some state governments have shown great progress in creating healthier environments in their hospitals and other health services, by offering water and nuts in vending machines, for example, rather than sugary drinks and lollies.

People line up for vending machine
Some hospitals are providing healthier options in their vending machines. Shutterstock

Greater Monitoring Is Needed

Unhealthy diets and obesity are leading contributors to poor health in Australia. For that reason, it’s critical to closely monitor the key drivers of our unhealthy diets.

We’re pretty good at monitoring our exposure to other key health risks and taking public health action accordingly. For example, the government has successfully reduced road fatalities through a range of measures, including prominent identification and eradication of traffic “black spots”.

Now we need the same level of attention paid to our food environments, where there are still some key gaps in our knowledge.

For example, while most state governments have policies to guide foods available in schools, only Western Australia and New South Wales monitors and/or reports adherence to policies.

In many other areas, such as food promotion, data is not routinely collected. This means we often need to rely on data that’s a few years old and that might only be relevant to small geographic regions.

Little boy on bed watching TV
Data isn’t routinely collected on food promotion. Shutterstock

Governments Need To Take Stronger Action

The unhealthy state of our food environments indicates much stronger policy action is needed from all levels of government in Australia.

The National Obesity Strategy which is currently in development and now overdue, can provide the framework for Australian governments to fix up the “black spots” in our food environment.

Improvements can be made by introducing globally recommended policies, such as taxes on sugary drinks and higher standards for how the food industry markets its unhealthy food and drink products.

These actions can help ensure all Australians have access to food environments that support healthy diets.

Read more: How much longer do we need to wait for Australia to implement a sugary drinks tax? The Conversation

Gary Sacks, Associate Professor, Deakin University and Sally Schultz, PhD Student, Deakin University

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

Many of us want to take our dogs on public transport, but others shudder at the thought — what’s the solution?

Jennifer KentUniversity of Sydney and Corinne MulleyUniversity of Sydney

We’ve been looking at the ways people travel with dogs and what it says about attempts to shift towards a more sustainable and healthier transport system. Our research first established that trips with dogs in Australia are both common and car-dependent. This is because Australia has some of the highest rates of dog ownership in the world but we are relatively unusual compared to other countries in that we restrict people taking dogs on public transport.

We are interested in how this situation might be changed. Our recent research explores why some people might not want dogs on public transport, and how these concerns can be managed.

This research, published in the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, reports the results of an analysis of 163 comments made on a Conversation article about dogs on public transport. About 40% of comments supported the idea. A similar proportion expressed disapproval.

Read more: Riding in cars with dogs: millions of trips a week tell us transport policy needs to change

The Trouble With Dogs

Many of the negative comments included simple statements about the smell of dogs. Others referenced more complex concerns such as hygiene and disease.

Several focused on the impact on people with allergies to dogs. These comments often pointed out that the rights of people with allergies and of those who do not like dogs should take precedence over the rights of dogs and dog owners.

Some comments referred specifically to concerns about the operation of the transport system. They raised issues such as the increased cleaning workload for facilities, the need to replace upholstery more regularly, as well as concern about who would pay the costs of accommodating dogs on public transport.

There were several passionate comments about dog attacks. Statements that dogs are dirty and dangerous often either implicitly or explicitly referenced the notion that dog owners cannot be trusted to control, or minimise the impact of, their dog.

Many claimed that canine and transport contexts are different in Australia, suggesting a policy that works in, for example, a European country would not work in Australia. Sentiment that Australia is somehow “behind” countries in Europe often underpinned these comments.

Read more: Australians love their pets, so why don't more public places welcome them?

We Need To Listen To Objections, But There Are Solutions

Many of the comments contained opinions that were obviously posted with some emotion. Dogs are, indeed, a polarising issue. This polarity reflects the common perception that there are “dog people”. Policy change proposals must consider the opinions of those who support pets on public transport and those who don’t.

Two dogs with paws up on fence
Dogs can evoke very different responses in people, from finding them cute to seeing them as dirty and dangerous. Author provided

Our analysis, however, does provide several reasons Sydney’s public transport agencies should consider a policy to allow dogs to travel on public transport.

First, negative comments were more likely to demonstrate unfamiliarity with the operational details of a policy that permits dogs to travel on public transport. For example, physical separation of those travelling with dogs could overcome many of the concerns about smell and even allergies. This separation is easily attainable on trains and also possible on buses.

Similarly, concerns about payment could be resolved by ensuring a ticket must be bought for dogs prior to travel, with the fare based on the cost to the system. This may also go part way to alleviating the sense that allowing dogs on transport is a clash of rights between dog owners and non-owners.

Third, negative comments suggesting Australia’s dogs and dog owners are somehow less responsible than their European counterparts are not supported by empirical evidence. Positive local experiences of travelling with well-behaved dogs could soften negative perceptions.

Read more: We need a better understanding of how we manage dogs to help them become better urban citizens

What Might A Policy Change Look Like?

The analysis does suggest opposition could be allayed in time. However, the policy would have to be applied with care.

Other cities that have managed this shift could be consulted for strategies to ensure the policy works well in practice. In Milan, Italy, for example, dogs are allowed only on the first and last carriages of the metro. No more than two dogs are allowed on a bus at any one time.

Two dogs sitting on a bench at a bus top
Dogs are allowed on buses in Rome, Italy, but no more than two at a time. Shutterstock

In Gothenberg, Sweden, only one dog is allowed per bus and the dog must board at the rear of the bus. On trains, dogs are permitted to travel in the last carriage only. In Dublin, Ireland, dogs over a certain size must travel near the guard’s bay on trains.

Read more: Curious Kids: is it true dogs don't like to travel?

It’s Not Just About The Dogs

Travel with dogs might not seem like a priority issue for public transport systems. We argue, though, that Australia’s heavily car-dependent cities need public transport that meets our need for the less obvious, “messy” trips that make up modern lives in cities. By looking beyond the car for these trips, we can develop a system that Australians can use for more than just the journey to work.

This analysis, however, demonstrates the complexity of dragging our public transport systems up to the task of competing with the private car.The Conversation

Jennifer Kent, Senior Research Fellow in Urbanism, University of Sydney and Corinne Mulley, Professor Emerita, University of Sydney, University of Sydney

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

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.