Inbox and Environment News: Issue 508

August 29 - September 4, 2021: Issue 508

Time Of Ngoonungi

Cool becoming warm: September-October
Flying foxes appear
Ceremonial time
Miwa Gawaian in flower (Waratah)

From the D'harawal calendar
The D'harawal Country and language area extends from the southern shores of Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) to the northern shores of the Shoalhaven River, and from the eastern shores of the Wollondilly River system to the eastern seaboard.

Waratah in flower - photo taken this week in Ingleside/Elanora Heights by Selena Griffith

Local Environmental Plan And Development Control Plan: Feedback Closes September 4 

Northern Beaches Council is required by the NSW Government to consolidate four planning control documents into one and has released a discussion paper.

Mayor Michael Regan said the preparation of a whole of Northern Beaches Local Environment Plan (LEP) and Development Control Plan (DCP) would be based largely on existing controls and was not seeking to increase heights in residential areas or increase densities in areas that have not already been identified.

“To be crystal clear, there are no plans for increasing densities beyond what has already been identified – our housing strategy made clear we only need to find an additional 275 dwellings,” Mayor Regan said.

“No one wants to see our area overdeveloped or the local character destroyed.

“Our aim is to ensure we maintain our great lifestyle, protect the local character and environment we so value, provide green space, infrastructure to support growth, and local employment for the future.”

One of the key topics explained in the recently released LEP/DCP Discussion Paper is how Council will implement their local housing strategy. A Council email forwarded this week by a resident subscriber to Council updates reads:

''While our housing targets are small, we still need to address housing affordability, provide a better mix of housing types and protect our local character and environment. The discussion paper outlines our proposed approach to planning controls, that will contribute to this, including:
  • permitting seniors housing, boarding houses and dual occupancies within 400m of (the) identified local centres of Avalon Beach, Newport, Warriewood, Belrose and Freshwater
  • prohibiting dual occupancies in the R2 Low Density Residential zone (currently permitted under Pittwater and Manly LEPs)
  • prohibiting attached, semi-detached and multi-dwelling housing in the R2 zone (currently permitted in the Manly LEP)
  • standardising the size and placement rules for granny flats
  • removing the floor space ratio controls for houses (currently required under the Manly LEP). 
To support local business and to provide an improved retail shopping experience and greater flexibility in the use of the space, Council’s Urban Design expert panel have suggested small height increases in business centres – no more than 1.5 metres. For example, the document proposes an 11-18-metre building height limit for the Frenchs Forest Business Park B7 zone.

To meet the demand for floor space in industrial zones the community is asked to comment on a an increase of building heights in industrial areas.

Among other things, the discussion paper also asks for community response to:
  • improved controls for development near waterways, foreshores, wetlands and riparian lands;
  • more water sensitive urban design and greater tree canopy;
  • performance standards for net-zero carbon emission buildings;
  • which water-related structures residents think are suitable adjoining waterways (NB: as well as noting that Action 1.8 of 'Towards 2040' proposes to expand the W2 zone to permit marina expansion)
  • provisions to restrict large scale retail in small retail centres.
The 190 page LEP and DCP is now available to read and provide feedback on. Feedback closes September 5th, 2021

Sick Turtles Coming Ashore

The Australian Seabird Rescue Central Coast has reported  very sick Green Sea Turtles coming ashore this week. One that was rescued passed away within 24 hours and another is very ill and passed away a few days before that. All up there have been 3 just this week that have been lost. 

In Pittwater over the last few months a turtle has been found dead on our estuarine beaches nearly every fortnight - from Bayview up to Palm Beach. 

Our wildlife still needs our help during lockdown. If you come across any injured marine reptiles or seabirds whilst out exercising, please report them 0438 862 676 or call Sydney Wildlife on 9413 4300

The organisation states; ''We are seeing an increase of sick turtles and beached turtles. If you come across a beached turtle, please don't place it back into the water and call us or your local wildlife group for help.''

On August 9 the Ballina team had a call about a large female green sea turtle at Hastings Point. She weighs 75kg and has a CCL of 90.5cm.

The poor thing has likely been sick for a long time with a complete coverage of goose barnacles. She also has a vary bad boat strike injury on the middle of her carapace with a deep wound. 

Sea World Gold Coast has now taken that turtle - hopefully she recovers.

There are currently 22 turtles in care at the Ballina branch of this organisation. The numbers are concerning as they are much higher than they usually are for Winter - Summer is usually when they have high numbers of turtles in care.

''We don’t exactly know why there has been in increase over the last few months but we have some theories. We are possibly seeing an increase due to climate shifts, depleting food sources and an increase in ocean pollution. '' the Ballina branch says.

One green turtle, 'Elmo', who was rescued from Yattalunga passed away on August 13th. The carers had started seeing some good progress in Elmo, and were hopeful that he would make a full recovery. Elmo was suffering from a pneumonia and a suspected partial blockage in his stomach, likely caused by foreign material (normally plastics/fishing line). 

Elmo was discovered floating nearby on the surface and a water rescue was done on July 22nd.

Float is caused by a build up of gases within the turtle body, which is likely caused by consuming marine debris, which blocks the gastrointestinal tract. The turtle is unable to dive, so can't eat, is more susceptible to predators and boat strikes.  It is also likely that the turtle is cold stunned, being exposed to cold temperatures.

Beached sea turtles are normally suffering from illness and exhaustion, so it's important that you call for help.  Placing the animal back into the water, may cause it drown. 

Another Australian Seabird Rescue Central Coast had rescued from Belmont by their friends from Hunter Wildlife Rescue, NATF Inc was nicknamed Hermit. Hermit went for a check up yesterday 9August 19th) and it was discovered that Hermit had a stomach full of fishing gear. This had included a number of hooks, two sinkers and fishing line

Hermit was in an emaciated condition and would not survive surgery. CT scans also showed damage in the gastrointestinal tract. Unfortunately it was unlikely that Hermit would survive rehabilitation. The difficult decision was made to put Hermit out of pain and euthanise.

''Nearly all of our sea turtle injuries over the last 9 months have been the result of fishing line, with most cases being caused by discarded line. If you fish, please fish responsibly and place discarded line in the bin. If you happen to hook a seabird or marine reptile, please don't cut the line, call us for assistance.'' Australian Seabird Rescue Central Coast said on Friday.

The Australian Seabird Rescue is also seeing an increase in bird rescues with fishing line and hooks, embedded in wings, causing the most injury. Please don't discard lines and hooks - take them home and get rid of them responsibly. Ditto any plastic wrappings or any plastics of any sort.

In late July 'Billie' was seen back in Manly. He was first spotted in Cabbage Tree Bay in March 2020, rescued by ASR in June 2020 and released October 2020. Billie has now called Cabbage Tree Bay home for 16 months. 

If you would like to help ASR, you can make a tax deductible donation here:
If you would ;like to help Sydney Wildlife you can make a tax deductible donation here:

All these people are volunteers who pay for food, transport and medicines to heal these creatures from their own pockets - if you can contribute towards the ongoing costs to run their medical units or feed these lovies, please do so.

Friends Of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment August Newsletter, Forum & 2021 AGM

Greetings to our supporters:
Here is our  August newsletter  for you to enjoy.
I hope you can join us to hear about the Environmental Studies being undertaken in preparation for the Northern Beaches Local Environment Plan.

This will be via Zoom from 7pm on August 30.  Reply to this email to book your place and receive the Zoom link information.

Our AGM will also be held on August 30 after the presentations have ended.  You are welcome to remain in the Zoom meeting and listen to it but you will not be eligible to vote.

The next Forum from Friends of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment will be presented by Andrew Pigott and Yianni Mentis from Northern Beaches Council.
Andrew Pigott is Executive Manager of Strategic and Place Planning at Northern Beaches Council.
Yianni Mentis is Executive Manager of Environment and Climate Change at Northern Beaches Council.

They will outline the various environmental studies that are needed in Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment to inform the preparation of the new LEP and will update us on the progress of these studies.
This forum will be by Zoom. Book now and receive the link.

7pm  Monday Aug 30, 2021  
Bookings essential:   

Australia has failed greater gliders: since they were listed as ‘vulnerable’ we’ve destroyed more of their habitat

Josh Bowell Author provided
Darcy WatchornDeakin University and Kita AshmanDeakin University

In just five years, greater gliders — fluffy-eared, tree-dwelling marsupials — could go from vulnerable to endangered, because Australia’s environmental laws have failed to protect them and other threatened native species.

Our new research found that after the greater glider was listed as vulnerable to extinction under national environment law in 2016, habitat destruction actually increased in some states, driving the species closer to the brink. Now, they meet the criteria to be listed as endangered.

Despite this, the federal government has put forward a bill that would further weaken Australia’s environment laws.

If Australia wants to ditch its shameful reputation as a global extinction leader, our environmental laws must be significantly strengthened, not weakened.

Why Is The Greater Glider Losing Its Home?

At about the size of a cat, greater gliders are the largest gliding marsupial in the world, and can glide up to 100 metres through the forest canopy. They nest in the hollows of big old trees and, just like koalas, they mostly eat eucalypt leaves.

A dark morph greater glider in a patch of old growth forest in Munruben, Logan City, south of Brisbane. Josh Bowell

Greater gliders were once common throughout the forests of Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria. However, destructive practices, such as logging and urban development, have cut down the trees they call home. The rapidly warming climate and increasingly frequent and severe bushfires are also a major threat.

Together, these threats are causing the greater glider to rapidly disappear.

For our new study, we calculated the amount of greater glider habitat destroyed in the two years before the species was listed as vulnerable under Australia’s environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) Act. We then compared this to the amount of habitat destroyed in the two years after listing.

In Victoria, we measured the amount of habitat that was logged. In Queensland and NSW, we measured the amount of habitat cleared for all purposes, including logging, agriculture, and development projects.

What We Found

The amount of greater glider habitat logged in Victoria remained consistently high, with a total of 4,917 hectares logged before listing compared to 4,759 hectares after listing. And of all forest logged in Victoria after listing, more than 45% was mapped as greater glider habitat by the federal government, according to our research paper.

State-owned forestry company VicForests is responsible for the lion’s share of native forest logging in Victoria. The Conversation contacted VicForests to respond to the arguments in this article. A spokesperson said:

There are 3.7 million hectares of potential Greater Glider habitat in Victoria under the official habitat model. The most valuable areas of this habitat are set aside in conservation reserves that can never be harvested.

The total area harvested by VicForests in any year is around 0.04% of this total potential habitat.

A small bulldozer used for tree ‘thinning’ in Queensland, May 2017. WWF-Australia

In Queensland, habitat clearing increased by almost 300%, from a total of 3,002 hectares before listing compared to 11,838 hectares after listing. The amount of habitat cleared in NSW increased by about 5%, from a total of 15,204 hectares to 15,890 hectares.

We also quantified how much greater glider habitat was affected by the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires, and found approximately 29% of greater glider habitat was burnt. Almost 40% of this burnt at high severity, which means few gliders are likely to persist in, or rapidly return to, these areas.

As a result, earlier this year — just five years after listing — an assessment by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee found the greater glider is potentially eligible for up-listing from vulnerable to endangered.

A greater glider found in burnt bushland, Meroo National Park, NSW, December 2019. George Lemann, WWF-Australia

Why Was Habitat Allowed To Be Cleared?

Development projects can take decades to be implemented after they’ve been approved under the EPBC Act. Therefore, a lot of the habitat cleared in NSW and Queensland was likely to have been approved before the greater glider was listed as vulnerable, and before the 2019-2020 bushfires.

Once a project is approved, it is not reassessed, even if a species becomes vulnerable and a wildfire burns much of its habitat.

This means the impact of clearing native vegetation can be far greater than when initially approved. It also means it can take many years after a species is listed until its habitat is finally safe.

This young greater glider was displaced by clearing near Chinchilla on the Darling Downs, Queensland. It was rescued by a fauna spotter/catcher who was present. Briano, WWF-Australia

In Victoria and parts of NSW, the forestry industry is allowed to log greater glider habitat under “regional forest agreements”. These agreements allow logging to operate under a special set of rules that bypasses federal environmental scrutiny under the EPBC Act.

The logging industry is required to comply only with state regulations for threatened species protection, which are are often inadequate.

Read more: A major report excoriated Australia's environment laws. Sussan Ley's response is confused and risky

In 2019, the Victorian government updated the protection measures for greater gliders in logged forests. However, these still allow logging of up to 60% of a forested area authorised for harvest, even when greater gliders are present at high densities.

The spokesperson for VicForests said the company prioritises live, hollow-bearing trees wherever there are five or more greater gliders per spotlight kilometre (a 1 kilometre stretch of forest surveyed with torches). But this level of protection is limited and is unlikely to halt greater glider decline, as the species is highly sensitive to disturbance.

Recently logged native forest from the Central Highlands, Victoria. Darcy Watchorn

In May 2020 the Federal Court found VicForests breached state environmental laws when they failed to implement protection measures and destroyed critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum and greater glider habitat.

Despite this, earlier this year, the Federal Court upheld an appeal by VicForests to retain their exemption from the EPBC Act. This ruling means VicForests will not be held accountable for destroying threatened species habitat, even when it is found in breach of state requirements.

Read more: A Victorian logging company just won a controversial court appeal. Here’s what it means for forest wildlife

The spokesperson for VicForests said the company takes sustainable harvesting seriously.

VicForests operations are subject to Victorian laws, and enforced by the Office of the Conservation Regulator (OCR) and Victorian courts when necessary. The recent federal court appeal decision has not changed that fact.

They add that VicForests surveys show greater gliders continue to persist in recently harvested areas, under its current practices.

VicForests has not seen any evidence that even a single Greater Glider has died as a result of our new harvesting approach.

The Government Isn’t Learning Its Lesson

The EPBC Act is currently undergoing a once in a decade assessment that considers how well it’s operating, with a recent independent review criticising the EPBC Act for no longer being fit for purpose. Our new research reinforces this, by showing the act has failed to protect one of Australia’s most iconic and unique animals.

And yet, the federal government wants to weaken the act further by implementing a streamlined model, which would rely on state governments to approve actions that would impact threatened species.

There’s a raft of reasons why this would be problematic.

Read more: Death by 775 cuts: how conservation law is failing the black-throated finch

For one, state environmental laws operate independently, and don’t consider what developments have been approved in other states. Cutting down trees may seem insignificant in certain areas, but without considering the broader impacts, many small losses can accumulate into massive declines, like a death by a thousand cuts.

As a case in point, despite the devastation of greater glider habitat from the Black Summer fires in NSW, the Queensland government have recently approved a new coal mine, which will destroy over 5,500 hectares of greater glider and koala habitat.

What Needs To Change?

The greater glider is edging towards extinction, but there is still no recovery plan for this iconic marsupial. Adding to this, new research suggests there are actually three species of greater glider we could be losing, rather than just one as was previously thought. Significant effort must be invested to create a clear plan for their recovery.

Because Australia has such a rich diversity of wildlife, we have a great responsibility to protect it. Australia must make important changes now to strengthen — not weaken — its environmental laws, before greater gliders, and many other species, are gone forever.The Conversation

Darcy Watchorn, PhD Candidate, Deakin University and Kita Ashman, Threatened Species & Climate Adaptation Ecologist, Deakin University

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

As the world battles to slash carbon emissions, Australia considers paying dirty coal stations to stay open longer

Tim NelsonGriffith University and Joel GilmoreGriffith University

A long-anticipated plan to reform Australia’s electricity system was released on Thursday. One of the most controversial proposals by the Energy Security Board (ESB) concerns subsidies which critics say will encourage dirty coal plants to stay open longer.

The subsidies, under a so-called “capacity mechanism”, would aim to ensure reliable energy supplies as old coal plants retire.

Major coal generators say the proposal will achieve this aim. But renewables operators and others oppose the plan, saying it will pay coal plants for simply existing and delay the clean energy transition.

So where does the truth lie? Unless carefully designed, the proposal may enable coal generators to keep polluting when they might otherwise have closed. This is clearly at odds with the need to rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions and stabilise Earth’s climate.

firefighter and bushfire engulfing house
Extending the life of coal plants is at odds with climate action efforts. Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Paying Coal Stations To Exist

The ESB provides advice to the nation’s energy ministers and comprises the heads of Australia’s major energy governing bodies.

Advice to the ministers on the electricity market redesign, released on Thursday, includes a recommendation for a mechanism formally known as the Physical Retailer Reliability Obligation (PRRO).

It would mean electricity generators are paid not only for the actual electricity they produce, which is the case now, but also for having the capacity to scale up electricity generation when needed.

Electricity prices on the wholesale market – where electricity is bought and sold – vary depending on the time of day. Prices are typically much higher when consumer demand peaks, such as in the evenings when we turn on heaters or air-conditioners. This provides a strong financial incentive for generators to provide reliable electricity at these times.

As a result of these incentives, Australia’s electricity system has been very reliable to date.

But the ESB says as more renewables projects come online, this reliability is not assured – due to investor uncertainty around when coal plants will close and how governments will intervene in the market.

Read more: IPCC report: how to make global emissions peak and fall – and what's stopping us

Under the proposed change, electricity retailers – the companies everyday consumers buy energy from – must enter into contracts with individual electricity generators to make capacity available to the market.

Energy authorities would decide what proportion of a generator’s capacity could be relied upon at critical times. Retailers would then pay generators regardless of whether or not they produce electricity when needed.

Submissions to the ESB show widespread opposition to the proposed change: from clean energy investorsbattery manufacturersmajor energy users and consumer groups. The ESB acknowledges the proposal has few supporters.

In fact, coal generators are virtually the only groups backing the proposed change. They say it would keep the electricity system reliable, because the rapid expansion of rooftop solar has lowered wholesale prices to the point coal plants struggle to stay profitable.

The ESB says the subsidy would also go to other producers of dispatchable energy such as batteries and pumped hydro. It says such businesses require guaranteed revenue streams if they’re to invest in new infrastructure.

Man gives thumbs up in front of hydro project
Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Snowy Hydro project. Such generators would also be eligible for the proposed subsidy. Lukas Coch/AAP

A Questionable Plan

In our view, the arguments from coal generators and the ESB require greater scrutiny.

Firstly, the ESB’s suggestion that the existing market is not driving investment in new dispatchable generation is not supported by recent data. As the Australian Energy Market Operator recently noted, about 3.7 gigawatts of new gas, battery and hydro projects are set to enter the market in coming years. This is on top of 3.2 gigawatts of new wind and solar under construction. Together, this totals more than four times the operating capacity of AGL’s Liddell coal plant in New South Wales.

It’s also difficult to argue the system is made more reliable by paying dispatchable coal stations to stay around longer.

One in four Australian homes have rooftop solar panels, and installation continues to grow. This reduces demand for coal-fired power when the sun is shining.

The electricity market needs generators that can turn on and off quickly in response to this variable demand. Hydro, batteries and some gas plants can do this. Coal-fired power stations cannot – they are too slow and inflexible.

Coal stations are also becoming less reliable and prone to breakdowns as they age. Paying them to stay open can block investment in more flexible and reliable resources.

Critics of the proposed change argue coal generators can’t compete in a world of expanding rooftop solar, and when large corporate buyers are increasingly demanding zero-emissions electricity.

There is merit in these arguments. The recommended change may simply create a new revenue stream for coal plants enabling them to stay open when they might otherwise have exited the market.

Governments should also consider that up to A$5.5 billion in taxpayer assistance was allocated to coal-fired generators in 2012 to help them transition under the Gillard government’s (since repealed) climate policies. Asking consumers to again pay for coal stations to stay open doesn’t seem equitable.

Steam billows from coal plant
Coal plants have already received billions in subsidies. Shutterstock

The Ultimate Test

The nation’s energy ministers have not yet decided on the reforms. As usual, the devil will be in the detail.

For any new scheme to improve electricity reliability, it should solely reward new flexible generation such as hydro, batteries, and 100% clean hydrogen or biofuel-ready gas turbines.

For example, reliability could be improved by establishing a physical “reserve market” of new, flexible generators which would operate alongside the existing market. This generation could be seamlessly introduced as existing generation fails and exits.

The ESB has recommended such a measure, and pivoting the capacity mechanism policy to reward only new generators could be beneficial.

The Grattan Institute has also proposed a scheme to give businesses more certainty about when coal plant will close. Together, these options would address the ESB’s concerns.

This month’s troubling report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was yet another reminder of the need to dramatically slash emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Energy regulators, politicians and the energy industry owe it to our children and future generations to embrace a zero-emissions energy system. The reform of Australia’s electricity market will ultimately be assessed against this overriding obligation.

Read more: Climate change has already hit Australia. Unless we act now, a hotter, drier and more dangerous future awaits, IPCC warns The Conversation

Tim Nelson, Associate Professor of Economics, Griffith University and Joel Gilmore, Associate Professor, Griffith University

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

Drone Surveillance Leads To $270,000 In Penalties For Pollution Offences

August 27, 2021
Liverpool Local Court has convicted and fined Mr Fouad Arja for waste and pollution offences at a rental property in Rossmore following successful prosecution by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

The convictions come after a complex investigation conducted by the EPA which relied upon covert surveillance footage obtained from drones and CCTV, as well as a search warrant conducted with NSW Police.

(You can find the drone and surveillance footage which assisted in the prosecution here:

The EPA prosecuted Mr Arja for three environmental offences, including land pollution, failing to comply with a prevention notice and carrying out an unlicensed scheduled activity, namely waste disposal.

Mr Arja plead guilty to the three offences. Magistrate Imad Abdul-Karim convicted Mr Arja and fined him $60,000 for each offence, totalling $180,000 in fines. Mr Arja was also ordered to pay the EPA’s legal and investigation costs of $90,000.

EPA Executive Director Regulatory Operations Carmen Dwyer said the EPA acted on a tip-off from Liverpool City Council and the community.

“An initial inspection of the property found stockpiles of demolition waste, more than 500 waste tyres and wrecked vehicles across on the five-acre semi-rural residential block,” Ms Dwyer said.

“After officers became aware of potential offences by the defendant, EPA drone surveillance revealed extensive stockpiling of a variety of waste, and also captured trucks delivering suspected demolition waste material.

“Testing of some of the waste material revealed it was contaminated, with the presence of asbestos detected.”

Ms Dwyer said Mr Arja was issued a prevention notice to stop the receipt, deposition, disturbance and removal of the waste materials at the property.

However, after the notice was issued, surveillance by the EPA captured more trucks entering the property depositing waste, and an excavator disturbing and spreading the waste.

A search warrant was subsequently executed, finding building and demolition waste buried at the property. Asbestos waste, approximately 1,500 waste car tyres and at least 240 whole vehicles and vehicle parts were also stockpiled at the site.

Ms Dwyer condemned the behaviour of Mr Arja and said it put others at risk.

“The EPA is warning anyone trying to hide contaminated waste that it will use the best technology to ensure human and environmental health is protected. We expect everyone in the community to follow the rules when it comes to handling contaminated waste.”

The EPA is working to ensure the premises is remediated and made safe.

For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy at

Disbelief As Coal Mine Companies Issued Mere Cautions For Illegally Burying Hundreds Of Giant Tyres

 August 20, 2021
Lock the Gate Alliance and members of the north west NSW community are flabbergasted coal mine operators will only receive a caution after an investigation revealed every single open cut project in the region was burying giant machinery tyres illegally.

Concerns were first raised after Whitehaven applied to bury about 870 tyres at its Tarrawonga coal mine site in April this year. It was later revealed the mining company had already been burying the tyres without consent at Tarrawonga, as well as at its Maules Creek project.

A probe was launched, and in an email sent this week to Maules Creek local Libby Laird, the NSW Environment Protection Authority stated it had concluded the investigation and:

“The investigation identified that all open-cut coal mines in this region had buried waste tyres that had been generated at each respective premises, without the necessary licence conditions, at various times between 2014-2020.  The EPA has issued Official Cautions to all the open cut coal mines investigated.”

That means six coal mines - the majority owned by Whitehaven and one owned by Idemitsu, have been burying potentially hundreds of giant machinery tyres over a six year period without an environmental licence.

Ms Laird said it was astonishing the EPA would not take firmer action against the companies.

“We’re used to Whitehaven getting away with just a slap on the wrist, but this is ridiculous,” she said.

“These tyres are buried deep underground and could have a disastrous impact on our groundwater and local environment.

“The EPA’s own guidelines say cautions can be issued to companies if the offence is “minor”. I would argue that the burial of hundreds of giant machinery tyres without permission is not a minor offence.

“Whitehaven and Idemitsu are supposed to rehabilitate the land once they finish mining - it is difficult to see how this is possible if the tyres are left in situ.”

Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said it was the latest in a long and sorry list of crimes committed by Whitehaven.

“It is well past the time for the NSW Berejiklian Government to strip Whitehaven of its right to operate in this state,” she said.

“Only last week Whitehaven was fined in the Land and Environment Court for offences committed at its Narrabri Underground Mine, and this week is in court again to be sentenced for stealing a billion litres of water at Maules Creek - a crime to which the company has already pleaded guilty,” she said.

“These offences come on top of at least 35 other offences the company has been fined or cautioned over since 2012. Whitehaven is a repeat offender and the penalties it has received so far have clearly not prompted a change in its attitude. 

“While we commend the EPA for conducting this investigation, we are sick of seeing Whitehaven get away with so many flagrant violations of environmental law.

“The people, the land, and the water of the north west deserve better than this.”

EPA Cautions Coal Mines For Burying Waste Tyres

August 19, 2021: NSW EPA
The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has issued Official Cautions to six open cut coal mines in the Namoi and Liverpool Plains regions following an EPA investigation into the burial of waste haul truck tyres

The investigation was in response to allegations of illegal receipt and burial of waste tyres at one open-cut coal mine in the Namoi region in June 2020.

EPA Director Regulatory Operations Stephen Budgen said while the EPA did not find evidence that these tyres were brought onto the mine sites from other areas, the investigation identified that all six mines had buried their tyres without the necessary licence conditions.

“The EPA is ensuring appropriate environmental safeguards are in place before on-site disposal is allowed to continue at mines,” Mr Budgen said.

“We found instances of tyres being buried without necessary licence conditions at various times between 2014-2020.

“While no environmental harm was found to have occurred, the EPA issued Official Cautions to all six of the open cut coal mines we investigated.”

Mr Budgen said an Official Caution was a regulatory tool that the EPA used to encourage compliance and help improve environmental outcomes.

“The EPA is also actively engaged with the mining and tyre recycling industries to find long term strategies for the management and safe disposal of waste tyres,” Mr Budgen said.

The EPA is in discussion with other relevant agencies to address the capacity of the current recycling industry through initiatives in the NSW Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy 2041.

For more information on the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy on the EPA website. If you suspect someone is doing the wrong thing, phone the NSW EPA on 131 555.

Job Seekers Jump On The Header For A Record Harvest

August 22, 2021

Ahead of what is predicted to be a record spring harvest, Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall has encouraged Aussies to take up on-farm employment to help primary producers overcome a COVID-induced workforce shortage.

Mr Marshall said the state’s agricultural industry was facing a labour shortfall, and travelers and out-of-work New South Welshmen could be well placed to help once stay-at-home orders were lifted.

“I’m putting out a call to arms for adventure seekers and job seekers alike to head to the bush for a bumper harvest,” Mr Marshall said.

“Our farmers are hurting from international and state border closures and it’s critical they have the workforce needed to produce our food and fibre.

“Agriculture stops for no-one. If we don’t put the necessary measures in place to get more boots on the ground in the coming months fruit will rot and crops will waste.

“Last year’s harvest was huge and all signs point to an even bigger spring this time around. This is the grand finale, the big dance, the Olympics of harvests for our broadacre cropping communities and you can be a part of these tumbling records.

“We must do all we can to keep communities safe from COVID, but I’d love to see people head west when we’re out of lockdown for a truly unique experience. It is tough work, but experience isn’t necessary, it’s great money and a great way to upskill.

“If you want to get your hands dirty the best place to start is our ‘Help Harvest NSW’ website which connects agriculture employers with anyone looking for work.”

Grants of up to $10,000 are available for regional businesses to assist with the relocation costs of eligible skilled workers who move from metropolitan areas.

Mr Marshall said the NSW Government had implemented additional measures to help the state’s farmers overcome the COVID-induced workforce shortage.

“I hope today’s calls for reinforcements will complement the support we’ve already put in place,” Mr Marshall said.

“To help bridge the shortage caused by border closures, the NSW Government has approved the arrival of more than 2,000 overseas agricultural workers, provided a 50% subsidy for their hotel quarantine costs and spearheaded the Ag Workers’ Code.”

Liberal And Labor Join Forces To Funnel Public Funds To Fracking Company

August 24, 2021
Protect Country Alliance is outraged following media reports that a federal disallowance motion to prevent taxpayer money being given to a company wanting to frack the heart of the Territory appears doomed to fail.

Labor appeared set to vote with the Morrison Government against a motion that would have scuttled the government’s attempts to donate $21M to prolific political donor Empire Energy to help the company build three frack wells in the Beetaloo Basin.

The decision comes amid a Senate Inquiry that has already revealed a cosy relationship between the company and various Liberal Party figures, and highlighted Traditional Owner opposition to fracking in the area. 

Protect Country Alliance spokesperson Graeme Sawyer said the impending failure of the disallowance motion showed how rotten Australian politics was. 

“This multi-million dollar grant to fracking company Empire Energy stinks to high heaven, yet politicians on both sides are clambering over one another to make sure it happens,” he said.

“In light of all that has been revealed so far through the Senate Inquiry, the only reasonable response was to support the disallowance motion and block the frack funding.

“We know from the Inquiry that more consultation with communities is required. We heard the clear voices of Traditional Owners who have not given their free and prior informed consent for fracking to happen. 

“This misuse of taxpayer funds is like a government paying to prop up the tobacco industry - it’s ludicrous at a time when international agencies like the IEA and IPCC have made it crystal clear that we cannot afford to open new polluting gasfields, let alone support them with public money.

“Fracking is a technology that belongs in the last century. It lays waste to farmland, communities, and the water that sustains so much of the Territory. Renewables with battery storage are the cheaper, cleaner way to power communities. It’s a shame the majority of Liberal and Labor politicians are unable to see this.

“It is one thing for Labor to support the increasing use of fossil fuels in spite of the warnings from the IPCC but it is quite another for it to actually support the Liberal Party’s push to give taxpayer funds to these greedy corporations. Too many of our federal politicians are clearly not concerned about the climate threat to all Australians.” 

Whitehaven Wants More Coal But Isn’t Willing To Wait For Locals To Weigh In

August 26, 2021
Notoriously poorly behaved corporate citizen Whitehaven is trying to slip past proper process and community consultation to get the go-ahead for more coal exploration near Narrabri.

Whitehaven, along with its joint partners, recently lobbed an application for two exploration licences over 3,700 hectares in an area known as “Gorman North” - one of the new land parcels Deputy Premier John Barilaro last year nominated in his “Strategic Statement on Coal” as potentially available for coal exploration via the Strategic Release process, which involves preliminary environmental assessment and community consultation.

However, Whitehaven’s application has raised fears that, unlike similar plans to open new areas of land for coal exploration near Rylstone, new exploration licences may be granted in the Narrabri area without community consultation.

“Gorman North was supposed to only be released for coal exploration after going through a preliminary issues assessment and public consultation process to determine if release is appropriate, after which any release would be subject to competitive tender. That has not yet happened here,” said Boggabri farmer Sally Hunter.

“There are at least 250 landholders in the Gorman North area, and as far as I’m aware, the NSW Government has not consulted with any of these residents.

“Whitehaven is trying to pull a swifty and pressure the NSW Government into granting it a coal exploration licence without consulting the community.

“If Whitehaven is granted these licences, the NSW Berejiklian Government will be treating the people of the north west like second class citizens - denying them the proper process for considering impacts of coal exploration on water, bushland and communities.

“Whitehaven is also a repeat offender with a rap sheet a mile long (see dossier here) for crimes committed in the north west. This company should be stripped of its licence to operate, not given a fast-tracked concession to search for more coal.”

Lock the Gate Alliance NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said Whitehaven was likely spooked by the community backlash to coal exploration around the Rylstone area, as well as sustained opposition to its Vickery project plans in the north west.

“All across NSW, communities are standing up against coal mining companies and coal-friendly politicians,” she said.

“People living within and near the Gorman North area should be able to expect the same opportunity for public consultation and proper process as those who live near Rylstone.

“NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro needs to confirm there will be no double standard for the release of new coal exploration areas and that these areas will not be preemptively handed to Whitehaven without north-west communities having a chance to have their say."

Bushfire survivors just won a crucial case against the NSW environmental watchdog, putting other states on notice

Laura SchuijersThe University of Melbourne

This week was another big one in the land of climate litigation.

On Thursday, a New South Wales court compelled the state Environment Protection Authority (EPA) to take stronger action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It’s the first time an Australian court has ordered a government organisation to take more meaningful action on climate change.

The case challenging the EPA’s current failures was brought by a group of bushfire-affected Australians. The group’s president said the ruling means those impacted by bushfires can rebuild their homes, lives, and communities, with the confidence the EPA will also work to do its part by addressing emissions.

The group’s courtroom success shows citizens can play an important role in bringing about change. And it continues a recent trend of successful climate cases that have held government and private sector actors to account for their responsibility to help prevent climate-related harms.

Who Are The Bushfire Survivors?

Members of the group, the Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action, identify as survivors, firefighters and local councillors impacted by bushfires and the continued threat of bushfire posed by climate change.

Their stories paint a picture of devastating loss, and fear of what might be to come. One member, who lost her home, tells of harrowing hours looking for friends and family amid a dark, alien moonscape. Another, a volunteer firefighter, describes the smell of charred and burnt flesh and the silence of the incinerated forests that haunted him.

A person stands in a burnt-out home
Fiona Lee, a member of the Bushfire Survivors group, stands in the ruins of her home after a bushfire swept through. Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action

The group argues that because the NSW EPA is required, by law, to protect the environment through quality objectives, guidelines and policies, these instruments also need to cover greenhouse gas emissions.

Their reasoning is hard to fault: climate change is one of the environment’s most significant threats. In today’s world, you can’t protect the environment without addressing climate change.

To establish this point, the bushfire survivors presented the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was released while the trial was being heard. The report describes how the temperature rise in Australia could exceed the global average, and predicts increasingly hotter and drier conditions.

Read more: Climate change has already hit Australia. Unless we act now, a hotter, drier and more dangerous future awaits, IPCC warns

An Unperformed Duty

The EPA’s statutory duty to protect the environment was already known before the litigation began. That’s because the duty is contained within the EPA’s own legislation.

Bushfire survivors hold signs in front of Parliament House
The Bushfire Survivors brought their case to the NSW Land and Environment Court. Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action

The EPA protects the environment from other types of pollutants by issuing environment protection licences, monitoring compliance, and imposing fines and clean-up orders. The bushfire survivors were seeking to force the EPA to address greenhouse gas emissions as well.

The EPA unsuccessfully tried to establish it is not required to address any specific environmental problem — i.e. climate change. And it argued that even if it is, it has already done enough.

But the court agreed with the bushfire survivors that the EPA’s instruments already in place aren’t sufficient, leaving the duty “unperformed”.

The court didn’t specify exactly how the EPA should remedy the fact it isn’t adequately addressing climate change, meaning the EPA can decide how it develops its own quality objectives, guidelines and policies, in a way that leads to fewer emissions. It is not the court’s job to make policy.

The EPA might, for example, target the highest-emitting industries and activities, via controls or caps on greenhouse gases.

Importantly, however, the court said the EPA doesn’t have to match its actions with a particular climate scenario, such as a global temperature rise of 1.5℃.

Other States On Notice

Although this ruling is specific to NSW, other state environment protection authorities also have legal objectives to protect the environment.

This case may cause other Australian environmental authorities to consider whether their regulatory approaches match what the law requires them to do. This might include a responsibility to protect the environment from climate change.

Another thing we know from the NSW case is that simply having policies and strategies isn’t enough.

The court made it clear aspirational and descriptive plans won’t cut the mustard if there’s nothing to “set any objectives or standards, impose any requirements, or prescribe any action to be taken to ensure the protection of the environment”.

The EPA tried to point to NSW’s Climate Change Framework and Net Zero Plan as a way of showing climate change action. But neither of these was developed by the EPA.

The EPA also presented documents it did develop, including a document about landfill guidelines, a fact sheet on methane, and a regulatory strategy highlighting climate change as a challenge for the EPA.

The court found these weren’t enough to address the threat of climate change and discharge the EPA’s duty, calling the regulatory strategy’s description of climate change “general and trite”.

An Australian First, But Not An Anomaly

Globally, climate litigation is playing a role in filling gaps in domestic climate governance. Cases in Europe, North and South America, and elsewhere have led to courts pushing governments to do more.

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

One of the world’s first major successful climate change cases, Massachusetts v EPA, was similar to the bushfire survivors’ case. Back in 2007, the state of Massachusetts, along with other US states, sued the federal US EPA. They were seeking to force regulatory action on greenhouse gas emissions, and a recognition of carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

While the NSW case comes 14 years after the US case, there has been plenty of courtroom action in Australia in the meantime, with cases against the financial sector, government actors, and corporations.

The top of the Santos building in front of a sunny blue sky
The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility just filed a lawsuit against Santos. Shutterstock

In fact, on the same morning as the bushfire survivors’ case, a lawsuit was filed against oil and gas giant Santos in the Federal Court.

The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility will argue statements made in Santos’s annual report are misleading and deceptive. These statements include that natural gas is a “clean fuel” and that it has a “clear and credible” plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040.

Climate change is an inevitable problem, and one that will be costly. Lawsuits seeking to force action now aim to limit how great the costs will be down the track. By targeting those most responsible, they are a means of seeking justice.The Conversation

Laura Schuijers, Research Fellow in Environmental Law, The University of Melbourne

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

Judgment In Land And Environment Court 26 August 2021

26 August 2021
The below statement is in regard to the decision in the Land and Environment Court in the matter of Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action vs NSW EPA

NSW Environment Protection Authority Statement 

We are reviewing the judgment and implications for the EPA.

The EPA is an active government partner on climate change policy, regulation and innovation. It is a part of the whole-of-government approach to climate change embodied by the NSW Climate Change Policy Framework and Net Zero Plan.

The EPA is involved in work that assists with and also directly contributes to measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The EPA supports industry to make better choices in response to the impacts of climate change.

The EPA has also stated its commitment to supporting and implementing the NSW Government’s Climate Change Policy Framework and Net Zero Plan through its recently released Strategic Plan and Regulatory Strategy.

NSW Sustainability Awards Now Open For Entry

The NSW Sustainability Awards are now open and accepting entries from eligible NSW participants across a range of categories from biodiversity to net zero initiatives.

Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean said the awards will allow New South Wales to showcase some of our best and brightest minds on a national stage with winners automatically entered into the prestigious Banksia National Sustainability Awards.

"New South Wales leads the country when it comes to generating ideas on sustainability, these awards will not only showcase those ideas but also celebrate the people that are making our world better," Mr Kean said.

"Entrants for these awards will join a community of sustainability champions who are reimagining the future of New South Wales and the world."

Inspired by the United Nations 2030 Global Goals and NSW's commitment to reaching net zero by 2050, these awards will salute individuals, communities and businesses for their innovation and excellence in environmental and social leadership.

The 8 awards categories include:
  • NSW Net Zero Action Award
  • NSW Biodiversity Award
  • NSW Circular Transition Award
  • NSW Clean Technology Award
  • NSW Large Business Transformation Award
  • NSW Small to Medium Business Award
  • NSW Youth as our Changemakers Award
  • Minister's Young Climate Champion Award
The awards will be presented and run by the Banksia Foundation in partnership with the NSW Government. Entries for the awards are expected to close on September 15 with winners announced by the end of this year. The winners of the National Banksia awards will be announced in March 2022.

For more information or for registration of interest for the awards can be made at NSW Sustainability Awards.

  1. NSW Clean Technology Award: Recognises outstanding initiatives by an organisation or organisations in collaboration that show- case efficient resources through renewable energy, low emissions technology, and appreciable pollution reduction (beyond compliance) of Australia's water, air, and land.
  2. NSW Biodiversity Award: Recognises outstanding initiatives by an organisation or organisations in collaboration that protect our habitat, flora and/or fauna to ensure Australia's ecosystems are secured and flourish for future generations.
  3. NSW Circular Transition Award: Recognises outstanding achievements in innovative design in waste and pollution systems and products, through to regenerating strategies. The award will go to a company that has adopted a technology, initiative or project that is helping the business move from a linear to a circular model.
  4. NSW Large Business Transformation Award: Recognises outstanding achievements that demonstrate business and values alignment with multiple UN Sustainable Development Goals and by integrating sustainability principles and practices across business activities.
  5. NSW Youth as our Changemakers Award: Recognises young innovators aged between 18-35 years, who bring fresh perspectives, bold ideas and compelling initiatives that align with any or the multiple UN SDG's.
  6. NSW Net Zero Action Award: Recognises organisations, (company, business association, NGOs) that can demonstrate a tangible program or initiative that evidences transition toward a 1.5-Degree goal, through a publicly communicated net zero commitment, plus data, disclosures and investments to support it.
  7. NSW Small to Medium Business Award: Recognises outstanding achievements that demonstrate business and values alignment with multiple UN Sustainable Development Goals and by integrating sustainability principles and practices across business activities.
  8. Minister's Young Climate Champion Award: The Minister's Young Climate Champion Award recognises young innovators aged under 18 years who bring bold ideas for a safe and thriving climate future that align with any of the UN SDGs. Young and passionate minds who have taken outstanding actions that benefit the sustainability of their communities and help address climate change will be showcased in this award, which is a celebration of young people with drive, commitment and a passion for sustainability and the environment.

Green Light To More Batteries And Improved Internet Coverage

Proposed new planning rules will cut red tape, making it easier for homeowners to install solar batteries and for telcos to install technology to improve mobile and internet coverage.

Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes said the proposed changes to the Infrastructure State Environment Planning Policy (SEPP) are now on public exhibition and aim to remove hurdles in the planning system for more sustainable energy and faster telecommunications.

“More people are working from home than ever and many of them want their homes to be powered by renewable energy,” Mr Stokes said.

“These changes to the Infrastructure SEPP will help telcos provide more fast, reliable telecommunications and make it easier for homeowners to power their homes with renewable energy.

“This will help homeowners save time and money, cut their future energy bills, reduce demand on the electricity network and contribute to lower energy prices.”

There are already around half a million homes in NSW harnessing power from the sun and it’s anticipated that 1,000 megawatts of batteries will be installed by 2035.

Proposed changes mean that planning approvals will no longer be required for:
  • The installation of household-scale solar battery systems;
  • The installation of NBN cables, speeding up its delivery;
  • The repair or upgrading of existing technology;
  • The installation of solar panels to power telecommunications facilities; and
  • Site inspections, providing the location is not unnecessarily disturbed.
The changes support the NSW Government’s net zero emissions by 2050 target.

To view the proposed changes and have your say by Monday 13 September visit

Ordinary people, extraordinary change: addressing the climate emergency through ‘quiet activism’

Wendy SteeleRMIT UniversityDiana MacCallumCurtin UniversityDonna HoustonMacquarie UniversityJason ByrneUniversity of Tasmania, and Jean HillierRMIT University

Across the world, people worried about the impacts of climate change are seeking creative and meaningful ways to transform their urban environments. One such approach is known as “quiet activism”.

“Quiet activism” refers to the extraordinary measures taken by ordinary people as part of their everyday lives, to address the climate emergency at the local level.

In the absence of national leadership, local communities are forging new responses to the climate crisis in places where they live, work and play.

As we outline in a book released this month, these responses work best when they are collaborative, ongoing and tailored to local circumstances.

Here are three examples that show how it can be done.

Read more: Disaster season is here — do you have a Resilience Action Plan? Here's how the small town of Tarnagulla built theirs

Climate For Change: A Tupperware Party But Make It Climate

Climate for Change is a democratic project in citizen-led climate education and participation.

This group has engaged thousands of Australians about the need for climate action — not through public lectures or rallies, but via kitchen table-style local gatherings with family and friends.

As they put it:

We’ve taken the party-plan model made famous by Tupperware and adapted it to allow meaningful discussions about climate change to happen at scale.

Their website quotes “Jarrod”, who hosted one such party, saying:

I’ve been truly surprised by the lasting impact of my conversation amongst friends who were previously silent on the issue – we are still talking about it nine months on.

Climate for Change has published a “climate conversation guide” to help people tackle tricky talks with friends and family about climate change.

It has also produced a resource on how to engage your local MP on climate change.

EnviroHouse: Hands-On Community Education

EnviroHouse is a not-for-profit organisation based in Western Australia committed to local-scale climate action through hands-on community education and engagement projects, such as:

  • facilitating workshops on energy efficiency

  • visiting schools on request to provide sustainability services

  • collecting seeds to grow thousands of she-oaks, paperbarks and rushes along the eroded Maylands foreshore in Perth

  • teaching workshops on composting, worm farming and bokashi techniques to community members

  • giving talks on sustainable living

  • running a home and workplace energy and water auditing program.

Climarte: Arts For A Safe Climate

Climarte is a group that

collaborates with a wide range of artists, art professionals, and scientists to produce compelling programs for change. Through festivals, events and interventions, we invite those who live, work and play in the arts to join us.

This group aims to create a space which brings together artists and the public to work, think and talk through the implications of climate change.

Why Quiet?

Quiet activism raises questions around what it means to be an activist, or to “do activism”.

While loud, attention-grabbing and disruptive protests are important, local-scale activities are also challenging the “business as usual” model. These quiet approaches highlight how ordinary citizens can take action every day to generate transformative change.

There is a tendency within climate activism to dismiss “quiet” activities as merely a precursor to bigger, more effective (that is, “louder”) political action.

Everyday local-scale activities are sometimes seen as disempowering or conservative; they’re sometimes cast as privileging individual roles and responsibility over collective action.

However, a growing range of voices draws attention to the transformative potential of small, purposeful everyday action.

UK-based researcher Laura Pottinger emphasises that these everyday practices are acts of care and kindness to community — both human and non-human.

Her interest is a “dirt under the fingernails” kind of activism, which gains strength from a quiet commitment to practical action.

A wetlands restoration project is in progress.
Researcher Laura Pottinger argues that a kind of ‘dirt under the fingernails’ activism gains strength from a quiet commitment to practical action. Shutterstock

Climate Action, Here And How

The climate crisis has arrived and urgent action is required.

By creatively participating in local climate action, we can collectively reimagine our experience of, and responses to, the climate emergency.

In doing so, we lay the foundation for new possibilities.

Quiet activism is not a panacea. Like any other form of activism, it can be ineffective or, worse, damaging. Without an ethical framework, it risks enabling only short-lived action, or leading to only small pockets of localised activity.

But when done ethically and sustainably — with long-term impact in mind — quiet activism can make a profound difference to lives and communities.

Read more: From veggie gardening to op-shopping, migrants are the quiet environmentalists The Conversation

Wendy Steele, Associate Professor, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT UniversityDiana MacCallum, Adjunct research academic, Curtin UniversityDonna Houston, Associate Professor, School of Social Sciences, Macquarie UniversityJason Byrne, Professor of Human Geography and Planning, University of Tasmania, and Jean Hillier, Professor Emerita, RMIT University

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

Cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets battle for nest space as the best old trees disappear

Gregory MooreThe University of Melbourne

The housing market in most parts of Australia is notoriously competitive. You might be surprised to learn we humans are not the only ones facing such difficulties.

With spring rapidly approaching, and perhaps a little earlier due to climate change, many birds are currently on the hunt for the best nesting sites.

This can be hard enough for birds that construct nests from leaves and twigs in the canopies of shrubs and trees, but imagine how hard it must be for species that nest in tree hollows.

They are looking for hollows of just the right size, in just the right place. Competition for these prime locations is cut-throat.

Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos Battling For Spots

Sulphur-crested cockatoosCacatua galerita, are relatively large birds, so naturally the hollows they nest in need to be quite large.

Unfortunately, large hollows are only found in old trees.

It can take 150 years or more before the hollows in the eucalypts that many native parrot species nest in are large enough to accommodate nesting sulphur-crested cockatoos. Such old trees are becoming rarer as old trees on farms die and old trees in cities are cleared for urban growth.

In late winter, early spring you quite often find sulphur crested-cockatoos squabbling among themselves over hollows in trees.

A cockatoo sits in a hollow.
It can take 150 years or more before the hollows in the eucalypts that many native parrot species nest in are large enough to accommodate nesting sulphur-crested cockatoos. Shutterstock

These squabbles can be very loud and raucous. They can last from a few minutes to over an hour, if the site is good one. Once a pair of birds takes possession and begins nesting, they defend their spot and things tend to quieten down.

The stakes are high, because sulphur-crested cockatoos cannot breed if they don’t have a nesting hollow.

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

Enter The Rainbow Lorikeets

In parts of southeastern Australia, rainbow lorikeetsTrichoglossus moluccanus (and/or Trichoglossus haematodus), have expanded their range over the past couple of decades. It is not uncommon to see sulphur-crested cockatoos in dispute with them over a hollow.

The din can be deafening and if you watch you will see both comedy and drama unfold. The sulphur-crested cockatoos usually win and drive the lorikeets away, but all is not lost for the lorikeets.

Sometimes the hollows prove unsuitable — usually if they are too small for the cockatoos — and a few days later the lorikeets have taken up residence. Larger hollows are rarer and so more highly prized.

A rainbow lorikeet shelters in the hollow of a tree.
It is not uncommon to see sulphur-crested cockatoos in dispute with rainbow lorikeets over a hollow. Shutterstock

How Hollows Form

Many hollows begin at the stubs of branches that have been shed either as part of the tree’s growth cycle or after storm damage. The wood at the centre of the branch often lacks protective defences and so begins to decay while the healthy tree continues to grow over and around the hollow.

Other hollows develop after damage to the trunk or on a large branch, following lightning damage or insect attack. Parrots will often peck at the hollow to expand it or stop it growing over completely. Just a bit of regular home maintenance.

Sulphur-crested cockatoos can often be seen pecking at the top of large branches on old trees, where the branch meets the trunk. They can do considerable damage. When this area begins to decay, it can provide an ideal hollow for future nesting.

Sadly, for the cockatoo, it may take another century or so and the tree might shed the limb in the interim. Cockatoos apparently play a long game and take a very long term perspective on future nesting sites.

A cockatoo sits in a hollow.
Every effort must be made to ensure old, hollow-forming trees are preserved. Shutterstock

Which Trees Are Best For Hollows?

In watching the local battles for parrot nesting sites, some tree species are the scenes of many a conflict.

Sugar gums, Eucalyptus cladocalyx, were widely planted as wind breaks in southern Australia and they were often lopped to encourage a bushier habit that provided greater shade.

Poor pruning often leads to hollows and cavities, which are now proving ideal for nesting — but it also resulted in poor tree structure. Sugar gums are being removed and nesting sites lost in many country towns and peri-urban areas (usually the areas around the edges of suburbs with some remaining natural vegetation, or the areas around waterways).

A rainbow lorikeet hides in a hollow.
Many species need hollows for nests. Shutterstock

Old river red gums, (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) growing along our creeks and rivers are also great nesting sites. They are so big they provide ideal sites for even the largest of birds.

These, too, are ageing and in many places are declining as riverine ecosystems suffer in general. Even the old elms, Ulmus, and London plane trees, Platanus x acerifolia — which were once lopped back to major branch stubs each year, leading hollows to develop — are disappearing as they age and old blocks are cleared for townhouses.

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

Protecting Tree Hollows

Cavities in trees are not that common. Large cavities are especially valuable assets. They are essential to maintaining biodiversity because it is not just birds, but mammals, reptiles, insects and arachnids that rely on them for nesting and refuge.

If you have a tree with a hollow, look after it. And while some trees with hollows might be hazardous, most are not. Every effort must be made to ensure old, hollow-forming trees are preserved. Just as importantly, we must allow hollow-forming trees to persist for long enough to from hollows.

We consider our homes to be our castles. Other species value their homes just as highly, so let’s make sure there are plenty of tree hollows in future.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.

Coral, meet coral: how selective breeding may help the world’s reefs survive ocean heating

Anna ScottAuthor provided
Emily HowellsSouthern Cross University and David AbregoSouthern Cross University

A single generation of selective breeding can make corals better able to withstand extreme temperatures, according to our new research. The discovery could offer a lifeline to reefs threatened by the warming of the world’s oceans.

Our research, published in Science Advances, shows corals from some of the world’s hottest seas can transfer beneficial genes associated with heat tolerance to their offspring, even when crossbred with corals that have never experienced such temperatures.

Across the world, corals vary widely, both in the temperatures they experience and their ability to withstand high temperatures without becoming stressed or dying. In the Persian Gulf, corals have genetically adapted to extreme water temperatures, tolerating summer conditions above 34℃ for weeks at a time, and withstanding daily averages up to 36℃.

These water temperatures are 2-4℃ higher than any other region where corals grow, and are on a par with end-of-century projections for reefs outside the Persian Gulf.

This led us to ask whether beneficial gene variants could be transferred to coral populations that are naïve to these temperature extremes. To find out, we collected fragments of Platygyra daedalea corals from the Persian Gulf, and cross-bred them with corals of the same species from the Indian Ocean, where summer temperatures are much cooler.

Platygyra coral colony
Platygyra, a brain-shaped coral found in many parts of the world. Emily HowellsAuthor provided

We then heat-stressed the resulting offspring (more than 12,000 individual coral larvae) to see whether they could withstand temperatures of 33°C and 36°C — the summer maximums of their parents’ respective locations.

Immediate Gains

We found an immediate transfer of heat tolerance when Indian Ocean mothers were crossed with Persian Gulf fathers. These corals showed an 84% increase in survival at high temperatures relative to purebred Indian Ocean corals, making them similarly resilient to purebred Persian Gulf corals.

Genome sequencing confirmed that gains in heat tolerance were due to the inheritance of beneficial gene variants from the Persian Gulf corals. Most Persian Gulf fathers produced offspring that were better able to withstand heat stress, and these fathers and their offspring had crucial variants associated with better heat tolerance.

Conversely, most Indian Ocean fathers produced offspring that were less able to survive heat stress, and were less likely to have gene variants associated with heat tolerance.

Read more: Gene editing is revealing how corals respond to warming waters. It could transform how we manage our reefs

Survival Of The Fittest

Encouragingly, gene variants associated with heat tolerance were not exclusive to Persian Gulf corals. Two fathers from the Indian Ocean produced offspring with unexpectedly high survival under heat stress, and had some of the same tolerance-associated gene variants that are prevalent in Persian Gulf corals.

This suggests that some populations have genetic variation upon which natural selection can act as the world’s oceans grow hotter. Selective breeding might be able to accelerate this process.

Read more: Heat-tolerant corals can create nurseries that are resistant to bleaching

We are now assessing the genetic basis for heat tolerance in the same species of coral on the Great Barrier Reef and in Western Australia. We want to find out what gene variants are associated with heat tolerance, how these variants are distributed within and among reefs, and whether they are the same as those that allow corals in the Persian Gulf to survive such extreme temperatures.

This knowledge will help us understand the potential for Australian corals to adapt to rapid warming.

Although our study shows selective breeding can significantly improve the resilience of corals to ocean warming, we don’t yet know whether there are any trade-offs between thermal tolerance and other important traits, and whether there are significant genetic risks involved in such breeding.

Platygyra larvae
Platygyra larvae. It remains to be seen whether the genetic benefits of heat-tolerance genes persist throughout life. Emily HowellsAuthor provided

Our study was done on coral larvae without the algae that live in close harmony with corals after they settle on reefs. So it will also be important to examine whether the genetic improvements to heat tolerance continue into the corals’ later life stages, when they team up with these algae.

Of course, saving corals from the perils of ocean warming will require action on multiple fronts — there is no silver bullet. Selective breeding might provide some respite to particular coral populations, but it won’t be enough to protect entire ecosystems, and nor is it a substitute for the urgent reduction of greenhouse emissions needed to limit the oceans’ warming.The Conversation

Emily Howells, Senior Research Fellow in Marine Biology, Southern Cross University and David Abrego, Lecturer, National Marine Science Centre, Southern Cross University

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

From jet fuel to clothes, microbes can help us recycle carbon dioxide into everyday products

Jamin WoodThe University of QueenslandBernardino VirdisThe University of Queensland, and Shihu HuThe University of Queensland

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released earlier this month sounded a “code red for humanity”. At such a crucial time, we should draw on all possible solutions to combating global warming.

About one-quarter of greenhouse gas emissions are associated with the manufacture of the products we use. While a small number of commercial uses for carbon dioxide exist — for instance in the beverage and chemical industries — the current demand isn’t enough to achieve meaningful carbon dioxide reduction.

As such, we need to find new ways to transform industrial manufacturing from being a carbon dioxide source to a carbon dioxide user.

The good news is that plastics, chemicals, cosmetics and many other products need a carbon source. If we could produce them using carbon dioxide instead of fossil hydrocarbons, we would be able to sequester billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases per year.

How, you may ask? Well, biology already has a solution.

Read more: There aren’t enough trees in the world to offset society’s carbon emissions – and there never will be

Gas Fermentation

You may have heard of microscopic organisms, or microbes — we use them to make beer, spirits and bread. But we can also use them to create biofuels such as ethanol.

They typically need sugar as an input, which competes with human food consumption. However, there are other microbes called “acetogens” which can use carbon dioxide as their input to make several chemicals including ethanol.

Acetogens are thought to be one of the first life-forms on Earth. The ancient Earth’s atmosphere was very different to the atmosphere today — there was no oxygen, yet plentiful carbon dioxide.

Acetogens were able to recycle this carbon using chemical energy sources, such as hydrogen, in a process called gas fermentation. Today, acetogens are found in many anaerobic environments, such as in animals’ guts.

Not being able to use oxygen makes acetogens less efficient at building biomass; they are slow growers. But interestingly, it makes them more efficient producers.

For example, a typical food crop’s energy efficiency (where sunlight is turned into a product) may be around 1%. On the other hand, if solar energy was used to provide renewable hydrogen for use in gas fermentation (via acetogens), this process would have an overall energy efficiency closer to 10-15%.

This means acetogens are potentially up to twice as efficient as most current industrial processes — which makes them a cheaper and more environmentally friendly option. That is, if we can bring the technology to scale.

About one-quarter of greenhouse gas emissions come from the manufacture of everyday products, while one-third come from electricity generation and another one-fifth come from transport.

Sustainable Carbon Recycling

Gas fermentation is scaling up in China, the United States and Europe. Industrial emissions of carbon monoxide and hydrogen are being recycled into ethanol to commercially produce aviation fuel from 2022plastic bottles from 2024 and even polyester clothes.

In the future this could be expanded to produce chemicals needed to make rubber, plastics, paints and cosmetics, too.

But gas fermentation currently isn’t done commercially with carbon dioxide, despite this being a much larger emission source than carbon monoxide. In part this is because it poses an engineering and bioengineering challenge, but also because it’s expensive.

We recently published an economic assessment in Water Research to help chart a pathway towards widespread acetogen-carbon dioxide recycling.

We found economic barriers in producing some products, but not all. For instance, it is viable today to use carbon dioxide-acetogen fermentation to produce chemicals required to make perspex.

But unlike current commercial operations, this would be enabled by renewable hydrogen production. Increasing the availability of green hydrogen will greatly increase what we can do with gas fermentation.

Looking Ahead

Australia has a competitive advantage and could be a leader in this technology. As host to the world’s largest green-hydrogen projects, we have the capacity to produce low-cost renewable hydrogen.

Underused renewable waste streams could also enable carbon recycling with acetogens. For instance, large amounts of biogas is produced at wastewater treatment plants and landfills. Currently it’s either burned as waste, or to generate heat and power.

Past research shows us biogas can be converted (or “reformed”) into renewable hydrogen and carbon in a carbon-neutral process.

And we found this carbon and hydrogen could then be used in gas fermentation to make carbon-neutral products. This would provide as much as 12 times more value than just burning biogas to generate heat and power.

The IPCC report shows carbon dioxide removal is required to limit global warming to less than 2℃.

Carbon capture and storage is on most governments’ agendas. But if we change our mindset from viewing carbon as a waste product, then we can change our economic incentive from carbon disposal to carbon reuse.

Carbon dioxide stored underground has no value. If we harness its full potential by using it to manufacture products, this could support myriad industries as they move to sustainable production.

Read more: Our ability to manufacture minerals could transform the gem market, medical industries and even help suck carbon from the air The Conversation

Jamin Wood, PhD Candidate at the Australian Centre for Water and Environmental Biotechnology (formerly Advanced Water Management Centre), The University of QueenslandBernardino Virdis, Senior Researcher at the Australian Centre for Water and Environmental Biotechnology (formerly Advanced Water Management Centre), The University of Queensland, and Shihu Hu, Senior Research fellow at the Australian Centre for Water and Environmental Biotechnology (formerly Advanced Water Management Centre), The University of Queensland

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

Today’s decisions lock in industry emissions for decades — here’s how to get them right

Alison ReeveGrattan Institute

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made clear there’s little time left to reach net zero emissions and hold the global temperature rise to 1.5C.

If Australia is to do its bit, emissions need to fall across the economy.

The states and territories all have net-zero targets for 2050, and the prime minister says the national target is also net zero emissions, preferably by 2050.

2050 feels a long way off. It’s ten election cycles for prime ministers, seven for state premiers. Does that mean there’s plenty of time to come up with mechanisms to get us there?

Unfortunately, no. Here’s why.

For Net Zero, 2050 Is Sooner Than You Think

Around 30% of Australia’s emissions come from the industrial sector — from facilities such as coal mines, liquefied natural gas platforms, steel smelters, and zinc processing plants.

These facilities have long operating lives — up to 30 to 40 years, sometimes more.

This means facilities that start up tomorrow will probably still be operating in 2050. Older facilities have only one replacement cycle between now and 2050.

Companies don’t have ten chances to get on the pathway right. They have one.

Read more: IPCC says Earth will reach temperature rise of about 1.5℃ in around a decade. But limiting any global warming is what matters most

Planning to replace an ageing asset starts well before it is due to end its life, and companies can only consider realistic options.

They can’t assess costs and risks on technologies that are still in the lab.

If low-emissions technologies aren’t available or commercially feasible when decisions are made, what firms do install will lock in decades of future emissions.

Decisions Made Today Will Extend Beyond 2050

Consider a coal-powered cement plant that will reach the end of its design life in 2030. The owner is considering three options

  • like-for-like replacement that still uses coal but is slightly more efficient, with costs and risks well understood

  • a new plant that uses gas as well as coal, whose costs and risks can be forecast with some certainty

  • an experimental ultra-low-emissions technology, expected to be commercially ready in 2040, with hard to quantify costs and risks, and bigger upfront cost

Taking the third option (waiting) might mean squeezing another 10 years out of an ageing plant, with a risk it might not make the distance.

This chart shows emissions between now and the end of the new plant’s life for each option.

Towards Net Zero: practical policies for the industrial sector
Grattan analysis of public data for various Australian cement facilities. Towards Net Zero: practical policies for the industrial sector

Like-for-like replacement locks in considerable emissions between 2030 and 2050, and the risk of having to buy carbon offsets between 2050 (when Australia moves to net zero) and the end of the plant’s life in 2070.

A changed fuel mix reduces the lock-in and the likely burden of offsets, but they are still material.

Waiting until 2040 (and running the risk that the old plant might not have an extra 10 years life in it) will mean less emissions after 2040 and less liability for carbon offsets, but much more emissions before then.

Read more: Top economists call for measures to speed the switch to electric cars

From an emissions perspective, the best decision may be a halfway house — running the old plant for an extra five years, and installing the new technology before it is fully commercial, if someone else is willing to share the risk.

Without a signal from either a state or federal government the cement plant owner is likely to go with option one or two.

Government Can Help

Our report, Towards Net Zero: practical policies for the industrial sector, outlines three things the federal government can do now to tilt companies’ decisions in favour of something like option three.

First, it can signal that it expects all new facilities to avoid locking in long tails of emissions.

The best way to do this would be to fulfil its 2015 commitment to set best-practice benchmarks for new facilities. They were meant to be in place by 2020.

Second, it should set up an Industrial Transformation Future Fund in order to share the risk of new technologies with industry.

Read more: Australia's economy can withstand the proposed EU carbon tariff

Third, it should adjust its safeguard mechanism under which big emitters have to report and adhere to emissions intensity standards to require them to start cutting emissions immediately.

This would level the field between new and old facilities. It would mean some older facilities closed earlier than planned, but it would mean they would be replaced by cleaner facilities.

It is important these policies start now. Every decision we make from now on will affect our chance of reaching net zero and escaping catastrophic climate change.The Conversation

Alison Reeve, Deputy Program Director, Energy and Climate Change, Grattan Institute

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

Pacific Island bats are utterly fascinating, yet under threat and overlooked. Meet 4 species

Artwork by Arison Kul from Lae Papua New Guinea.
John MartinUniversity of SydneyDavid L. WaldienChristopher Newport UniversityJunior NoveraThe University of QueenslandJustin A. WelbergenWestern Sydney UniversityMalik OEDINUniversité de Nouvelle CalédonieNicola HanrahanCharles Darwin UniversityTigga KingstonTexas Tech University, and Tyrone LaveryAustralian National University

Am I not pretty enough? This article is part of The Conversation’s new series introducing you to unloved animals that need our help.

A whopping 191 different bat species live in the Pacific Islands across Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia — but these are, collectively, the most imperilled in the world. In fact, five of the nine bat species that have gone extinct in the last 160 years have come from this region.

For too long, the conservation of Pacific Island bats has been largely overlooked in science. Of the 191 existing species, 25% are threatened with extinction, and we lack information to assess the status of a further 15%.

Just as these bats are rare and far-flung across the Pacific islands, so is the expertise and research needed to conserve them along with the vital ecosystem services they provide, such as pollination, seed dispersal, and insect control.

The first-ever Pacific Islands Bat Forum, held earlier this month, sought to change this, bringing together a new network of researchers, conservationists, and community members — 380 people from 40 countries and territories — dedicated to their survival.

So, Why Should We Care About These Bats Anyway?

Conserving Pacific Island bats is paramount for preserving the region’s diverse human cultures and for safeguarding the healthy functioning of island ecosystems.

In many Pacific Island nations, bats have great cultural significance as totems, food, and traditional currency.

Bats are the largest land animals on many of the Pacific islands, and are vital “keystone species”, maintaining the structure of ecological communities.

Yet, Pacific Island bats are increasingly under threat, including from intensifying land use (farming, housing, roads) invasive species (ratscats, snakes, ants), and human harvesting. They’re also vulnerable to climate change, which heightens sea levels and increases the intensity of cyclones and heatwaves.

So let’s meet four fascinating — but threatened — Pacific Island bats that deserve more attention.

1. Pacific Sheath-Tailed Bat

Conservation status: endangered

Distribution: American Samoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Samoa, Tonga

Pacific Sheath tailed Bat (Emballonura semicaudata) Ron Leidich

The Pacific sheath-tailed bat (Emballonura semicaudata) weighs just five-grams and has a weak, fluttering flight. Yet somehow, it has colonised some of the smaller and more isolated islands across the Pacific, from Samoa to Palau. That’s across 6,000 kilometres of ocean!

Over the past decade, this insect-eating, cave-roosting bat has disappeared from around 50% of islands where it has been recorded. The reasons for this are unclear. Disturbance of cave roosts, introduced species such as lantana and goats, and increasing use of pesticides, may all have played a part.

Unfortunately, the Pacific sheath-tailed bat is now presumed extinct in many former parts of its range, including American Samoa, Tonga, and several islands of the Northern Mariana Islands. This leaves Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Fiji as remaining strongholds for the species, though data is limited.

2. Montane Monkey-Faced Bat

Conservation status: critically endangered

Distribution: Solomon Islands

New Georgian monkey-faced bat Pteralopex taki — no picture exists of the Montane monkey-faced bat. Tyrone Lavery

There are six species of monkey-faced bat — all are threatened, and all are limited to islands across the Solomon Islands, Bougainville, and Fiji.

The montane monkey-faced bat (Pteralopex pulchra) is one species, and weighs around 280 grams, eats fruit and nectar, and has incredibly robust teeth. But perhaps most startling is its ruby-red eyes and wing membranes that are marbled with white and black.

The montane monkey-faced bat has been recorded only once by scientists on a single mountain (Mt Makarakomburu) above the altitude of 1,250 metres, on Guadalcanal Island. This tiny range makes it vulnerable to rare, extreme events such as cyclones, which could wipe out a whole population in one swoop. And being limited to mountain-top cloud forests could place it at greater risk from climate change.

It’s an extreme example of both the endemism (species living in a small, defined area) and inadequacies of scientific knowledge that challenge Pacific island bat conservation.

3. Ornate Flying-Fox

Conservation status: vulnerable

Distribution: New Caledonia

Ornate flying-fox (Pteropus ornatus)‘ Malik Oedin, IAC

Like many fruit bats across the Pacific, New Caledonia’s endemic ornate flying-fox (Pteropus ornatus) is an emblematic species. Flying-foxes are hunted for bush meat, used as part of cultural practices by the Kanaks (Melanesian first settlers), are totems for some clans, and feature as a side dish during the “New Yam celebration” each year. Their bones and hair are also used to make traditional money.

Because they’re so highly prized, flying-foxes can be subject to illegal trafficking. Despite the Northern and Southern Provinces of New Caledonia having regulated hunting, flying-fox populations continue to decline. Recent studies predict 80% of the population will be gone in the next 30 years if hunting continues at current levels.

On a positive note, earlier this year the Northern Province launched a conservation management program to protect flying-fox populations while incorporating cultural values and practices.

4. Fijian Free-Tailed Bat

Conservation status: endangered

Distribution: Fiji, Vanuatu

Fijian free tailed bat (Chaerophon bregullae) Dave Waldien

In many ways, the Fijian free-tailed bat (Chaerephon bregullae) has become the face of proactive bat conservation in the Pacific Islands. This insect-eating bat requires caves to roost during the day and is threatened when these caves are disturbed by humans as it interrupts their daytime roosting. The loss of foraging habitat is another major threat.

The only known colony of reproducing females lives in Nakanacagi Cave in Fiji, with around 7,000 bats. In 2014, an international consortium with Fijian conservationists and community members came together to protect Nakanacagi Cave. As a result, it became recognised as a protected area in 2018.

But this species shares many characteristics with three of the nine bat species that have gone extinct globally. This includes being a habitat specialist, its unknown cause of decline, and its potential exposure to chemicals through insect foraging. It’s important we continue to pay close attention to its well-being.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The perspectives of local knowledge from individual islands aren’t always captured in global scientific assessments of wildlife.

In many Pacific Islands, bats aren’t protected by national laws. Instead, in many countries, most land is under customary ownership, which means it’s owned by Indigenous peoples. This includes land in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. Consequently, community landowners have the power to enact their own conservation actions.

The emerging Pacific Bat Network, inspired by the recent forum, aims to foster collaborative relationships between scientific conservationists and local leaders for species protection, while respecting cultural practices.

As the Baru Conservation Alliance — a locally-led, not-for-profit group from Malaita, Solomon Islands — put it in their talk at the forum:

conservation is not a new thing for Kwaio.

Now the forum has ended, the diverse network of people passionate about bat conservation is primed to work together to strengthen the conservation of these unique and treasured bats of the Pacific.The Conversation

John Martin, Research Scientist, Taronga Conservation Society Australia & Adjunct lecturer, University of SydneyDavid L. Waldien, Adjunct assistant professor, Christopher Newport UniversityJunior Novera, PhD Candidate, School of Biological Sciences, The University of QueenslandJustin A. Welbergen, President of the Australasian Bat Society | Associate Professor of Animal Ecology, Western Sydney UniversityMalik OEDIN, PhD Population Biology and Ecology, Université de Nouvelle CalédonieNicola Hanrahan, Terrestrial Ecologist, Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security, Northern Territory Government & Visiting Fellow, Charles Darwin UniversityTigga Kingston, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Texas Tech University, and Tyrone Lavery, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Australian National University

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

Bushcare In Pittwater 

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

Where we work                      Which day                              What time 

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

Winnererremy Bay                 4th Sunday                        9 to 12noon 

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

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

Old Wharf Reserve                 3rd Saturday                      8 - 11am 

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

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

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

North Narrabeen     
Irrawong Reserve                     2nd Saturday                   2 - 5pm 

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

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

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

Whale Beach     
Norma Park                               1st Friday                            9 - 12noon 

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

Gardens And Environment Groups And Organisations In Pittwater

Avalon Golf Course Bushcare Needs You

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

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

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

Pittwater Reserves

Annie Wyatt Reserve - A  Pictorial

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

New Shorebirds WingThing  For Youngsters Available To Download

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

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

Shorebird Identification Booklet

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

The booklet can be downloaded here in PDF file format:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To find out more visit:

Aussie Bread Tags Collection Points

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

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

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

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

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

Local Collectors
Lesley Flood
Please email for address -
Jodie Streckeisen
Please email for the address -

Spring In Pittwater

Dendrobium speciosum, The Rock Lily; out this week in Warriewood - photos by Joe Mills. 

Did you know that the Mona Vale area was once called 'Rock Lily due to the profusion of these flowers here leading to Leon Houreaux naming his establishment 'The Rock Lily'? Even into the 1920's those born at home in Mona Vale had on their Birth Certificate 'Born at Rock Lily'. More in this week's History page.

The first Flying Duck Orchid of Spring 2021 - photo by Selena Griffith

Caleana major was first formally described in 1810 by Robert Brown from a specimen he collected at Port Jackson, Bennelong Point in September 1803. The description was published in Prodromus Florae Novae Hollandiae et Insulae Van Diemen. The genus name (Caleana) honours George Caley, an early botanical collector and the specific epithet (major) is a Latin word meaning "large" or "great". Mr. Caley is also honoured in the also local critically endangered Grevillea Caleyi of Ingleside.

The flying duck orchid occurs in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, growing in eucalyptus woodland, coastal or swampy shrubland and heathland. Mostly near the coast, but occasionally at higher altitudes.

HSC In November And All Students To Return To School In Term 4

August 27, 2021

There will be a staggered return to face-to-face learning from October, HSC exams will be delayed until November and vaccinations for school staff will be mandatory based on the return to school plan released by the NSW Government today.

The Department of Education has developed a plan to bring students back in a COVID-safe way while stay at home orders are still in place – ensuring continuity of education, and protecting student, teacher and community safety.

A staggered return of students to face-to-face learning will begin on Monday 25 October.

Students will return to face-to-face learning with NSW Health approved COVID safe settings on school sites in the following order:

  • From 25 October – Kindergarten and Year 1
  • From 1 November – Year 2, 6 and 11
  • From 8 November – Year 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10

Year 12 students are already able to return in a limited way and this will continue for the remainder of Term 3. From 25 October, Year 12 will have full time access to school campuses and their teachers.

If stay at home orders are lifted in an LGA or region before 25 October, all students living or learning in that area will return to face to face learning under the Department’s COVID-safe schools framework.

If cases in certain LGAs increase significantly, learning from home will resume for that LGA until case numbers drop.

HSC exams will be delayed until November 9th with a revised timetable and guidelines for a COVID-safe HSC to be released by NESA in early September. Importantly, the delay of the HSC exams will not disadvantage NSW students when applying to university.

Vaccinations for all school staff across all sectors will be mandatory from November 8th. NSW Health will be providing priority vaccinations at Qudos Bank Arena for school staff the week beginning September 6th.

Early childcare staff will also be able to participate in the priority vaccinations from 6 September. All school and early childcare staff are also encouraged to make use of the GP network to be vaccinated with whatever vaccine is available as soon as possible.

A recent survey of the public school workforce indicated the majority of staff already had at least one dose of a vaccine.

All students eligible for a vaccine will be strongly encouraged by the government to book an appointment.

Students aged 12-15 will also be a priority if they become eligible for a vaccine.

All parents who have not been vaccinated are strongly encouraged to get the vaccine as soon as possible.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the NSW Government is prioritising the safety and education of students through a sensible and managed return to school.

“The return to school plan provides parents, teachers and students with certainty and a path forward for the return to face-to-face learning,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“We know the last few months have been tough on the school community and we are deeply grateful to parents, teachers and students for the sacrifices you have made. Please continue to protect our students by getting vaccinated as quickly as possible.”

Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning Sarah Mitchell said the education and safety of our students is essential.

“The classroom is where students learn best and I thank the entire community for playing their role in this return by getting vaccinated,” Ms Mitchell said.

After Dark Photo Competition: Northern Beaches

Here's a great new photo competition just for locals.

The Northern Beaches are one of the best places in Sydney to view the night sky and appreciate this wonderful asset.
Enter your image of the Northern Beaches taken between sunset and sunrise, go in the running for prizes, and share the beauty of the Northern Beaches LGA in a way not done before.

Proceeds from the event, go towards supporting the charity the Australian Dark Sky Alliance to support the ongoing conservation of the night time environment.
Entries close 19th September, 2021 - NB extended date


There will be three categories of entry for the General section;
  1. Land – manmade and/or natural formations, wildlife, flora or fauna
  2. Sea – waterways, beaches, or marine areas, sea life
  3. Sky – aspects of the night sky, moon, starscapes, clouds or wildlife
  4. Junior – under 16 years featuring any one of these categories.
All entries must be taken within the Northern Beaches LGA.
Images may be taken within the past 2 years, but must be taken between sunset and sunrise.

There is a limit of six (6) entries per category per photographer.

Still images must be submitted as JPG files with the longest side having a dimension no greater than 4,950 pixels in Adobe 1998 colour space, and no larger than 5Mb file size.

Entry Fees
  • Entry fees are $10 for the first category entered and $10 for each subsequent category entered.
  • Up to six entries per category are permitted.
  • Fees should be paid by the PayPal gateway on the entry website. Credit and debit cards can be used on this gateway.
  • If entry payments are not received by the deadline, then the submitted entries will not be accepted for judging.

Conditions of Entry
Still images must be submitted as JPG files with the longest side having a dimension no greater than 4,950 pixels in Adobe 1998 colour space, and no larger than 5Mb file size.

  1. Entries will be accepted only from Australian residents of the Commonwealth of Australia and its Territories.
  2. There will be two sections of entry – General and Junior (18 or younger)
  3. There will be three categories of entry for the General Section; Portraying the night time environment featuring Land, Sea or Sky.
  4. The Junior Section is for photographers 18 years old or younger and will have one open category.
  5. All entries must be taken within the Northern Beaches LGA and must be taken between sunset and sunrise.
  6. Images can be taken at any time of the year on or after 1 September 2019.
  7. The top 5 images of each category will be judged by the organising committee and will be hung at the Studio, Careel Bay Marina for general public display.
  8. Photographers represented in the top 5 images of each category will be notified that they are in the top 20 images (15 September 17:00 AEST).
  9. There is a limit of six (6) entries per category per photographer.
  10. In the case of images with multiple authors, the instigator of the image will be considered to be the principal author and the one who “owns” the image. The principal author MUST have performed the majority of the work to produce the image. All authors MUST be identified and named in the entry form along with their contributions to the production of the image.
  11. Entries must be in digital form and will be accepted ONLY through submission via the dedicated website at:
  12. To preserve anonymity, the submitted image files should not contain identifying metadata.
  13. For judging purposes, still images must be submitted as JPG files with the longest side having a dimension no greater than 4,950 pixels in Adobe 1998 colour space.
  14. All photographs must have been taken no more than 2 years before the closing date of entry.
  15. Entry fees are $20 for the first entry and $10 each subsequent entry. Fees should be paid by the PayPal gateway on the entry website. Credit and debit cards can be used on this gateway.
  16. If entry payments are not received by the deadline, then the submitted entries will not be accepted for judging.
  17. Photographers of the top 20 images (5 in each category) will be notified 15 September and images printed, framed and hung by the organising. Artists may choose to pay $55 for this service to be undertaken on their part or undertake printing and framing at their own cost. Images must be ready for hanging 17:00 (AEST) 29 September 2021.
  18. Images will be listed on sale during the exhibition at the artist’s discretion. $100 of the sale will be donated to the charity the Australasian Dark Sky Alliance.
  19. Winners for the Land Scape, Sea Scape, Sky Scape and Youth entry will be announced Thursday 30th September 2021.
  20. People’s choice will confirmed by popular vote throughout the exhibition and will be announced on Saturday 30 October, 2021.
  21. Submissions close at 24:00 (AEST) on Wednesday, 1 September 2021. No entries will be accepted past this date.
  22. All winners should make an effort to attend the presentation of the awards on 30 September 2021
  23. The winning entries will be exhibited for the entire Exhibition After Dark, at the Studio, Careel Bay Marina between 30 September and 2 November, 2021.
  24. Permission to reproduce entries for publication to promote the competition and exhibitions and dark sky-related events and activities on the northern beaches will be assumed as a condition of entry. The copyright of the image remains with the author, and we will try to ensure that the author is credited where the image is used.
  25. All entries must be true images, faithfully reflecting and maintaining the integrity of the subject. Entries made up of composite images taken at different times and/or at different locations and/or with different cameras will not be accepted. Image manipulations that produce works that are more “digital art” than true astronomical images, will be deemed ineligible. If there is any doubt about the acceptability of an entry, then the competition organisers should be contacted, before the entry is submitted, for adjudication on the matter at the following email address:
  26. If after the judging process, an image is subsequently determined to have violated the letter and/or the spirit of the rules, then that image will be disqualified. Any prizes consequently awarded for that image must be returned to the competition organisers.
  27. The competition judges reserve the right to reject any entry that, in the opinion of the judges, does not meet the conditions of entry or is unsuitable for public display. The judges’ decisions will be final.
  28. Submission of an entry implies acceptance of all the conditions of entry and the decisions of the competition judges.

Key Dates
  • Entries Open: 24:00 (AEST) Sunday, 11 July 2021
  • Entries Close: 24:00 (AEST) Wednesday, 1 September 2021
  • Top 20 announced: 17:00 Wednesday, 15 September 2021
  • Photography bump in: Midday Wednesday 29 September 2021
  • Exhibition Launch and Presentation of Awards: Thursday 30 September 2021
  • Bump out – 2 November 2021

The Overall Winner: To be judged by David Malin, Fred Watson
  • Category Winner: An image deemed to be the best in that category as judged by the judging panel.
  • “The People’s Choice”: This will be judged by gathering votes obtained in the exhibition venue, and online.
  • Category Winner: $200 – to each of the image deemed to be the best in each of the four (4) category.
  • “The People’s Choice”: $200 – will be judged by gathering votes obtained in the exhibition venue, and online.
There will be three categories of entry for the General section;

Land – capturing manmade and/or natural formations, wildlife, flora or fauna associated with the night
Sea – capturing waterways, beaches, or marine areas, sea life associated with the night.
Sky – capturing aspects of the night sky, moon, stars capes, clouds or wildlife associated with the night sky.
There is a limit of six (6) entries per category per photographer.

All entries must be taken within the Northern Beaches LGA.

The Junior Section is for photographers 18 years old or younger and feature any one of the categories.

More Information and enter at:

NSW Students Perform In NAPLAN Despite Challenges

August 25, 2021
Students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in NSW have achieved some of the top NAPLAN results in the country, despite disruptions caused by COVID-19 over the past 18 months.

Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning Sarah Mitchell congratulated students for their results, after the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), responsible for NAPLAN, released preliminary national data for 2021.

“Once again, NSW students are achieving above the national average in all five domains, at all year levels,” Ms Mitchell said.

Key takeaways from 2021 NAPLAN results for NSW are:
  • NSW mean scores were above the national average in each test domain in all years.
  • NSW ranks in the top three jurisdictions by mean scores in all domains for all year levels, except in Year 9 reading.
  • NSW has the highest mean score in spelling and writing for Years 3 to 7.
  • NSW has the second-highest mean scores in numeracy for Years 3 to 9, grammar and punctuation for Years 3 to 7 and spelling in Year 9.
“Since the pandemic began last year, students have shown incredible resilience in continuing to focus on their education and adapting to new ways of learning,” Ms Mitchell said

“Students are faced with the challenges of learning from home again this year and we are prepared to help students recover any ground lost during this period.”

Last year, the NSW Department of Education introduced online reading and numeracy check-in assessments to help teachers understand what support students needed to get back on track after time spent learning from home.

“The feedback from schools has been extremely positive and the check-ins have continued this year,” Ms Mitchell said.

Work is under way on several recommendations from the NSW Government-led review into NAPLAN.

This includes investigating the feasibility of conducting the test earlier in the year and providing the results to schools within two weeks.

New Youth Advisory Council Appointed

August 23, 2021
Twelve of the state’s brightest young leaders have been appointed to the 2021-22 Youth Advisory Council, reaffirming the NSW Government’s commitment to embed the voices of children and young people in its work.

Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services Alister Henskens said the Youth Advisory Council provides young people with the opportunity to influence decisions that will create positive outcomes for their peers.

“There are many young people from all walks of life seeking to energise, lead and advocate for their generation and the best way to represent and serve our youth is to let their voice be heard,” Mr Henskens said.  

“Members of the Youth Advisory Council will advise the NSW Government on issues that affect young people and share their vision for the future.”  

Minister for Mental Health, Regional Youth and Women Bronnie Taylor said the Council will be a direct line to government on behalf of their peers and their communities.

“It is fantastic to see so many young people stepping forward so we can work together to implement their ideas and address their issues,” Mrs Taylor said.

Following an extensive recruitment process that saw 585 young people aged 12 to 24 apply, the new Youth Advisory Council held its first meeting online over the weekend.

Members of the 2021-22 Youth Advisory Council include:

Mae Carroll - Grafton
Alyssa Horan - Mosman
Meika Lindsay - Royalla
Shahim Shabbir - Mount Druitt
Jayden Delbridge - Wadalba
Leila Mangos - Point Frederick
Lua Pellegrini - Toongabbie
Joe Vu - Canley Heights
David Ho - Wakeley
Katy Quinn - Lake Cargelligo
Oscar Ryan – Port Kembla
Stassi Austin – Cootamundra
Throughout their one-year term, the Youth Advisory Council will be supported by the Advocate for Children and Young People Ms Zoë Robinson.

“Every year the members of the NSW Youth Advisory Council provide practical and valuable advice to government. I look forward to working with the 2021-22 Council and supporting them in their good work,” Ms Robinson said.

NESA Media Statement: HSC Major Projects

August 17, 2021
The NESA COVID-19 Response Committee has extended the COVID Special Consideration Program to most HSC major projects being completed by HSC students across the state.

This means teachers will provide a mark or estimate for their students’ major projects in:
  • Drama
  • Textiles and Design
  • Design and Technology
  • Industrial Technology
  • Visual Arts
Students will need to submit their projects by the published due dates and teachers will have until 22 October to submit marks to NESA.

When providing a mark or estimate, teachers will take into consideration any impact of COVID-19 restrictions on students’ work.

Teacher provided marks will be moderated by NESA to ensure equity across the state.

The decision was made to limit the movement of NESA markers within and beyond Greater Sydney and is in line with Health advice for protecting the health and safety of everyone involved in the HSC exams.

The following major projects (that are submitted online) will continue to be marked online by NESA markers (unless an application for special consideration is made):
  • English Extension 2
  • Music 1 (compositions)
  • Music 2 and Extension (compositions and musicology)
  • Society and Culture Personal Interest Project
The Special Consideration Program is already in place for students completing language oral and performance exams across the state.

Written exams will go ahead from October 19 and NESA is working closely with NSW Health to ensure strict COVID-safe protocols are in place.  

For up-to-date advice about the 2021 HSC, visit NESA’s COVID-19 advice.

HSC Online Help Guide

REMINDER: there's a great Practical Guide for Getting through your HSC by Sydney Uni at:

Stay Healthy - Stay Active: HSC 2021

Stay active, keep connected and look after yourself during the HSC this year! 
Find helpful study tips, self-care resources and guides for students and parents at

Surfing NSW Position Statement; Events

Friday August 27th, 2021
To members of the NSW surfing community,

See this as an update for our Surfing NSW position which relates to COVID-19 as of today. 

As you are all aware, the COVID-19 information – not only from a state and national perspective but also on a global scale – is evolving constantly. The health and safety of our members, the wider surfing community, the Surfing NSW team and your environment are paramount; therefore we will endeavour to keep abreast of updated information and act accordingly in compliance with State and Federal Government advice as it happens.

The COVID-19 restrictions that were set on Saturday 14th August have been extended for Greater Sydney until the end of September, while stay-at-home orders for regional and rural NSW will be eased on 13th September.

Below is the latest update from the NSW Government available to Surfing NSW. Failure to comply with these current restrictions carries significant financial penalties and we would urge all surf school operators and boardrider clubs to make sure that they are compliant during this period.

Please see link to the latest COVID-19 update: Sunday, 22nd August 2021

All Surfing NSW staff are working remotely. Surfing NSW’s working days are Monday – Friday and the office phone (02) 9093 6035 will be attended from 9 am – 5 pm on these days.

For the entire lockdown period, between now and the end of September, no one will be able to physically visit the office aligned to the Public Health Order.  Please call the Surfing NSW office on (02) 9093 6035 for all information.

September Events 
  • Woolworths Surfer Grom Comp – Kiama (postponed)- Moved to 13th -14th Nov, 2021 
  • Woolworths Surfer Grom Comp – Coffs Harbour (postponed)- Moved to 6th – 7th Nov, 2021 
  • Woolworths Surfer Grom Comp – Cronulla (postponed) – Moved to 4th – 5th Dec, 2021
  • Woolworths Surfer Groms - Northern Beaches - date to be confirmed
  • Australian Boardriders Battle – NSW Northern Region Qualifier – Coffs Harbour (postponed) – Moved to 18th Dec, 2021
Cancelled Events
  • Rip Curl GromSearch NSW Qualifier Newcastle (cancelled)
Due to the high number of competitors needing to travel from many regional areas across the state, during uncertain and unpredictable travel restrictions, the collective decision has been made to cancel the 2021 NSW event. 

Surfing NSW and Rip Curl are discussing options for NSW surfers to qualify for the Rip Curl GromSearch National Final (pending covid regulations allowing a National Final to be held).

The highest priority is the health and safety of all competitors and their families, staff, and event partners, as well as the local community with all event decisions being made. 

We will be offering full refunds for those who are affected by the current COVID-19 situation or cannot attend the rescheduled date, however, it is important to note that you will lose your spot once a refund has been processed. If you decide to enter the event again at a later date, you will be at the end of the waitlist. 

Surfing NSW is monitoring the evolving COVID-19 situation and will provide all competitors with changes as they come to hand. 

Next update is on Friday, September 10, 2021, regarding NSW events scheduled in October.

Surf Schools

Surf Schools may wish to obtain independent legal advice and check in with their local council on your local rules and regulations on whether  Surf Lessons can proceed in line with meeting the requirements under the Public Health Order.

While coaching and/or private tuition sporting activity may be considered work, it is NSW Health’s strong recommendation that people remain at home and if they have to go out, it’s only for essential reasons.

Outdoor public gatherings (including exercise and outdoor recreation) are limited to two people (excluding members of the same household). Exercise and outdoor recreation within their local government area or, if they need to cross into another local government area, stay within 5km of their home and do not enter a local government area of concern.

Regarding surfboard hire and retail activity –  service providers must use a click and collect system. Requirements for Greater Sydney – outside of the local government areas of concern – can be found here and for the remainder of regional and rural NSW here.

Boardrider Clubs

No surfing competitions or club rounds can be held as the NSW Government has stated residents of Greater Sydney, regional and rural NSW must stay at home unless it is for essential reasons.

There can be no community sport (whether training or a match).

Surfing NSW does not administer the Public Health Act or have enforcement powers under the Public Health Order and, consequently, we are not able to comment as to its interpretation or application.

Everyone’s circumstances are different and people will need to make their own decisions to determine if the activity fits within restrictions. People should take a common-sense approach when considering whether their reason is reasonable and be prepared to explain their reason to NSW Police if asked.

We will keep you informed the best we can as the uncertainties of the COVID-19 restrictions in New South Wales constantly change.


Her Wave: Her Wellness Experiences (Surf and Group Mindset Coaching)All Her Wellness events have been cancelled and postponed until further notice.

Surfers Rescue 24/7 – Based on the current Public Health Order, no Surfers Rescue 24/7 courses will take place until further notice

Emily Gallops Into TAFE NSW And Makes A Flying Start To Equine Career

August 23, 2021
A rising star of the local show jumping scene has leapt into a TAFE NSW course while still at high school in a bid to turn her passion into a career.

Emily Quodling, a year 11 student at Snowy Mountains Grammar, spends a period each school day undertaking a Statement of Attainment towards a Certificate III in Performance Horse through TAFE NSW Goulburn.

The talented 16-year-old has been a competitive show jumper from a young age, representing NSW in the Australian Interschools Championships and winning a swag of blue ribbons in local events.

But it was her desire to forge a career with competitive horses that led her to enrol in the TAFE NSW TVET course, which blends both theory and practical units and enables high school students to get credit towards a Certificate III in Performance Horse. 

Australia's equine industry employs about 26,000 people and contributes approximately $5 billion annually to the economy.

“I wanted a subject I was passionate about and could engage with at school, and this TAFE NSW course was the perfect fit,” Emily said.

“I really want to work with horses every day for the rest of my life and maybe go overseas and work as a strapper for a show jumping stable.

“This course is giving me the practical skills to do just that.”

Units in the course include horse behaviour, basic handling, horse welfare and prepping horses for competition or sale.

Ms Quodling described the personalised tuition from her TAFE NSW teacher as “amazing”.

TAFE NSW equine teacher Linda Molloy said there were multiple career opportunities available for well-trained TAFE NSW performance horse graduates,

“The industry is growing and there are certainly plenty of jobs out there for our graduates,” Ms Molloy said.

“The Certificate III in Performance Horse gives graduates the ability to move laterally in the industry and explore lots of different job opportunities.”

The Certificate III in Performance Horse is offered at both TAFE NSW Goulburn and Moss Vale, with semester two enrolments now open.

To find out more, visit or call 13 16 01.

Local teen Emily Quodling is hoping to turn her passion for equestrian into a career, with the help of TAFE NSW.

TAFE Fee-Free Online Courses Available For 16-24 Year Olds

The JobTrainer program provides young people and job seekers with low cost and fee-free* training courses to help you develop new skills, improve job prospects and kickstart your career. JobTrainer’s fee-free training programs are available in various industries and include full qualifications and skillsets.

TAFE NSW fee-free* JobTrainer short courses (Statement of Attainment – SOA), certificates and diplomas are currently open for enrolment, so you can enrol now and upskill faster. Exciting new training courses are being added all the time, so check back regularly.

*Eligibility criteria apply.

To be eligible for a fully subsidised place you must meet Smart and Skilled eligibility guidelines which are:
  • live or work in NSW
  • be an Australian Citizen, a permanent resident, a New Zealand citizen, or a humanitarian visa holder
  • have left school
AND meet one of the following criteria:
  • aged from 16 - 24 inclusive, or
  • in receipt of a Commonwealth Government benefit, or
  • an unemployed person, or
  • people expected to become unemployed
Have a look at the lists at:

The Magpie Whisperer Of Magpie Manor

Ships Of Science

Australian Antarctic Division: August 24, 2021

New Antarctic icebreaker RSV Nuyina embodies more than a century of Australian maritime history in the Southern Ocean.

Australian Antarctic Division General Manager responsible for the icebreaker project, Rob Bryson, said every ship that is designed for a national Antarctic program is based on what's come before.

“This ship is a significant milestone in Australia’s interaction and endeavours in Antarctic history, because it represents all of the knowledge and technology that’s been used over those hundred years,” he said.

Since Douglas Mawson sailed on SY Aurora, ships have been critical to Australia’s scientific research in the Antarctic region.

The wooden steam yacht enabled construction of the first Australian base in Antarctica, at Cape Denison in 1912, and scientific discoveries that continue to inform contemporary science.

SY Aurora in Antarctica - SLNSW photo

The J. Lauritzen Line MV Dan ships from Denmark were synonymous with the early years of ANARE (Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions), after its formation in 1947.

In 1954, Kista Dan helped establish Australia’s first modern Antarctic research station at Mawson, followed by our second Antarctic station at Davis in 1957, and research stations on Heard and Macquarie islands.

From 1957-1962, Kista’s sister ships, Thala Dan and Magga Dan, supported Australia’s Antarctic program.

Kista Dan in 1954 - Photo: Phillip Law

Magga Dan and Thala Dan in 1961 - Photo: William Young

The much-loved Nella Dan, which served for 26 years from 1962-1987, set the standard for polar vessels at the time, and was critical to the development of Australia’s modern Antarctic and Southern Ocean marine science program.

Nella Dan in 1977 - Photo: AAD

This included major contributions to our understanding of ocean basins between Australia and Antarctica.

But in 1987, tragedy struck on Macquarie Island.

Nuyina Science Coordination Manager, Jono Reeve, was on the island at the time.

“Nella Dan got blown ashore in a rapid change of weather that blew the ship ashore whilst it was refuelling the station,” Mr Reeve said.

“She was a small vessel with only a single propeller and no thrusters, and a dragging anchor in that situation makes it very difficult very quickly.

“I was still fairly junior in those days but I know there was a lot of heartache and financial calculation being done, and I'm afraid the owners of the ship reached the conclusion that they couldn't tow it all the way back to Singapore for repair and they had to take it offshore and sink it, which was a sad day for many people. There were a lot of tears shed.”

With a rebuilding program underway at Australia’s Antarctic stations in the 1980s, ANARE needed a ship with a large cargo capacity to transport supplies. The MV Icebird was custom-made for the job and entered service in 1984.

In 1996 it was renamed MV Polar Bird by new owners, and worked for a short time alongside the first purpose-built research and resupply vessel for the modern Australian Antarctic Program – the Aurora Australis.

Launched on 18 September 1989, the Aurora Australis provided “an amazing new world-leading capability”.

“All these capabilities that people had dreamed of for some time and all these things we wanted to do we could now do and plan to do and work out ways to do new things that we hadn't ever done before,” Mr Reeve said.

“Those early science voyages were just a buzz with people blinded by the science and the interest in what they were doing and the capabilities of the ship to do all this amazing research. It was a very exciting time.”

Aurora Australis - Photo: Doug Thost

Australia farewelled the Aurora Australis in 2020 after 31 years of service. The ship carried more than 14,000 expeditioners on over 150 scientific research and resupply voyages.

Australia is now looking forward to welcoming the world’s most advanced scientific icebreaker – RSV Nuyina.

RSV Nuyiuna August 2021 - Photo: AAD

After 100 years of building our polar knowledge and technology, Australian Antarctic Division Director, Kim Ellis, is excited by the promise the new ship holds for Australia’s Antarctic science program.

“It’s a truly remarkable ship,” Mr Ellis said.

“It’s a Swiss army knife of maritime capabilities. It will be the most complete and powerful scientific research vessel in the ocean when it arrives here, and it will revolutionise the way we deliver station support and science in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.”

Mawson Airdrop

August 25, 2021
Delivered in the dark, high from the sky, an airdrop by the Royal Australian Air Force sends critical supplies to Australia's Mawson research station in Antarctica.

Hidden women of history: Australia’s first known female voter, the famous Mrs Fanny Finch

Fanny Finch’s 1856 voting card. Castlemaine Art Museum
Kacey SinclairLa Trobe University

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

On 22 January 1856, an extraordinary event in Australia’s history occurred. It is not part of our collective national identity, nor has it been mythologised over the decades through song, dance, or poetry. It doesn’t even have a hashtag. But on this day in the thriving gold rush town of Castlemaine, two women took to the polls and cast their votes in a democratic election.

Two days later, Melbourne newspaper The Argus unwittingly granted one of them posterity, writing “two women voted – one, the famous Mrs. Fanny Finch”. Fanny Finch was a London-born businesswoman of African heritage, a single mother of four and is the first known woman to cast a vote in an Australian election.

Victorian women over the age of 21 (excluding Indigenous women) would not receive full unconditional suffrage until 1908. (Victorian Indigenous women were not enfranchised until 1965.) But Fanny Finch, as a local business owner who paid rates, was able to exploit a loophole in suffrage law that was yet to discriminate against gender or race.

The Municipal Institutions Act of 1854 granted suffrage to ratepaying “persons”. The loophole was eventually closed in 1865 when “persons” became “men”.

Argus report excerpt, 24th January 1856. Trove

Who Was Fanny?

Frances Finch was born Frances Combe in London in 1815. At eight-weeks-old she was orphaned by her mother after a tryst with a footman ended in a pregnancy but no marriage proposal.

A cross-stitch sampler attributed to Frances Coombe (sic) in 1830 at the age of 15 suggests she understood both her parents to be free people of African racial heritage (although the UK did not free slaves unconditionally until 1838.) The London Foundling Hospital, where Fanny was accepted as an orphan, provided her with some protection against slavery as well as an otherwise inaccessible education and access to an apprenticeship scheme in “household duties”.

Sampler attributed to Frances Coombe (sic). Author provided

By 1837, a 22-year-old Fanny was a free, literate, educated, and experienced domestic servant. In that year she was approved a labourer’s free passage to the new colony of South Australia.

In Adelaide, Fanny was a valued employee of Julia Wyatt, an author, artist, and wife of the surgeon and first Protector of Aborigines, Dr. William Wyatt. Over the course of the next decade Fanny left their employment, married a sailor, Joseph Finch, and started a family.

By 1850, for reasons unknown, Fanny had left her husband. With her four children in tow, she made her way to Victoria. She arrived in the colony 12 months before the start of the Victorian gold rush. By early 1852 she was operating a restaurant and lodging house on the Forest Creek goldfields, alongside approximately 25,000 gold digging men and a handful of women.

There, in the fledgling township of Forest Creek, Mrs Finch’s Board and Lodging House became “the only one in which any person could get respectable accommodation”. By 1854, she had moved to nearby Castlemaine where she ran a restaurant. She quickly became one of its most recognisable faces.

Fanny Finch’s Restaurant, Corner of Latimer’s Lane and Urquhart Street, Castlemaine, c1858. Richard Daintree.

A Successful Businesswoman

Fanny was a successful businesswoman, known to dress in bright blue silk with her black hair adorned in artificial flowers. Strong and robust, with an even larger personality she was not one to shy away from attempting to remedy injustice when she saw it – be it with her words, her cooking or her fists. Evidently, she possessed visibility and power.

Her business acumen and conspicuity make it probable that her male contemporaries were unsurprised when they witnessed Fanny cast her vote at the Hall of Castlemaine (now the Theatre Royal). Did the men taunt her? Encourage her? Or were they complacent? We cannot know. We do know that no one stopped her. She selected her preference and signed her name.

Market Square, Castlemaine, c1855. By S.T Gill. The Hall of Castlemaine where Fanny Finch cast her vote can be seen to the right of centre. Author provided

That afternoon, however, the two assessors of the day disallowed both Fanny and the other unknown woman’s votes. Their reasons were cited as: “they (the women) had no right to vote”. Further details were not divulged.

Still, Walter Smith, the man for whom Fanny voted, was elected to council. Smith was an agent and brewer who arrived at Forest Creek at around the same time as Fanny. Little is known about what motivated her to vote for him but no one else, despite being allowed to vote in seven councillors. She was clearly determined to elect him to council.

A Rare Glimpse

During colonial times women were rarely identified by name in the press – particularly women of the working class. The 1856 Argus report now offers historians an unprecedented opportunity to identify an otherwise invisible minority – the 19th century Australian woman of colour – as an active participant in our political history.

Fanny was a woman, who, through relative privilege – wielded with her own blood, sweat and tears – refused to founder beneath the weight of a white, Anglo-male world of commerce. However, this came at a price. As a woman of colour occupying space in a white man’s world, assaults on her success were not uncommon. Yet she refused to disappear.

One of those assaults occurred in December 1855. Fanny Finch was fined £50 for the illicit sale of alcohol, known as “sly-grogging”. After a month-long trial, which involved scandalous cross-examinations of miners, policemen, and even her two young sons, she was charged and fined.

Despite the exorbitant fine and the public slandering of her character and commercial integrity, Fanny Finch was not defeated. Like many business people on the goldfields, she both owed money and was owed it by others, but over the following four months, she began an unprecedented campaign of self-representation.

The day following her conviction she published a letter in the local paper accusing the local authorities of injustice (a copy of this has not survived). A month on, she cast that vote. Then a few months later in April, she published the following advertisement.

Mrs. Finch begs to inform the inhabitants of Castlemaine that henceforth she will carry on business for her children and would be happy to receive any outstanding debts … finding that the more she herself strives the more she is oppressed, although she can firmly state that if those who are in her debt would come forward each with one third, she will be relieved of all debt, have a good home for her family and about two thousand pounds in her pocket.

Fanny Finch also begs to state that as in her affluence she was so kindly trusted, they may be sure that she, from her own free will, may some day liquidate all, but she must have her time … and in spite of what enemies she may have, she intends to keep throughout the winter ready cooked Ham, Beef Soups (a la mode) from seven in the morning to seven in the night.

The vote of the famous Mrs. Fanny Finch adds a woman of colour’s voice to what Clare Wright has described as an unorganised movement for women’s rights during the 1850s.

Fanny died on the 15th October 1863, aged 48. She was remembered as “a strong minded woman” with “a genuine tenderness of heart, ever ready to serve another in distress … without the slightest ostentation”.

She was given a public burial in an unmarked grave at Castlemaine Cemetery.The Conversation

Kacey Sinclair, PhD Candidate in History, La Trobe University

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

Harbour life: tracing early Sydney’s watery history

This picture, from a trove of historic Sydney Harbour photos, shows the ferry South Steyne rounding Bennelong Point. Graeme Andrews 'Working Harbour' Collection, City of Sydney Archives
Grace KarskensUNSW

Never mind the bush and the outback – Sydneysiders were a maritime people from the start.

For proof, browse through the Working Harbour collection, 10,000 images of Sydney’s maritime history recently donated by the collector and historian Graeme Andrews to the City of Sydney archives. Search for the phrase “Graeme Andrews” and you’ll find a brilliant portal to Sydney’s maritime past.

The Island Princess with Nicholsons Promise in 1975. Graeme Andrews 'Working Harbour' Collection, City of Sydney Archives

The collection connects us to a very old history. Sydney’s Indigenous inhabitants, the Eora, were saltwater people, as much at home on the waters of harbour and rivers as on dry land. Children grew up partly in bark canoes called nowies and learned to fish from their earliest years, the girls with lines and shell hooks, the boys with shell-tipped spears.

A houseboat called Dreamland, moored at Cowan Creek, 1910. Graeme Andrews 'Working Harbour' Collection, City of Sydney Archives

The early colonial settlers of the 1800s were also waterbound and waterborne – everyone in Sydney-town got around in boats in those years. Most of the early explorations were by water too, via Parramatta River, Pittwater, Broken Bay, and the mighty Hawkesbury River, when settlers finally found its mouth on an exploratory expedition in June 1789.

Cabarita Gardens, a well-patronised harbourside picnic ground. Graeme Andrews 'Working Harbour' Collection, City of Sydney Archives

All the houses in the town faced out over the water towards the Heads that form the entrance to Sydney Harbour. South Head was the town’s eye, watching the ocean for the first sight of a sail. When the signal came from the flagstaff, the entire town would erupt in joy.

Australia’s first city grew limpet-like around the long headlands and deep bays, as wharves, slips and stores and then noxious industries such as abbatoirs encrusted the shorelines.

Well-loaded, the ferry North Head nears Fort Denison. Graeme Andrews 'Working Harbour' Collection, City of Sydney Archives

The waterside industries sprouted whole suburbs, such as the inner west districts of Balmain and Pyrmont, and Mortlake further west. Right up until the 1880s, around 80% of Sydney’s people lived within walking distance of Sydney Harbour.

The Harbour Bridge under construction, 1928. Graeme Andrews 'Working Harbour' Collection, City of Sydney Archives

Sure, the wealthy and privileged built their romantic villas on the heights, but ordinary folk had access to the waters too, for work, rest and play.

People always had to cross from shore to shore, so the ferries were an intrinsic part of Sydney, from the first ex-convict boatmen to the mighty fleet of double-ended ferries which carried up to 47 million passengers a year before the Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened in 1932.

Today, most Sydney people travel by car, and they live too far from the harbour for it to be part of their everyday life – except at festival-time, when hundreds of thousands gather on the foreshores and the fireworks light up a million upturned faces.

A ferry interior, 1980. Graeme Andrews 'Working Harbour' Collection, City of Sydney Archives

Yet the ferries still ply the waters, and Sydneysiders hold them in great affection. They featured in song, such as folk singer Bernard Boland’s Rose Bay Ferry with its doctors and accountants yearning to head out to the open sea instead of their city offices.

The Manly ferry was immortalised in the 1966 film They’re a Weird Mob, during the scene in which a loudmouthed Aussie drunk insults a cultured Italian family in the best old vaudevillian style (he ends up overboard, of course).

The tugboat St Giles. Graeme Andrews 'Working Harbour' Collection: 81045, City of Sydney Archives

Maybe affection for ferries is a global human trait. US transcendentalist and poet Walt Whitman was passionate about ferries too. For him, they were “inimitable, streaming, never-failing, living poems”. Anyone who has ever watched the lighted ferries streaming into Circular Quay performing their moonlight boat ballet will know this poetry, the living poetry of a harbour city.

The Working Harbour collection donated to the council indefatigably records this deep maritime history, legacy and culture. Graeme Andrews contributes his own life-time knowledge too, with names, places, dates and priceless observations.

Who but a sailor with long accustomed eye could write of the tugboat St Giles that she is “riding so high in the water she must be nearly out of coals”?

In the photo below, taken during the Queen’s visit in 1954, two lines of excited small boats form a guard of honour for Her Majesty in front of Government House. You can almost see the flags fluttering and feel the tension, taut as a bowline:

An honour guard of small boats for a visit by Queen Elizabeth II, Government House at rear. May 1954. Graeme Andrews 'Working Harbour' Collection, City of Sydney Archives

A first world war photograph of ships moored off the Quarantine Station at North Head is a poignant reflection of that suspended time:

Manly Gas works and quarantine anchorage, first world war. Graeme Andrews 'Working Harbour' Collection, City of Sydney Archives

As the collier and ferry chug about their everyday business, the big ships are waiting to clear quarantine before passengers can finally disembark. But if ships were found to be carrying disease, their passengers were detained at the Quarantine Station at North Head. Some died there, in view of the city they never reached.

Ferries, tugs and launches turn up repeatedly, like faces and names in a family photo album: Andrews knows them all and many other Sydneysiders will too.

There’s something about the lovely shape of old boats; it’s enough just to look at them, as with this 1969 shot of the Christina at Woy Woy Bay:

Christina, Woy Woy Bay, 1969. Graeme Andrews 'Working Harbour' Collection, City of Sydney Archives

But these images touch on something more intangible too, something connected with the spirit of place that ties past and present together.

Henry Lawson conjured this spirit in his poem Sydney-Side before the hardships of the 1890s depression soured Sydney for him:

Oh, there never dawned a morning, in the long and lonely days
But I thought I saw the ferries streaming out across the bays –
And as fresh and fair in fancy did the picture rise again
As the sunrise flushed the city from Woollahra to Balmain

And the sunny water frothing round the liners black and red,
And the coastal schooners working by the loom of Bradley’s Head
With the whistles and the sirens that re-echo far and wide
All the life and light and beauty that belong to Sydney side.

The Working Harbour collection means that 10,000 images of all that life and light and beauty now belong to everyone.The Conversation

Grace Karskens, Associate Professor of history, UNSW

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

Volcanic Eruptions May Have Spurred First ‘Whiffs’ Of Oxygen In Earth’s Atmosphere

August 26, 2021
A new analysis of 2.5-billion-year-old rocks from Australia finds that volcanic eruptions may have stimulated population surges of marine microorganisms, creating the first puffs of oxygen into the atmosphere. This would change existing stories of Earth's early atmosphere, which assumed that most changes in the early atmosphere were controlled by geologic or chemical processes.

Though focused on Earth's early history, the research also has implications for extra-terrestrial life and even climate change. The study led by the University of Washington, the University of Michigan and other institutions was published in August in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"What has started to become obvious in the past few decades is there actually are quite a number of connections between the solid, non-living Earth and the evolution of life," said first author Jana Meixnerová, a UW doctoral student in Earth and space sciences. "But what are the specific connections that facilitated the evolution of life on Earth as we know it?"

In its earliest days, Earth had no oxygen in its atmosphere and few, if any, oxygen-breathing lifeforms. Earth's atmosphere became permanently oxygen-rich about 2.4 billion years ago, likely after an explosion of lifeforms that photosynthesize, transforming carbon dioxide and water into oxygen.

But in 2007, co-author Ariel Anbar at Arizona State University analysed rocks from the Mount McRae Shale in Western Australia, reporting a short-term whiff of oxygen about 50 to 100 million years before it became a permanent fixture in the atmosphere. More recent research has confirmed other, earlier, short-term oxygen spikes, but hasn't explained their rise and fall.

In the new study, researchers at the University of Michigan, led by co-corresponding author Joel Blum, analysed the same ancient rocks for the concentration and number of neutrons in the element mercury, emitted by volcanic eruptions. Large volcanic eruptions blast mercury gas into the upper atmosphere, where today it circulates for a year or two before raining out onto Earth's surface. The new analysis shows a spike in mercury a few million years before the temporary rise in oxygen.

"Sure enough, in the rock below the transient spike in oxygen we found evidence of mercury, both in its abundance and isotopes, that would most reasonably be explained by volcanic eruptions into the atmosphere," said co-author Roger Buick, a UW professor of Earth and Space Sciences.

Where there were volcanic emissions, the authors reason, there must have been lava and volcanic ash fields. And those nutrient-rich rocks would have weathered in the wind and rain, releasing phosphorus into rivers that could fertilize nearby coastal areas, allowing oxygen-producing cyanobacteria and other single-celled lifeforms to flourish.

"There are other nutrients that modulate biological activity on short timescales, but phosphorus is the one that is most important on long timescales," Meixnerová said.

Today, phosphorus is plentiful in biological material and in agricultural fertilizer. But in very ancient times, weathering of volcanic rocks would have been the main source for this scarce resource.

"During weathering under the Archaean atmosphere, the fresh basaltic rock would have slowly dissolved, releasing the essential macro-nutrient phosphorus into the rivers. That would have fed microbes that were living in the shallow coastal zones and triggered increased biological productivity that would have created, as a by-product, an oxygen spike," Meixnerová said.

The precise location of those volcanoes and lava fields is unknown, but large lava fields of about the right age exist in modern-day India, Canada and elsewhere, Buick said.

"Our study suggests that for these transient whiffs of oxygen, the immediate trigger was an increase in oxygen production, rather than a decrease in oxygen consumption by rocks or other nonliving processes," Buick said. "It's important because the presence of oxygen in the atmosphere is fundamental -- it's the biggest driver for the evolution of large, complex life."

Ultimately, researchers say the study suggests how a planet's geology might affect any life evolving on its surface, an understanding that aids in identifying habitable exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system, in the search for life in the universe.

Other authors of the paper are co-corresponding author Eva Stüeken, a former UW astrobiology graduate student now at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland; Michael Kipp, a former UW graduate student now at the California Institute of Technology; and Marcus Johnson at the University of Michigan. The study was funded by NASA, the NASA-funded UW Virtual Planetary Laboratory team and the MacArthur Professorship to Blum at the University of Michigan.

Jana Meixnerová, Joel D. Blum, Marcus W. Johnson, Eva E. Stüeken, Michael A. Kipp, Ariel D. Anbar, Roger Buick. Mercury abundance and isotopic composition indicate subaerial volcanism prior to the end-Archean “whiff” of oxygen. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021; 118 (33): e2107511118 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2107511118

Roger Buick in 2004 at the Mount McRae Shale in Western Australia. Rocks drilled near here show “whiffs” of oxygen occurred before the Great Oxidation Event, 2.4 billion years ago. New analyses show a slightly earlier spike in the element mercury emitted by volcanoes, which could have boosted populations of single-celled organisms to produce a temporary “whiff” of oxygen.Roger Buick/University of Washington

When life gives you lemons … 4 Stoic tips for getting through lockdown from Epictetus

Unsplash/Cristina Anne CostelloCC BY
Matthew SharpeDeakin University

Born into slavery, then crippled by his master and exiled by the Emperor Domitian, Epictetus (c.60-135 CE) has become arguably the central figure in today’s global revival of Stoicism.

A straight-talking advocate of the idea philosophy should help people flourish even in hard times, Epictetus has much to offer as we wrestle with pandemic lockdowns and uncertainty. Here are four tips from perhaps the most stoic of the Stoics:

1. Don’t Worry About Things We Can’t Control

The start of Epictetus’ Enchiridion handbook lays out his famous “dichotomy of control”:

Of things some are depend upon us, and others do not. In our power are opinion, impulse, desire, aversion. Not in our power are the body, property, reputation, offices, and in a word, whatever are not our own acts.

It’s an idea that echoes today in the Serenity Prayer of 12-step recovery programs.

If we worry about things we can’t change, Epictetus continues, we are wasting our energies. If we imagine that we can control the past or future — or even pandemics — we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.

But we can think and act, and do our best to respond to situations with courage, justice, and moderation.

Today’s citizens in lockdown can’t control whether (or when) restrictions are lifted. We can all however wear masks, social distance, get vaccinated as soon as possible, and continue working, exercising and educating our kids as best we can.

2. Prepare For The Worst, Hope For The Best

Like other Stoics, Epictetus observes people are most prone to being disturbed by events which take them by surprise. By premeditating the worst case scenario, and imaginatively working through how we could respond in advance, we can lessen our vulnerability.

If this “premeditation of evils” sounds too frightening, “begin from little things”, Epictetus advises:

Is the oil spilled? Is a little wine stolen? Say on the occasion, at such price is sold freedom from being upset; at such price is sold tranquillity, but nothing is got for nothing.

While the preparation can be confronting, Epictetus suggests that being grieved or angered by things we have no say over, like a sudden lockdown extension, is far worse. “Premeditated is prepared”, he tells us. If things go better than we prepare for, all the better.

sketch of man at desk
Detail from an engraving for Edward Ivie’s Latin translation of Epictetus’ Enchiridon, printed in Oxford in 1715. Wikimedia Commons

3. Contextualise And ‘Other-Ise’

When we’re under duress, Epictetus observes, we often feel as if what we are experiencing is unprecedented. No one else can understand. But it helps to remember that few experiences, even during a pandemic, are unprecedented.

We are in the second year of COVID. But the world wars lasted four and six years. This is a pandemic, yet other generations have experienced plagues (or the Spanish flu) in which grievous losses were also sustained. Those who survived were able to rebuild. So will we.

It can also help, Epictetus suggests, to “step back” and assess our experience as if it was happening to somebody else:

For example, when a friend’s child breaks a cup it is easy for us to say, ‘That is in the nature of cups and of children.’ [But] when you realise that situation is true of you, it is easy for you to say that same thing to yourself when a child breaks your cup …

So, when we are inclined to despair in difficulties “we ought to remember how we feel when we hear of the same misfortune befalling others”. By looking at ourselves as if we were an other, we can apply the same support and encouragement to ourselves.

Read more: Why philosophers say solitude can be helpful (even if you didn't choose it)

4. Slow Down, Make Sure

Epictetus, echoing Socrates, says that any unexamined idea is not worth having. In life, we can easily leap between ideas in ways which lead us to false beliefs. Epictetus writes:

These reasons do not cohere: I am richer than you, therefore I am better than you; I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better than you. On the contrary these reasons cohere: I am richer than you, therefore my possessions are greater than yours: I am more eloquent than you, therefore my speech is superior to yours.

Read more: Guide to the Classics: how Marcus Aurelius' Meditations can help us in a time of pandemic

It’s easy to add a lot of avoidable, habitual, evaluative judgements to what we know and experience. Often, these add-ons introduce assumptions which aren’t based on adequate information. These lead us to react excessively or poorly.

Epictetus recommends we slow our roll and our “judginess” down, especially when it comes to condemning others:

Somebody is hasty about bathing; don’t say that he bathes badly, but that he is hasty about bathing. […] For until you have decided what judgement prompts him, how do you know that what he is doing is bad?

In the age of swarming internet conspiracies on social media, this fourth piece of old Epictetan advice is new again.

When presented with allegations of nefarious or appalling conduct by fellow citizens, Epictetus recommends we ask: do I know that that is true? Do I have enough information to be sure?

Such self-examination stops us from becoming enraged on the basis of fictions — let alone spreading misinformation which provokes or enrages others. If enough people do that, we could collectively avoid many future difficulties.The Conversation

Matthew Sharpe, Associate Professor in Philosophy, Deakin University

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

How Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts infused one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands with a little jazz

Charlie Watts – a humble drummer behind a humble kit. Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Victor CoelhoBoston University

In an era when rock drummers were larger-than-life showmen with big kits and egos to match, Charlie Watts remained the quiet man behind a modest drum set. But Watts wasn’t your typical rock drummer.

Part of the Rolling Stones setup from 1963 until his death on Aug. 24, 2021, Watts provided the back-beat to their greatest hits by injecting jazz sensibilities – and swing – into the Stones’ sound.

As a musicologist and co-editor of the Cambridge Companion to the Rolling Stones – as well as a fan who has seen the Stones live more than 20 times over the past five decades – I see Watts as being integral to the band’s success.

Like Ringo Starr and other drummers who emerged during the 1960s British pop explosion, Watts was influenced by the swing and big band sound that was hugely popular in the U.K. in the 1940s and 1950s.

Modest With The Sticks

Watts wasn’t formally trained as a jazz drummer, but jazz musicians like Jelly Roll Morton, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk were early influences.

In a 2012 interview with the New Yorker, he recalled how their records informed his playing style.

“I bought a banjo, and I didn’t like the dots on the neck,” Watts said. “So I took the neck off, and at the same time I heard a drummer called Chico Hamilton, who played with Gerry Mulligan, and I wanted to play like that, with brushes. I didn’t have a snare drum, so I put the banjo head on a stand.”

Watts’ first group, the Jo Jones All Stars, were a jazz band. And elements of jazz remained throughout his Stones career, providing Watts with a wide stylistic versatility that was critical to the Stones’ forays beyond blues and rock to country, reggae, disco, funk and even punk.

There was a modesty in his playing that came from his jazz learning. There are no big rock drum solos. He made sure the attention was never on him or his drumming – his role was keeping the songs going forward, giving them movement.

He also didn’t use a big kit – no gongs, no scaffolding. He kept a modest one more typically found in jazz quartets and quintets.

Likewise, Watts’ occasional use of brushes over sticks – such as in “Melody” from 1976’s “Black and Blue” – more explicitly shows his debt to jazz drummers.

But he didn’t come in with one style. Watts was trained to adapt, while keeping elements of jazz. You can hear it in the R'n’ B of “(I can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” to the infernal samba-like rhythm of “Sympathy For The Devil” – two songs in which Watts’ contribution is central.

And a song like “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” from 1971’s “Sticky Fingers” develops from one of Keith Richards’ highest caliber riffs into a long concluding instrumental section, unique in the Stones’ song catalog, of Santana-esque Latin jazz, containing some great syncopated rhythmic shots and tasteful hi-hat playing through which Watts drives the different musical sections.

You hear similar elements in “Gimme Shelter” and other classic Rolling Stones songs – it is perfectly placed drum fills and gestures that make the song and surprise you, always in the background and never dominating.

Powering The ‘Engine Room’

So central was Watts to the Stones that when bassist Bill Wyman retired from the band after the 1989 “Steel Wheels” tour, it was Watts who was tasked with picking his replacement.

He needed a bass player that would fit his style. But his choice of Darryl Jones as Wyman’s replacement was not the only key partnership for Watts. He played off the beat, complementing Richards’ very syncopated, riff-driven guitar style. Watts and Richards set the groove for so many Stones songs, such as “Honky Tonk Women” or “Start Me Up.” If you watched them live, you’d notice Richards looking at Watts at all times – his eyes fixated on the drummer, searching for where the musical accents are, and matching their rhythmic “shots” and off-beats.

Watts did not aspire to be a virtuoso like John Bonham of Led Zeppelin or The Who’s Keith Moon – there was no drumming excess. From that initial jazz training, he kept his distance from outward gestures.

But for nearly six decades, he was the main occupant, as Richards put it, of the Rolling Stones’ legendary “engine room.”

[Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter.]The Conversation

Victor Coelho, Professor of Music, Boston University

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

At home with your dog? 3 ways to connect and lift your spirits

Jessica OlivaJames Cook University

It may come as no surprise to dog owners in lockdown, but walking the dog can be the highlight of the day.

With exercise being one of the few reasons for leaving the house for millions of Australians, walking the dog clearly benefits both dog owners and their furry friends.

But walking the dog isn’t the only thing you can do to lift your spirits and ease loneliness.

Our study found three things you can do at home with your dog to make you feel better, which your dog will probably love too.

1. You Can Meditate With Your Dog

Our study showed it helped to take time out to focus on your dog’s fur or the warmth of their body using “mindfulness meditation”.

This type of meditation involved people listening to a recording that guided them to activate their senses (for instance, touch) as a way of enhance their engagement with the task.

Dog owners who did this for seven minutes once a week or more felt relaxed, calm, enjoyed the process, said they felt more connected to their dog, and helped them focus on the present.

For many dog owners in our study, these effects also lasted for several minutes or hours after stopping the activity.

Read more: Mindfulness meditation in brief daily doses can reduce negative mental health impact of COVID-19

If you want to try this for yourself, create a space in your home where you are not likely to be interrupted and turn off your phone. Sit comfortably on the floor, on a mat, cushion or blanket and invite your dog to come and sit next to you or on your lap.

Place one or two hands on your dog and sit up tall. Start by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths. Be aware of your sense of touch and notice the sensations in your hand and fingertips. Stay with this awareness and if your mind starts to wander, gently escort it back to your feeling of touch and your dog’s fur. Stay with this practice for seven minutes or more.

Although we didn’t specifically measure the impact on dogs, we suspect they appreciate the close, calm and private space this creates for both of you.

2. You Can Play Hide And Seek

If mindfulness meditation isn’t your thing, our study showed setting aside seven minutes of undivided playtime with your dog had similar results. This might be an interactive game, such as hide and seek.

Dog owners who did this said they enjoyed this, had a better connection with their dog, and helped them focus on the present. They also thought their dog had fun.

How might this work as well as mindfulness meditation? Mindfulness is simply about being present in the moment. So if we put the phone away, pets can be great facilitators to help bring us into the present and centre our mind on one thing — them.

Read more: Routine and learning games: how to make sure your dog doesn't get canine cabin fever

3. You Can Talk To Your Dog

If you really want to increase the connection with your dog, try some calm and focused interactions. This might be seven undivided minutes of affection with your dog, such as giving them a good belly rub, or spending seven undivided minutes talking to them.

Out of all the activities we tried, these worked best to connect with your dog.

While some people in our study said they felt awkward talking to their dog, our earlier research showed others seem to love it.

For people living alone in lockdown, having a pet dog was an excuse to talk out loud, and this may play an important role in their well-being.

Making time to be affectionate towards your dog also made owners feel relaxed and calm, at similar levels to those who practised mindfulness meditation.

Completely focusing on your dog this way increases the release of molecules associated with relaxation (such as oxytocin) and reward (such as dopamine) in both owner and dog.

Read more: Lockdown can be stressful for pets too – here's how to keep your dog entertained

Making Time For Your Dog

Not all dog owners are spending their time in lockdown going on long walks with their furry friends. One study found some dog owners walked their dog less often or went on shorter walks during the pandemic.

Whether that’s been your experience, or if you want to try something new, these three types of interactions with your dog don’t take a lot of time. You could even continue them after lockdown’s over.

This might end up become the new highlight of your dog’s day, making the long wait for you to return home from work completely worth it.

Read more: Your dog's nose knows no bounds – and neither does its love for you The Conversation

Jessica Oliva, Lecturer, Psychology, James Cook University

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

Who were the Toaleans? Ancient woman’s DNA provides first evidence for the origin of a mysterious lost culture

Stone arrowheads (Maros points) and other flaked stone implements from the Toalean culture of South Sulawesi. Shahna Britton/Andrew ThomsonAuthor provided
Adam BrummGriffith UniversityAdhi OktavianaGriffith UniversityAkin DuliUniversitas HasanuddinBasran BurhanGriffith UniversityCosimo PosthUniversity of Tübingen, and Selina CarlhoffMax Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

In 2015, archaeologists from the University of Hasanuddin in Makassar, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, uncovered the skeleton of a woman buried in a limestone cave. Studies revealed the person from Leang Panninge, or “Bat Cave”, was 17 or 18 years old when she died some 7,200 years ago.

Her discoverers dubbed her Bessé’ (pronounced bur-sek¹) — a nickname bestowed on newborn princesses among the Bugis people who now live in southern Sulawesi. The name denotes the great esteem local archaeologists have for this ancient woman.

She represents the only known skeleton of one of the Toalean people. These enigmatic hunter-gatherers inhabited the island before Neolithic farmers from mainland Asia (“Austronesians”) spread into Indonesia around 3,500 years ago.

Burial of a Toalean hunter-gatherer woman dated to 7,200 years ago. Bessé’ was 17-18 years old at time of death. She was buried in a flexed position and several large cobbles were placed on and around her body. Although the skeleton is fragmented, ancient DNA was found preserved in the dense inner ear bone (petrous). University of Hasanuddin

Our team found ancient DNA that survived inside the inner ear bone of Bessé’, furnishing us with the first direct genetic evidence of the Toaleans. This is also the first time ancient human DNA has been reported from Wallacea, the vast group of islands between Borneo and New Guinea, of which Sulawesi is the largest.

Genomic analysis shows Bessé’ belonged to a population with a previously unknown ancestral composition. She shares about half of her genetic makeup with present-day Indigenous Australians and people in New Guinea and the Western Pacific. This includes DNA inherited from the now-extinct Denisovans, who were distant cousins of Neanderthals.

In fact, relative to other ancient and present-day groups in the region, the proportion of Denisovan DNA in Bessé’ could indicate the main meeting point between our species and Denisovans was in Sulawesi itself (or perhaps a nearby Wallacean island).

Read more: Evolutionary study suggests prehistoric human fossils 'hiding in plain sight' in Southeast Asia

The ancestry of this pre-Neolithic woman provides fascinating insight into the little-known population history and genetic diversity of early modern humans in the Wallacean islands — the gateway to the continent of Australia.

Sulawesi is the largest island in Wallacea, the zone of oceanic islands between the continental regions of Asia and Australia. White shaded areas represent landmasses exposed during periods of lower sea level in the Late Pleistocene. The Wallace Line is a major biogeographical boundary that marks the eastern extent of the distinctive plant and animal worlds of Asia. The Toalean cave site Leang Panninge (where Bessé’ was found) is located in Sulawesi’s southwestern peninsula (see inset panel). Toalean archaeological sites have only been found in a roughly 10,000 km² area of this peninsula, south of Lake Tempe. Kim Newman

Toalean Culture

The archaeological story of the Toaleans began more than a century ago. In 1902, the Swiss naturalists Paul and Fritz Sarasin excavated several caves in the highlands of southern Sulawesi.

Their digs unearthed small, finely crafted stone arrowheads known as Maros points. They also found other distinctive stone implements and tools fashioned from bone, which they attributed to the original inhabitants of Sulawesi — the prehistoric “Toalien” people (now spelled Toalean).

A Toalean stone arrowhead, known as a Maros point. Classic Maros points are small (roughly 2.5cm in maxiumum dimension) and were fashioned with rows of fine tooth-like serrations along the sides and tip, and wing-like projections at the base. Although this particular stone technology seems to have been unique to the Toalean culture, similar projectile points were produced in northern Australia, Java and Japan. Shahna Britton/Andrew Thomson.

Some Toalean cave sites have since been excavated to a higher scientific standard, yet our understanding of this culture is at an early stage. The oldest known Maros points and other Toalean artefacts date to about 8,000 years ago.

Excavated findings from caves suggest the Toaleans were hunter-gatherers who preyed heavily on wild endemic warty pigs and harvested edible shellfish from creeks and estuaries. So far, evidence for the group has only been found in one part of southern Sulawesi.

Toalean artefacts disappear from the archaeological record by the fifth century AD — a few thousand years after the first Neolithic settlements emerged on the island.

Prehistorians have long sought to determine who the Toaleans were, but efforts have been impeded by a lack of securely-dated human remains. This all changed with the discovery of Bessé’ and the ancient DNA in her bones.

Toalean stone arrowheads (Maros points), backed microliths (small stone implements that may have been hafted as barbs) and bone projectile points. These artefacts are from Indonesian collections curated in Makassar and mostly comprise undated specimens collected from the ground surface at archaeological sites. Basran Burhan

The Ancestral Story Of Bessé’

Our results mean we can now confirm existing presumptions the Toaleans were related to the first modern humans to enter Wallacea some 65,000 years ago or more. These seafaring hunter-gatherers were the ancestors of Aboriginal Australians and Papuans.

They were also the earliest inhabitants of Sahul, the supercontinent that emerged during the Pleistocene (ice age) when global sea levels fell, exposing a land bridge between Australia and New Guinea. To reach Sahul, these pioneering humans made ocean crossings through Wallacea, but little about their journeys is known.

Read more: Island-hopping study shows the most likely route the first people took to Australia

It is conceivable the ancestors of Bessé’ were among the first people to reach Wallacea. Instead of island-hopping to Sahul, however, they remained in Sulawesi.

But our analyses also revealed a deep ancestral signature from an early modern human population that originated somewhere in continental Asia. These ancestors of Bessé’ did not intermix with the forebears of Aboriginal Australians and Papuans, suggesting they may have entered the region after the initial peopling of Sahul — but long before the Austronesian expansion.

Who were these people? When did they arrive in the region and how widespread were they? It’s unlikely we will have answers to these questions until we have more ancient human DNA samples and pre-Neolithic fossils from Wallacea. This unexpected finding shows us how little we know about the early human story in our region.

A New Look At The Toaleans

With funds awarded by the Australian Research Council’s Discovery program we are initiating a new project that will explore the Toalean world in greater detail. Through archaeological excavations at Leang Panninge we hope to learn more about the development of this unique hunter-gatherer culture.

Excavations at Leang Panninge cave, Mallawa, South Sulawesi. Leang Panninge Research Team.

We also wish to address longstanding questions about Toalean social organisation and ways of life. For example, some scholars have inferred the Toaleans became so populous that these hitherto small and scattered groups of foragers began to settle down in large sedentary communities, and possibly even domesticated wild pigs.

It has also recently been speculated Toaleans were the mysterious Asian seafarers who visited Australia in ancient times, introducing the dingo (or more accurately, the domesticated ancestor of this now-wild canid). There is clearly much left to uncover about the long island story of Bessé’ and her kin.

¹The “bur” syllable is pronounced as in the English word “bursary”. The “k” is essentially a strangulated stop in the throat, akin to the “t” in the Cockney “bo'ol”, for bottle. (With thanks to Professor Campbell Macknight).The Conversation

Adam Brumm, Professor, Griffith UniversityAdhi Oktaviana, PhD Candidate, Griffith UniversityAkin Duli, Professor, Universitas HasanuddinBasran Burhan, PhD candidate, Griffith UniversityCosimo Posth, Junior Professor, University of Tübingen, and Selina Carlhoff, , Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

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

Noice. Different. Unusual. Watching Kath and Kim as a (locked down) historian

The Fountain Gate foxymorons with their partners and Kim’s second best friend at their movie premiere in 2012. Paul Jeffers/AAP
Michelle ArrowMacquarie University

Our writers nominate the TV series keeping them entertained during a time of COVID.

In our household, watching comedy in the evenings has been a crucial part of our lockdown survival strategy. We powered through a lot of comedy series last year, and watched some more than once. (I’m looking at you, Schitt’s Creek). Stuck in lockdown for the foreseeable future, I suggested we might re-watch those Fountain Gate foxymorons, Kath and Kim, and my 12-year-old daughter’s eyes lit up.

She’s not alone. When Netflix added Kath and Kim to its service in 2019, it introduced the show to a generation born well after its early 2000s heyday. Its renewed popularity has spawned Tik Tok challenges and Instagram fan accounts. The resurgence of 80s fashion (especially so-called “mum jeans”) means many Gen Z’s share Kath’s fondness for a “foot-long fly” and acid wash denim.

A suburban sitcom about Kath Day, that “high maintenance” foxy lady, her “hornbag” daughter Kim, and Kim’s “second best friend” Sharon Strezlecki, Kath and Kim remains one of Australia’s best loved comedy series. Premiering in 2002 on the ABC, it was the top-rating series on television in 2003-2004.

Creators Jane Turner and Gina Riley moved to Channel 7 for the show’s final season in 2007, and produced a telemovie, Da Kath and Kim Code (2005) and a feature film, Kath and Kimderella (2012).

For decades, Australian television comedy typically relegated women to the sidelines, as objects to ogle or as sidekicks to male characters. Kath and Kim was an amazing showcase for Riley, Turner and Magda Szubanski. The male performers (Peter Rowsthorn and Glenn Robbins) are terrific but the women are the stars.

The trio were popular cast members of the late 1980s Channel 7 comedy series Fast Forward, revealing a talent for parodying media culture, precise observations of Australian women’s speech, and an utter lack of vanity. Kath, Kim and Sharon’s characters first appeared in a series of sketches called “Kim’s Wedding” in their comedy series Big Girl’s Blouse, which ran for a single season in 1994.

Big Girl’s Blouse was ground-breaking because it emerged from a female, even feminist perspective. In Midweek Ladies, a brilliant “documentary” about the leadership turmoil in a ladies tennis club, the trio parodied the self-seriousness of men’s political machinations on the national stage, while also hinting at smaller but no less meaningful dramas playing out in women’s lives across Australia.

Female-Centred Satire

Australian culture has a long history of satirising, or looking down on, suburbia. From Robin Boyd’s Australian Ugliness to Barry Humphries’s Mrs Edna Everage, many of these critiques were created by men.

Riley and Turner understood the broad appeal of poking fun at suburbia, the place where so many of us grew up. Their humour is broad and specific (or “pacific”, as Kath would say) at the same time, but it always emanated from a keenly observed, female perspective. Only women of a certain age and class could make a joke about Kim being a “Country Road size ten”.

Among the bigger comedic moments (Kath’s wedding, any scene featuring Kath and Kel’s dancing) were dozens of small, well observed details: the squeaky back door of Kath’s house, or Kath sneaking extra rubbish into her neighbour’s bins.

Kath and Kim has endured partly because of its quotable scripts and catchphrases. Most of us like to imagine we’re more sophisticated than we really are, and it is this gap between self-perception and reality that fuels Kath and Kim’s malapropisms.

Read more: The horror and pleasure of misused words: from mispronunciation to malapropisms

Kath announces her engagement by telling Kim that “Kel and I have decided to make our beautiful, sensual relationship a mere formality”; Kim decides she will spend some time “sowing her rolled oats” rather than return to her husband, Brett.

As an historian, I find the show fascinating for its commentary on what Hugh Mackay called the “dreamy period” of the early 2000s, when a combination of increasing prosperity and anxiety about security meant

Australians […] disengaged from the issues that had been preoccupying them; they shut down, or at least went into retreat.

When Kath and Kim was at the peak of its ratings success in 2003, it was jostling with renovation reality shows, The Block and Backyard Blitz. It was also the era of Big Brother and Australian Idol, and the last gasp of tabloid magazine culture before it was swallowed up by the internet.

Class And ‘Effluence’

Kath and Kim were true to the spirit of the Howard era in their aspirations to be, in Kim’s words, “effluent”. As she tells her daughter,

you are effluent, Kim. I mean look at what you’ve got, a Hyundai to hightail it round in, a half share in a home unit, a DVD player, a mobile. I mean, what else is there?

Yet the series not only poked fun at “aspirationals”, but at the wealthy as well. Prue and Trude, the grey-bobbed homewares store employees, with “jojoba leftover from October”, highlighted the myth of Australia’s “classless” society.

In 2021, with our horizons reduced by COVID lockdowns and more time spent at home, perhaps the tiny domestic dramas of Kath and Kim (“that was my last fat-free fruche, Sharon!”) are a little more relatable than they used to be.

Certainly, my daughter and I have had time to work on our Kath and Kim impersonations. That’s noice, different, unusual.

Kath and Kim is streaming on Netflix.The Conversation

Michelle Arrow, Professor of History, Macquarie University

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

Aboriginal art on a car? How an Indigenous artist and an adventurer met in the 1930 wet season in Kakadu

Adventurer Francis Birtles in his car with a man identified as Indigenous artist Nayombolmi. National Library of Australia
Joakim GoldhahnThe University of Western AustraliaPaul S.C.TaçonGriffith University, and Sally K. MayGriffith University

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

Histories of Indigenous Australia are filled with stories of cross-cultural encounters. Many of these were harsh and brutal, leaving inter-generational wounds that are still healing. Other encounters can be framed around mutual curiosity.

Our recent research just published in History Australia has illuminated one such story, a fascinating encounter between two Australian icons: adventurer Francis Birtles and prolific Aboriginal artist Nayombolmi.

Francis Birtles in Arnhem Land, late 1920s. Photographer unknown. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia

An Early Celebrity

Born in 1881, Birtles has been described as one of Australia’s first homegrown superstars.

In the early 1900s, he crossed the continent, first on bicycle and later by car. He presented his adventures in books featuring his own photographs and made movies, which were screened in major Australian towns.

A rugged explorer, he presented white Australians with a new understanding of the outback. Biographer Warren Brown writes: “This young, fit, bronzed adventurer seemed to embody the excitement and optimism of a new country flourishing in a new century.”

Birtles’ books and movies include many stories about encounters with Indigenous Australians. In the beginning he made use of a colonial trope that pictured them as “primitive savages”. Some of his works gave audiences the impression Birtles was escaping danger. Our new research presents another picture.

Nayombolmi in 1966. Photograph by Lance Bennett. Copyright: Estate of Lance Bennett, courtesy of Barbara Spencer.Author provided

A Skilled Artist

While Birtles is well known, few people know about Nayombolmi. In fact, the identification of him as the Aboriginal person posing on Birtles’ car in the discussed photography, has never been formally acknowledged until now.

Nayombolmi was born in today’s Kakadu National Park. He had a traditional upbringing and is remembered as a fully initiated man of “High Degree”. First and foremost though, Nayombolmi is known as a skilled artist.

One of his bark paintings was included in the National Museum of Australia’s Old Masters exhibition in 2013.

He also created some of Australia’s most famous rock art, such as the Anbangbang shelter in the Burrungkuy (Nourlangie) area in Kakadu.

rock art
The Angbangbang shelter with some of Nayombolmi’s many artworks. Andrea JalandoniAuthor provided

Read more: 'Our dad's painting is hiding, in secret place': how Aboriginal rock art can live on even when gone

A Very Long Drive

The two men met during the wet season of 1929–1930 in today’s Kakadu.

Birtles had just returned from an adventure that made him the first person to drive a car from London to Melbourne — his famous “Sundowner” Bean Car, now on display at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

After a well-earned rest, he took off for Arnhem Land together with his dog Yowie in a brand new Bean car. Having lost his savings in the 1929 Wall Street stock market crash, he went bush to try to find gold. As explained in his 1935 memoirs:

One day in an undulating ridge I found that which I had spent months seeking — gold. […] I worked there during the whole of the wet season, from October to April. From a party of blacks, travelling through that part of the country, I obtained some tea, [giving] them some tobacco in exchange. It was a lonely camp. […] The little tribe, passing through on a pilgrimage from one hunting-ground to another, were the only human beings I saw during the months I was there.

Our new research about known rock art artists in Kakadu has shown that the “pilgrims” included Nayombolmi and his closest kin. From Birtles’ photographs the encounter appears to have been a relaxed one.

One photograph shows Birtles having tea with Yowie. Aboriginal spears are placed on the side of Birtles’ car and a dead wallaby on its bonnet. On the rear of the car are unmistakable Aboriginal paintings that seem to have been there for some time.

black and white photo of outback camp
Birtles has tea with his dog Yowie. Traditional Aboriginal spears hang on his car and a dead wallaby is draped over the bonnet. National Library Australia

Another photograph shows the owner of the spears. An Aboriginal man with scarification across his chest holding a recent kill — a bush turkey. He has a pipe in his mouth.

In the background, another Aboriginal man we believe to be Nayombolmi sits on the rear of the car. The photographs seem to confirm Birtles’ account of the exchange of tea and tobacco.

black and white photo of figures in outback
Birtles’ car with the spears, Yowie and two of the ‘pilgrims;’ the one to the right we believe is Nayombolmi. Francis Birtles/National Library AustraliaAuthor provided

Car As Canvas

The most fascinating photograph (the lead image above) shows Birtles’ car decorated with 19 traditional Aboriginal rock art images depicting an emu, a fresh water crocodile, two long-necked turtles, a saratoga (fish), a hand-and-arm stencil and 14 dancing and crawling human-like figures.

On the rear end of the car, Nayombolmi sits on a dead kangaroo holding a dog in his lap. Birtles sits in the driver’s seat holding a live magpie goose.

The identification of Nayombolmi — sometimes described as the most prolific known rock art artist in the world — was recorded by Dan Gillespie in the early 1980s during oral history with Nayombolmi’s kin brother, George Namingum.

Shown the photograph of the painted car, Namingum identified Nayombolmi as the artist. He declared: “Oh yeah. That’s my brother” and added that Nayombolmi “used to painting everything”.

The identification has since been confirmed by Nayombolmi’s closest kin, who knew him when they were young.

After the unexpected encounters between Nayombolmi and Birtles, a gold mine known as Arnhem Land Gold Development Company – No Liability was established through Birtles’ agency. Nayombolmi, his family and other local Aboriginal people worked at the mine — though were paid with food, tobacco and alcohol rather than cash.

Read more: Introducing the Maliwawa Figures: a previously undescribed rock art style found in Western Arnhem Land

Birtles quickly sold his mine shares and became rich, allowing him to possess things he “always wanted”; as he wrote later: “The sort of things a man of my tastes dreams of owning when he hasn’t a cracker”.

Nayombolmi and his kin — despite the friendly encounter captured on film, decorating Birtle’s car, and the fact they were instrumental to the mining operations — were left with nothing.

We do not know what happened to the car that Nayombolmi painted. The photographs are all that remain.

Our research has been undertaken in close collaboration with Djok Senior Traditional Owner Jeffrey Lee and Parks Australia (Kakadu).The Conversation

Joakim Goldhahn, Rock Art Australia Ian Potter Kimberley Chair, The University of Western AustraliaPaul S.C.Taçon, Chair in Rock Art Research and Director of the Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit (PERAHU), Griffith University, and Sally K. May, Senior Research Fellow, Griffith University

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

Modelling Highlights Risk In Australia's National COVID Plan

August 24, 2021
Australia's National Plan to relax COVID-19 restrictions puts too many lives at risk and could hamper thousands more Australians with ongoing illness, according to new modelling from researchers.

The researchers argue that at least 90 per cent of all Australians, including children, must be vaccinated against COVID-19 before fully relaxing public health measures and opening the international border.

Professor Quentin Grafton from The Australian National University, Dr Zoë Hyde from the University of Western Australia and Professor Tom Kompas from the University of Melbourne examined the Australian Government's National Plan to reduce restrictions once enough adults are vaccinated.

Under the National Plan, once more than 80 per cent of adults receive two doses of COVID-19 vaccines, equivalent to approximately 65 per cent of the total population, the nation will "manage COVID-19 consistent with public health management of other infectious diseases".

Professor Grafton said the new modelling showed "we simply can't afford to do that, both in terms of lives and long-term illness from COVID".

"We found substantial morbidity and mortality is likely to occur if the Australian Government sticks to the National Plan," he said.

"Our modelling shows if 70 per cent of Australians over 16 years of age are fully vaccinated, with a 95 per cent vaccination level for those aged 60 years and over, there could eventually be some 6.9 million symptomatic COVID-19 cases, 154,000 hospitalisations, and 29,000 fatalities.

"And assuming 80 per cent vaccination coverage for only those over 16, as per the National Plan, there could be approximately 25,000 fatalities and some 270,000 cases of long COVID.

"In contrast, and if children are also fully vaccinated, national fatalities for all age groups would be reduced to 19,000 with 80 per cent adult vaccination coverage. This would fall to 10,000 at a 90 per cent adult vaccination coverage.

"Children also directly benefit from vaccination. If we could achieve 75 cent vaccination coverage among children and adolescents, we could prevent 12,000 hospitalisations in these age groups."

The researchers argue four key steps must be taken before "exposing Australians to uncontrolled COVID-19".

These include:
  • vaccinating both children and adolescents;
  • reaching 95 per cent full vaccination among people 60 and older as well as other vulnerable groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders;
  • giving an mRNA booster shot to all Australians vaccinated with AstraZeneca, as well as a booster shot to those vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine, when appropriate; and
  • reaching more than 90 per cent vaccination coverage among all Australians.
"The consequences of prematurely and fully relaxing public health measures to suppress COVID-19, even after vaccinating 80 per cent of adults, would likely be irreversible, and unacceptable to many Australians," Dr Hyde said.

"Even if the country achieves the four steps we are calling for, fully relaxing public health measures to eliminate community transmission could still, eventually, result in some 5,000 fatalities and 40,000 cases of long COVID.

"For all these reasons and more, it's simply too dangerous to treat COVID-19 like the flu.

"We also can't forget about our children, who can get very sick from this virus and need protection before we open up."

Professor Kompas said the Australian Government still has an opportunity to devise "a safe and affordable transition to a 'post-COVID-19' era".

"Our projections of hospitalisations and fatalities would have been even worse if we had used the higher preliminary estimates of the increased virulence of the Delta variant," he said.

"This means our projections likely represent a lower estimate of the cumulative public health outcomes of fully relaxing public health measures at Phase D of the National Plan, or sooner, if outbreaks are not effectively suppressed or eliminated.

"If National Cabinet revises its strategy to include our four vaccination steps, many lives will be saved, and many more, including children, will not suffer from debilitating long COVID."

The modelling from Professor Grafton, Dr Hyde and Professor Kompas is available online as a pre-print publication. Read an analysis article by the three researchers about their findings and proposed four-step national COVID-19 response at Policy Forum.

New Method Improves Detection Of Harmful Microscopic Parasites In Water

August 24, 2021
UNSW engineers have identified a new simpler method to detect tiny microbes in water which cause significant health risks and potentially even death.

Research by Professor Ewa Goldys, from UNSW’s Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering, and her team shows that ultrasensitive CRISPR technology can identify the presence of Cryptosporidium parvum in samples on site and using simple equipment.

Cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite that can cause serious gastrointestinal disorders, and is especially widespread in locations where water sources may be contaminated by animals, both wild and domestic. Long periods of drought followed by heavy rain, becoming ever more typical in Australia, often leads to increased contamination of our waterways.

The new technology also has the potential to be developed further to improve detection of other bacteria and viruses, including possible identification of COVID-19 in wastewater samples.

Cheaper, faster, easier
Until now, detecting Cryptosporidium most commonly requires the use of expensive laboratory equipment, specialised microscopes and skilled training to identify the microbe in a water sample.

But in a paper co-authored by Professor Goldys, and published in Water Research, a new method is proposed which is cheaper, easier to carry out and requires little or no special training to administer and analyse the results. 

That is because the system produces a distinctive fluorescent glow in the water sample when Cryptosporidium is found.

The research shows how identification of even a single microorganism within a given sample is possible. This is important, given the fact that as little as two such microbes are believed to be capable of causing serious infection.

Prof. Goldys said: “This new method lowers the cost of water testing and makes it more broadly available. We hope to make water testing much faster, and much cheaper.

“That is a benefit to everybody, wherever they live in the world, because it makes the technology more widely accessible.

“In addition, we believe this technology could be applied to the detection of Covid-19, which currently takes up to 11 hours to get results from wastewater samples – much of which is often time spent transporting the sample to the lab where all the specialised equipment is located.

“Our system gives results for Cryptosporidium in just two-and-a-half hours and we hope this is a new technology that can be easily applied at the site where water samples are being taken.

“The aim is to get further funding for additional research into the way we may be able to adapt this for Covid-19 detection.”

Fluorescent flag
The work by Prof. Goldys and her team – including Professor Graham Vesey, Yi Li, Fei Deng and Tim Hall – uses CRISPR technology that can detect specific proteins on the surface of the Cryptosporidium microbe (known as an oocyst) and then bind onto it.

When a fluorescent agent is added to the reaction mixture, which is then combined with water samples, the result is a clear signal which can be detected by a standard plate reader.
These plate readers are suitable for large-scale screening of multiple samples simultaneously, thus making the detection process faster and more efficient. 

The CRISPR/Cas12a-based system can produce results in around 2.5 hours, at a maximum sensitivity down to a single Cryptosporidium oocyst per millilitre.

“Although the pathogen can be very sparse in the water, it’s still very dangerous because ingesting just a few can make you sick,” Prof. Goldys says.

“The current system using microscopy is very tricky and also very time-consuming. This new method makes it quicker and easier.”

Mental Health Of Young Adults 'Most Affected' By COVID-19 Restrictions

August 23, 2021
Findings from UNSW research highlight different age groups urgently need targeted mental health responses.
A new study by academics at UNSW Business School, UNSW Science, and Asia University finds the mental health of young adults aged 18 to 34 is the most affected by restrictions associated with COVID-19. 

Published in Translational Psychiatry, the study of 6475 participants shows 50 per cent of young adults surveyed in the US report feeling moderate mental distress. This is above the average prevalence of 37 per cent, and well above the less than 25 per cent of people over 65, who demonstrate feeling mental distress as a result of COVID-19.  

The lead author, Dr Elvira Sojli, an Associate Professor of Finance and Scientia Fellow Alumni in the School of Banking and Finance at UNSW Business School, says this is a surprising result for the researchers.  

“The long-term effects and death rate of COVID-19 is highest among those over 60,” she says. “Also, evidence from previous pandemics, such as MERS and SARS, shows higher rates of mental distress among older adults.”  

Dr Sojli co-authors the study alongside Associate Professor Wing Wah Tham of UNSW Business School, Scientia Professor Richard Bryant of UNSW Science, and the late Professor Michael McAleer of Asia University (Taiwan). She suggests several reasons why the younger cohorts show higher levels of mental distress in the study.  

“Younger people rely more on mobility for social interaction, travel, and leisure activities, and the loss of these activities adversely impacts on mental health,” she says.  
Pounding hearts and nausea: How do the researchers track mental distress?  
The study examines the effects of restrictions using data from the US probability-based survey, Covid-19 Household Impact Survey. This survey was conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago in April, May, and June 2020. 

The survey asked participants about their individual mental distress during the lockdown period, for example how often in the past week they experienced symptoms such as feeling ‘hopeless about the future’ or ‘lonely’ or ‘physical reactions such as sweating, trouble breathing, or a pounding heart when thinking about your experience with the coronavirus pandemic’.  

The UNSW authors then use these responses to create a Psychological Distress Scale, with higher scores indicating higher mental distress. This is then compared with self-reported previous mental health diagnoses.   

The Covid-19 Household Impact Survey also included questions around whether respondents had personal plans affected by the restrictions, about their current employment, likely future job prospects, and their physical health.  

“While the data is representative of the US population, it gives us insights that are generally applicable to other groups of people,” says Dr Sojli.

‘Poor physical health’ another likely contributing factor to distress  
The findings from the UNSW study show that, as well as young adults exhibiting higher levels of mental distress as a cohort, other correlations include better physical health with lower levels of mental distress, with an individual with poor physical health being five times more likely to feel moderate mental distress.  

Older men are also more likely than older women to exhibit moderate mental distress, (though there was seemingly no effect for young adults), and white, non-Hispanic young adults are more likely to demonstrate moderate mental distress, compared to respondents who were Asian.  

Could the argument be made for the younger generation being more mental health literate, and therefore more aware of their symptoms? Dr Sojli says this is not the case, based on the data collected.  

"Respondents were asked about prior mental health issues,” she says. “There didn’t seem to be big differences across age groups on that, indicating that older people are not shy about mental health issues.”  

What lessons are there for Australia from the study?  
While the research uses data from the US, the researchers say there are several learnings here for Australia.   

"The lessons are very clear,” says Dr Sojli. “The US did not have as strict a lockdown, compared to Victoria, and in NSW in recent months, and we still saw a large impact on the mental health of younger people in the US. The learnings we get from this data can certainly be applied to other countries outside of the US, like Australia.

“The Australian federal and state governments need to think harder about how to deliver mental health support. Age-group specific policies and preventative actions are necessary and need to be drawn up.”  

There is also a lack of COVID-19 related mental health data being collected in Australia, with the level of comprehension and representation shown in the COVID-19 Household Impact Survey. Indeed, studies in countries such as Germany are collecting information on COVID-19 and mental health.  
"The Australian census collection was a missed opportunity on this front,” says Dr Sojli. “There ought to have been a few questions on mental health in the census, to allow for an understanding of the situation in the country.”  

The authors say as well as underlining the need for differentiated and targeted mental health responses to the mental health effects of COVID-19 by age groups, the study demonstrates the need for preventative actions that reduce specific mental health burdens during the pandemic, such as impacts of social restrictions or job stress on younger people.  

“There is also the need to switch from individual-based approaches to population-wide screening aimed specifically at identifying people with elevated levels of risk,” says Dr Sojli. “And our results highlight that it is imperative to focus initially on the younger age cohorts.”

The Royal Society Awards Michelle Simmons The Prestigious Bakerian Medal

August 24, 2021
The internationally renowned UNSW Scientia Professor is recognised for creating the field of atomic electronics.

The Royal Society of London has awarded Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons the prestigious Bakerian Lecture, which was first delivered in 1775. Photo: UNSW.

Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons AO at UNSW Science has been awarded the 2021 Bakerian Medal and Lecture, the premier lecture in physical sciences, by the Royal Society of London. The honour is in recognition of her “seminal contributions to our understanding of nature at the atomic-scale by creating a sequence of world-first quantum electronic devices in which individual atoms control device behaviour”.

Professor Simmons says few things have given her greater pleasure than hearing she was awarded the Bakerian Medal and that she will give the Bakerian Lecture.

“The Bakerian Medal means a great deal to me. The previous winners have been some truly inspirational individuals,” she says.

“I was told the great news on my birthday, and one of my personal heroes, Michael Faraday, was an early recipient. Physics is, if nothing else, an empirical science and I am really looking forward to sharing some of the exciting work that’s currently happening in our laboratories.”

Professor Simmons says it isn’t always easy being a scientist.

“We all have our failings and prejudices. Even with the most careful adherence to the scientific method, it’s difficult to see the world as it truly is. One has to be systematic and observant of the details. This takes a certain amount of bloody-mindedness and grit.

“For those of us who choose to make a career out of doing this, it’s uplifting to be reminded that one is part of a chain of fellow enquirers all seeking to understand the world as it really is.”

UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research and Enterprise, Professor Nicholas Fisk congratulated Professor Simmons on this outstanding accolade.

“Michelle is internationally renowned for creating the field of atomic electronics, pioneering new technologies to build computing devices in silicon at the atomic scale. Her team is at the forefront of a global race to develop a quantum computer in silicon.

“She is not only one of the very few researchers lauded with Fellowship of the Royal Society, she has now been awarded its prestigious lectureship, first delivered in 1775. This etches her name among the global greats of physical science.”

UNSW Dean of Science, Professor Emma Johnston, endorsed Professor Fisk’s tribute.

“We are immensely proud of our quantum computing researchers and Professor Simmons represents an exemplar of this extraordinary team. In her research, she has pioneered technology to construct computing hardware at an unprecedented scale, out of individual atoms.

“Her goal of realising a practical quantum computer is the next frontier in semiconductor physics and is likely to transform computing in the 21st century just as the classical transistor did in the 20th century.”

Professor Simmons is the founder of Australia’s first quantum computing company, Silicon Quantum Computing. She is also Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T) at UNSW Sydney.

She has been recognised by the American Computer Museum as a pioneer in quantum computing, awarded the US Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology and was named the 2017 L’ORÉAL-UNESCO Asia-Pacific Laureate in the Physical Sciences. In 2018, Professor Simmons was named Australian of the Year and was admitted as a Fellow to the Royal Society of London. She was the inaugural Editor-in-Chief of Nature Quantum Information and is currently Chair of the American Physical Society Division of Quantum Information.

Professor Simmons says she has undertaken research at three institutions: the University of Durham in the UK where she did her PhD, the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge and UNSW Sydney.

“I have spent the last two decades at UNSW where I have developed a large team and been given the freedom to take risks. Here I have really come to appreciate the human side of undertaking research and the importance of building specialised teams with diverse expertise. I am very proud of all my team members past and present and delight in watching what they go on to achieve.”

The Royal Society’s Bakerian lectureship was established through a bequest by Henry Baker FRS (PDF) and began in 1775. The silver gilt medal is awarded annually and is accompanied by a gift of £10,000.

New Discovery Pinpoints The ‘Golden Window’ For IVF Success

August 23, 2021
Researchers have found a way to better pinpoint the "golden window" when a womb is ready for pregnancy, in a discovery that could help boost IVF success rates. It's long been known that correctly timing an embryo transfer is critical to the chance of achieving pregnancy. Identifying the right moment in a woman's cycle with absolute precision remains a challenge however, contributing to low IVF success rates, which remain on average under 50%. But now RMIT University researchers may have found a way forward, by identifying a Teflon-like molecule that makes the surface of the womb slippery and prevents embryos from implanting.

The team discovered that the levels of this molecule on the womb's surface decrease at a certain point in the menstrual cycle.

This allows the womb to become stickier, opening the "golden window" for pregnancy success.

Previously, scientists believed implantation hinged on molecules that actively promoted the adhesion of an embryo to the wall of the uterus.

Lead researcher Professor Guiying Nie said the team's discovery changed long-held scientific thinking about embryo implantation.

"We've been looking for something that helps embryos stick when the vital part of the puzzle turned out to be a slippery molecule that has the opposite effect -- it prevents them from sticking," she said.

The research found a significant difference in IVF success rates when embryos were transferred while this molecule was present or absent on the surface of the uterus.

"Every embryo is precious for families struggling with infertility, so getting the timing right is critical," said Nie, who leads the Implantation and Pregnancy Research Laboratory in the School of Health and Biomedical Sciences at RMIT.

"We hope with further development our discovery could help clinicians identify precisely when each patient has the greatest chance of achieving pregnancy, delivering fully personalised IVF treatment."

The findings, published in the journals Fertility and Sterility and Human Reproduction, could have significant implications for IVF treatment and success rates.

Pregnancy success rates

The retrospective clinical study, co-designed by Nie and Professor Luk Rombauts from Monash IVF, examined levels of the anti-implantation molecule, known as podocalyxin (PCX), in the endometrium of 81 women undergoing IVF treatment.

A biopsy of the uterus was taken at the mid-luteal phase (about seven days after ovulation) of the women's menstrual cycle, one full cycle before a frozen embryo was transferred.

While the women with low levels of PCX had a 53% pregnancy success rate, those women where the molecule had not been reduced had a success rate of just 18%.

Rombauts said measuring levels of PCX at the mid-luteal phase can be used as a screening test but it could also indicate a reason for infertility, making the molecule a potential target for treatment.

"These findings offer a promising path for us to both improve IVF success rates and potentially treat an underlying cause of infertility," he said.

The research team has already begun work to better understand the role of PCX and how it is regulated in the body, with the aim of developing infertility treatments.

Nie said the analysis of this molecule could be done in a standard pathology laboratory, making it relatively cost-effective to implement a future screening test.

"The only way we can currently test for PCX is through biopsies of tissue, which cannot be taken at the time when embryos are transferred," she said.

"We need further research to develop non-invasive and real-time approaches for measuring PCX on the day of embryo transfer.

"Our hope is to deliver a simple test that can help patients and boost the precision and personalisation of IVF treatment."

A patent application has been filed for the technology, with collaborators from Monash IVF now looking to further evaluate the potential clinical applications.

The work began at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research, before Nie's team moved to RMIT in 2020.

The research was supported by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, Monash IVF, and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC). Human embryo work in Brussels was supported by Wetenschappelijk Fonds Willy Gepts.

Journal References:
  1. Sophea Heng, Nirukshi Samarajeewa, Asma Aberkane, Wafaa Essahib, Hilde Van de Velde, Maxine Scelwyn, M. Louise Hull, Beverley Vollenhoven, Luk J. Rombauts, Guiying Nie. Podocalyxin inhibits human embryo implantation in vitro and luminal podocalyxin in putative receptive endometrium is associated with implantation failure in fertility treatment. Fertility and Sterility, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2021.06.028
  2. Sarah G Paule, Sophea Heng, Nirukshi Samarajeewa, Ying Li, Mary Mansilla, Andrew I Webb, Thomas Nebl, Steven L Young, Bruce A Lessey, M Louise Hull, Maxine Scelwyn, Rebecca Lim, Beverley Vollenhoven, Luk J Rombauts, Guiying Nie. Podocalyxin is a key negative regulator of human endometrial epithelial receptivity for embryo implantation. Human Reproduction, 2021; 36 (5): 1353 DOI: 10.1093/humrep/deab032

Volcanoes Acted As A Safety Valve For Earth’s Long-Term Climate

August 23, 2021
Scientists at the University of Southampton have discovered that extensive chains of volcanoes have been responsible for both emitting and then removing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) over geological time. This stabilised temperatures at Earth's surface.

The researchers, working with colleagues at the University of Sydney, Australian National University (ANU), University of Ottawa and University of Leeds, explored the combined impact of processes in the solid Earth, oceans and atmosphere over the past 400 million years. Their findings are published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Natural break-down and dissolution of rocks at Earth's surface is called chemical weathering. It is critically important because the products of weathering (elements like calcium and magnesium) are flushed via rivers to the oceans, where they form minerals that lock up CO2. This feedback mechanism regulates atmospheric CO2 levels, and in turn global climate, over geological time.

"In this respect, weathering of the Earth's surface serves as a geological thermostat," says lead author Dr Tom Gernon, Associate Professor in Earth Science at the University of Southampton, and a Fellow of the Turing Institute. "But the underlying controls have proven difficult to determine due to the complexity of the Earth system."

"Many Earth processes are interlinked, and there are some major time lags between processes and their effects," explains Eelco Rohling, Professor in Ocean and Climate Change at ANU and co-author of the study. "Understanding the relative influence of specific processes within the Earth system response has therefore been an intractable problem."

To unravel the complexity, the team constructed a novel "Earth network," incorporating machine-learning algorithms and plate tectonic reconstructions. This enabled them to identify the dominant interactions within the Earth system, and how they evolved through time.

The team found that continental volcanic arcs were the most important driver of weathering intensity over the past 400 million years. Today, continental arcs comprise chains of volcanoes in, for example, the Andes in South America, and the Cascades in the US. These volcanoes are some of the highest and fastest eroding features on Earth. Because the volcanic rocks are fragmented and chemically reactive, they are rapidly weathered and flushed into the oceans.

Martin Palmer, Professor of Geochemistry at the University of Southampton and co-author of the study, said: "It's a balancing act. On one hand, these volcanoes pumped out large amounts of CO2 that increased atmospheric CO2 levels. On the other hand, these same volcanoes helped remove that carbon via rapid weathering reactions."

The study casts doubt on a long-held concept that Earth's climate stability over tens to hundreds of millions of years reflects a balance between weathering of the seafloor and continental interiors. "The idea of such a geological tug of war between the landmasses and the seafloor as a dominant driver of Earth surface weathering is not supported by the data," Dr Gernon states.

"Unfortunately, the results do not mean that nature will save us from climate change," stresses Dr Gernon. "Today, atmospheric CO2 levels are higher than at any time in the past 3 million years, and human-driven emissions are about 150 times larger than volcanic CO2 emissions. The continental arcs that appear to have saved the planet in the deep past are simply not present at the scale needed to help counteract present-day CO2 emissions."

But the team's findings still provide critical insights into how society might manage the current climate crisis. Artificially enhanced rock weathering -- where rocks are pulverised and spread across land to speed up chemical reaction rates -- could play a key role in safely removing CO2 from the atmosphere. The team's findings suggest that such schemes may be deployed optimally by using calc-alkaline volcanic materials (those containing calcium, potassium and sodium), like those found in continental arc environments.

"This is by no means a silver bullet solution to the climate crisis -- we urgently need to reduce CO2 emissions in line with IPCC mitigation pathways, full stop. Our assessment of weathering feedbacks over long timescales may help in designing and evaluating large-scale enhanced weathering schemes, which is just one of the steps needed to counteract global climate change," Dr Gernon concludes.

Thomas M. Gernon, Thea K. Hincks, Andrew S. Merdith, Eelco J. Rohling, Martin R. Palmer, Gavin L. Foster, Clément P. Bataille, R. Dietmar Müller. Global chemical weathering dominated by continental arcs since the mid-Palaeozoic. Nature Geoscience, 2021; DOI: 10.1038/s41561-021-00806-0

Exercise Maintains Normal Heart Rhythm In Patients With Atrial Fibrillation

August 23, 2021
A six-month exercise programme helps maintain normal heart rhythm and reduces the severity of symptoms in patients with atrial fibrillation, according to late breaking research presented at ESC Congress 2021.1

"The ACTIVE-AF trial demonstrates that some patients can control their arrhythmia through physical activity, without the need for complex interventions such as ablation or medications to keep their heart in normal rhythm," said study author Dr. Adrian Elliott of the University of Adelaide, Australia.

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a heart rhythm disorder that makes the heart beat fast and irregularly. The most common symptoms are palpitations, shortness of breath, light headedness, and fatigue, which can dramatically impact quality of life. Patients have significant risks of stroke and heart failure. The global prevalence of AF is increasing rapidly and is estimated to be over 30 million people,2 while the lifetime risk of the disorder for individuals over the age of 55 may be as high as one in three.3

Exercise-based rehabilitation is recommended for patients with coronary heart disease and heart failure, but few studies have examined the benefits in AF. An observational study found that patients who gained cardiorespiratory fitness over a five-year follow-up were significantly less likely to have recurrences of AF.4 A randomised controlled trial showed that 12 weeks of aerobic interval training reduced the time spent in AF compared to usual care but the study enrolled just 51 patients and follow-up was only four weeks.5

The ACTIVE-AF trial assessed the impact of a six-month exercise programme combining supervised and home-based aerobic exercise on AF recurrence and symptom severity -- during the intervention and after a further six months of follow-up. The study included patients with short AF episodes (paroxysmal AF) or longer episodes requiring intervention to restore normal rhythm (persistent AF). Patients whose normal heart rhythm cannot be restored (permanent AF) were excluded.

The trial randomly allocated 120 patients with symptomatic AF to an exercise intervention or usual care for six months. The intervention included supervised exercise (weekly for three months then fortnightly for three months) and an individualised weekly plan to follow at home. Over the six months the target was to increase aerobic exercise up to 3.5 hours per week. Supervised sessions were typically higher intensity to raise cardiorespiratory fitness, while home-based exercise was typically a moderate intensity aerobic activity of the patient's choice (e.g. walking, indoor cycling, swimming). The usual care group received exercise advice but no active intervention. All patients received usual medical care from their cardiologist who was blinded to study group allocation.

The co-primary outcomes were AF symptom severity score and the proportion of patients with recurrent AF at 12 months. Recurrent AF was defined as episodes lasting longer than 30 seconds, undergoing an ablation intervention, or requiring ongoing anti-arrhythmic drug therapy.

The average age of patients in the study was 65 years and 43% were women. At 12 months, the AF recurrence rate was significantly lower in the exercise group (60%) compared to the control group (80%), with a hazard ratio of 0.50 (95% confidence interval 0.33-0.78; p=0.002). Dr. Elliott said: "Put simply, this means a larger number of patients in the exercise group could maintain a normal heart rhythm without needing invasive interventions or continued use of drugs."

Patients in the exercise group also had a significant reduction in the severity of their symptoms at 12 months compared to the control group. "This means that patients reported less severe palpitations, shortness of breath and fatigue," said Dr. Elliott.

He concluded: "Our study provides evidence that aerobic exercise should be incorporated into the treatment of patients with symptomatic AF. This should sit alongside the use of medications, as guided by a cardiologist, and management of obesity, hypertension and sleep apnoea. As a general guide, patients should strive to build up to 3.5 hours per week of aerobic exercise and incorporate some higher intensity activities to improve cardiorespiratory fitness."


1Abstract title: An exercise and physical activity program in patients with atrial fibrillation: the ACTIVE-AF randomised controlled trial.

2Chugh SS, Havmoeller R, Narayanan K, et al. Worldwide epidemiology of atrial fibrillation: A Global Burden of Disease 2010 study. Circulation. 2014;129:837-847.

3Staerk L, Wang B, Preis SR, et al. Lifetime risk of atrial fibrillation according to optimal, borderline, or elevated levels of risk factors: cohort study based on longitudinal data from the Framingham Heart Study. BMJ. 2018;360:k1453.

4Pathak RK, Elliott A, Middeldorp ME, et al. Impact of CARDIOrespiratory FITness on arrhythmia recurrence in obese individuals with atrial fibrillation. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015;66:985-996.

5Malmo V, Nes BM, Amundsen BH, et al. Aerobic interval training reduces the burden of atrial fibrillation in the short term. Circulation. 2016;133:466-473.

Patients Helping Researchers To Advance Treatments For Prostate Cancer

August 23, 2021
Researchers at Monash University have established one of the world's largest collections of living tumours from prostate cancer patients, accelerating the testing of new treatments for prostate cancer and leading to faster patient benefit.

One of the most common cancers, prostate cancer is also one of the most difficult to study in the laboratory, with the frequently used models derived more than 40 years ago. With the establishment of the Melbourne Urological Research Alliance (MURAL), hundreds of Victorian men have generously donated samples of their cancer tissue, enabling the team to study a greater diversity of live tumours and test the efficacy of a larger variety of therapies for their ability to stop tumour growth.

The PDX collection (patient-derived xenografts), developed by a multidisciplinary consortium and led by Professor Gail Risbridger and Associate Professor Renea Taylor at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI), now comprises 59 tumours, collected from 30 patients between 2012 -- 2020 and is now one of the largest collections of prostate cancer models in the world.

Full characterisation of the PDX collection is published in Nature Communications.

MURAL PDXs are an enduring resource of new cancer models that can be shared with other academic investigators or pharmaceutical companies. The patients and their families are directly embedded in this venture, including the EJ Whitten Foundation who have been pivotal over the last 10 years in providing over $1M in donations enabling this resource to be developed and the program to come to the forefront of the international field.

"This project begins and ends with patients like EJ Whitten. We take patient tissue -- do testing in the laboratory -- and the discoveries then advance treatment for patients," said Professor Risbridger. "Our new models of prostate cancer have attracted interest from scientists and the pharmaceutical industry worldwide."

Ted Whitten, Executive Director and Founder of the E.J.Whitten Foundation congratulates the Monash University Biomedicine Discovery Institute on its recent findings in regards to Prostate Cancer research. "We believe that Monash University is a leader of Prostate Cancer Research and we have been delighted to have been able to financially support many of their important programs over the past ten years."

Dr Mitchell Lawrence, also from Monash BDI and a senior author, says: "This resource provides an opportunity to link the molecular changes in prostate cancer to pathology, grow organoids and test functional responses to therapies, which have rarely been applied to prostate cancer given the lack of suitable models."

The success of this program is based on collaboration between scientists and clinicians such as surgeons and oncologists at Monash, Cabrini Institute and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, as well as patients and their families who generously donate cancer tissues. Other organisations who supported the PDX program include Victorian Cancer Agency, Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and Movember.

Gail P. Risbridger, Ashlee K. Clark, Laura H. Porter, Roxanne Toivanen, Andrew Bakshi, Natalie L. Lister, David Pook, Carmel J. Pezaro, Shahneen Sandhu, Shivakumar Keerthikumar, Rosalia Quezada Urban, Melissa Papargiris, Jenna Kraska, Heather B. Madsen, Hong Wang, Michelle G. Richards, Birunthi Niranjan, Samantha O’Dea, Linda Teng, William Wheelahan, Zhuoer Li, Nicholas Choo, John F. Ouyang, Heather Thorne, Lisa Devereux, Rodney J. Hicks, Shomik Sengupta, Laurence Harewood, Mahesh Iddawala, Arun A. Azad, Jeremy Goad, Jeremy Grummet, John Kourambas, Edmond M. Kwan, Daniel Moon, Declan G. Murphy, John Pedersen, David Clouston, Sam Norden, Andrew Ryan, Luc Furic, David L. Goode, Mark Frydenberg, Mitchell G. Lawrence, Renea A. Taylor. The MURAL collection of prostate cancer patient-derived xenografts enables discovery through preclinical models of uro-oncology. Nature Communications, 2021; 12 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-25175-5

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.