inbox and environment News: Issue 543

June 19 - 25, 2022: Issue 543

Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew: Council Policy Disconnect On Balloons

This photo was taken Sunday the 12th of June at Mona Vale night markets. 

We love that Northern Beaches Council has a "Waste Minimisation at Functions and Events Policy''. This requires event organisers to reduce their waste, promote sustainable procurement and increase recycling at public events held on Council property. The Policy and Guidelines ban event organisers selling or distributing single-use plastics, balloons, bottled water and single serve sachets. It also states that Balloons are NOT to be used, given away or released during events.

Did you know that balloons or balloon fragments are the marine debris most likely to cause mortality, and they kill almost one in five of the seabirds that ingest them? Similar research into plastic ingestion by sea turtles has been found.

One Councillor, Kristyn Glanville, has stated she will this up with staff.

Image/report: Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew

Multi Layered Coastal Assessment  Careel Bay: First Study Session  

First study session will be the ocean bound waste centred on micro & macro plastics using the AUSMAP and Tangaroa Blue programs. That will be at the Etival St beach area on Tuesday 21 June, starting 8.00 am. This is the dog park street and there is parking at the entrance

Please register your intent to attend to

Also call Robbie on 0410 374 333 if you have queries.
Once you register they will contact you directly with further information.
It may be subject to weather check but we will advise.
For more information please visit: Careel Multi Layered Coastal Assessment CMCA - Profile

Sydney Metropolitan Wildlife Services: Possums In Your Roof

Possums in your roof? Please do the right thing 
On the weekend, one of our volunteers noticed a driver pull up, get out of their vehicle, open the boot, remove a trap and attempt to dump a possum on a bush track. Fortunately, our member intervened and saved the beautiful female brushtail and the baby in her pouch from certain death. 

It is illegal to relocate a trapped possum more than 150 metres from the point of capture and substantial penalties apply.  Urbanised possums are highly territorial and do not fare well in unfamiliar bushland. In fact, they may starve to death or be taken by predators.

While Sydney Wildlife Rescue does not provide a service to remove possums from your roof, we do offer this advice:

✅ Call us on (02) 9413 4300 and we will refer you to a reliable and trusted licenced contractor in the Sydney metropolitan area. For a small fee they will remove the possum, seal the entry to your roof and provide a suitable home for the possum - a box for a brushtail or drey for a ringtail.
✅ Do-it-yourself by following this advice from the Department of Planning and Environment: 

❌ Do not under any circumstances relocate a possum more than 150 metres from the capture site.
Thank you for caring and doing the right thing.

Sydney Wildlife photos

Pelicans Heading To The Coast Now: Winter Migrations

If you spot any orange leg band from this season's Pelican mega breeding colony about to disperse to coastal waterways for food, from Lake Brewster and Kieeta Lake, please contact the NSW DPI.
Keep watch if any Pelican comes to rest in both urban and remote location as may require assistance, before arriving on our coasts to drink and feed.
Here's the email just to send any details of orange banded pelican sightings

Pittwater Natural Heritage Association (PNHA) Walks

Our first Sunday Nature Walk for 2022: A Bushwalk around Newport.
The Newport Bushlink Project: From the Crown to the Sea began as an idea of local residents in 1994 - to create a walk through four reserves, through different kinds of bushland and geology - Hawkesbury sandstone heath to closed forest.

We'll follow that route, exploring the reserves the track goes through, looking at plants, birds, views.

When: 9.30 am, Sunday June 26th
Where: Meet at Porter Reserve, Burke St Newport, returning here about 11.45am.
Level of difficulty: Some steep up and down bush tracks. Reasonable fitness needed. Not suitable young children or dogs.
The circular walk could take 2 hours. Wear boots, bring water, snacks.

To Book: Only 15 people please, as the track is steep and narrow. Please email to book. 

Chemical Clean Out: June 2022 At Mona Vale

Where: Mona Vale Beach Car Park; Surfview Road, Mona Vale
When: Sat 25, Sun 26 June 2022, 9am - 3:30pm

The safe way to dispose of potentially hazardous household chemicals is at a Household Chemical CleanOut event. These events are free services held across NSW on specified dates.

Before you attend a Chemical CleanOut event, please place all materials in the rear of your vehicle. On arrival, remain in your vehicle and our contractor will collect your items. Contractors onsite will be wearing personal protective equipment and following social distancing measures.

Use CleanOut to safely dispose of household chemicals that could cause harm to human health and the environment if not disposed of correctly. Check dates and locations for Household Chemical CleanOut events.

What can I take to a Household Chemical CleanOut event?
You can take household quantities of the following household chemicals and items – up to a maximum of 20 litres or 20 kilograms of a single item.

Solvents and household cleaners
Floor care products
Ammonia-based cleaners
Pesticides and herbicides
Pool chemicals
Hobby chemicals
Motor fuels
Fluorescent globes and tubes
Acids and alkalis
Smoke detectors
Paint and paint-related products
Gas bottles
Fire extinguishers
Car and household batteries
Motor oils and cooking oils

CleanOut events held in the Sydney, Illawarra and Hunter regions are open to all NSW residents, unless expressly stated, and are organised through the NSW EPA.

Living Ocean Traditional Welcome To Country For The Southern Humpback Whale Migration: June 24 

Environmental organisation Living Ocean is proud to host a traditional indigenous Whale Welcome to Ocean Country to be held at 7:30AM on Friday 24 June at the Avalon Surf Club, 558 Barrenjoey Road, Avalon Beach.  Details of the great whale census, to be held by collaborative partner ORRCA on 26 June, will also be announced at this event. 

Tens of thousands of Humpback Whales are expected to migrate north along the East Coast of Australia from June to September. Traditionally the local indigenous people, the Garigal of the Guringai whose totem is the whale, have always welcomed the migration to their Ocean Coast.   

Local elder Uncle Neil will perform a smoke ceremony, followed by whale songs on the didgeridoo, and finally the local community will call the whales in the traditional way by squeaking their feet in the sands of Avalon Beach. 

The annual Southern Hemisphere whale migration is one of nature’s most spectacular events, with these magnificent animals travelling up to 10,000 kilometres. However, it’s not just about their journey, as the importance of whales in terms of climate change is staggering when you consider each great whale captures 33 tons of CO2 on average, taking that carbon out of the atmosphere for centuries. At the same time, whales supply the ocean with the nutrients required to grow phytoplankton, which capture ~40% of all CO2 produced. Just a 1% increase in phytoplankton thanks to whales would capture hundreds of millions of tonnes of CO2, equivalent to 2 billion trees. 

David Cousins, Living Ocean Vice President, says ‘the preservation of the marine ecosystem to boost whale populations is paramount, as the lungs of our planet actually reside in the ocean.’  

Living Ocean is a not-for-profit organisation which operates as a centre for marine studies with a focus on marine animal behaviour, macro and micro plastics, and marine environment processes.  They promote awareness of human impact on the ocean through research, education, creative activation and support of others who sustain ocean health and integrity.  

The role of the ocean is fundamental as it regulates rainfall and droughts, holds 97% of our planets water, and is the greatest carbon sink on earth, far surpassing all vegetation. Therefore, the impact of ocean health is profound.   

Living Ocean strives to promote and educate on the importance of ocean health as necessary to the survival of all life (human, animal and botanical) on earth.   

The Welcome to Ocean Country for the Southern Hemisphere’s great whales will be held at 7:30AM on Friday 24 June at the Avalon Surf Club, 558 Barrenjoey Road, Avalon Beach.

Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew: Narrabeen - June 26

Come and join Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew for our Narrabeen Lake clean up. We'll meet at Lake Park, at the southern end, close to Pittwater rd. For exact meeting point look at the map below. 

We have clean and washed gloves, bags and buckets. We'll clean up the grass area to try and catch the litter before it hits the lagoon as well as cleaning the lagoon, trying to remove as much plastic, cigarette butts and rubbish as possible. We're a friendly group of people and everyone is welcome to this family friendly event (just leave political, religious and business messages at home so everyone feel welcome). 

It's a nice community - make some new friends and do a good deed for the planet at the same time. Send us a message or email if you are lost. Please invite family and friends and share this event. This is a Covid safe event so everyone must please stay 1.5 meters apart if you are not in the same household. 

We meet at 10am for a briefing. Then we generally clean between 60-90 minutes. After that, we sort and count the rubbish so we can contribute to litter research. We normally finish around 12.30 when we go to lunch together (at own cost). Please note, we completely understand if you cannot stay for the whole event. We are just grateful for any help we can get.  No booking required. Just show up on the day.

Barrenjoey Lighthouse Tours

Enjoy a Barrenjoey Lighthouse tour any Sunday afternoon. It stands at Sydney's northern-most point. The views of Broken Bay, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and the mighty Pacific are unforgettable.
When: Tours will run every Sunday from Sunday 15 May 2022 to Sunday 25 June 2023. Tour times: 11am to 11.30am, 12pm to 12.30pm, 1pm to 1.30pm, 2pm to 2.30pm and 3pm to 3.30pm.
Tours will not run on: Christmas Day - Sunday 25 December 2022 or New years Day - Sunday 1 January 2023.
Price: Adult $10 per person. Concession $8 per person. Child $5 per person. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Accompanying adults need to book and pay. 
Bookings: Bookings required. Phone 1300 072 757 or book online at:,54324,54344,54348
Meeting point: Barrenjoey Lighthouse. Give yourself at least 40mins to walk from the carpark to the lighthouse before your tour departs.

Local Wildlife Rescuers And Carers State That Ongoing Heavy Rains Are Tough For Us But Can Be Tougher For Our Wildlife:

  • Birds and possums can be washed out of trees, or the tree comes down, nests can disintegrate or hollows fill with water
  • Ground dwelling animals can be flooded out of their burrows or hiding places and they need to seek higher ground
  • They are at risk crossing roads as people can't see them and sudden braking causes accidents
  • The food may disappear - insects, seeds and pollens are washed away, nectar is diluted and animals can be starving
  • They are vulnerable in open areas to predators, including our pets
  • They can't dry out and may get hypothermia or pneumonia
  • Animals may seek shelter in your home or garage. 

You can help by:

  • Keeping your pets indoors
  • Assessing for wounds or parasites
  • Putting out towels or shelters like boxes to provide a place to hide
  • Drive to conditions and call a rescue group if you see an animal hit (or do a pouch check or get to a vet if you can stop)
  • If you are concerned take a photo and talk to a rescue group or wildlife carer

There are 2 rescue groups in the Northern Beaches:

Sydney Wildlife: 9413 4300

WIRES: 1300 094 737

Please be patient as there could be a few enquiries regarding the wildlife. 

Generally Sydney Wildlife do not recommend offering food but it may help in some cases. Please ensure you know what they generally eat and any offerings will not make them sick. You can read more on feeding wildlife here 

Information courtesy Ed Laginestra, Sydney Wildlife volunteer. Photo: Warriewood Wetlands Wallaby by Kevin Murray, March 2022.

Aviaries + Possum Release Sites Needed

Pittwater Online News has interviewed Lynette Millett OAM (WIRES Northern Beaches Branch) needs more bird cages of all sizes for keeping the current huge amount of baby wildlife in care safe or 'homed' while they are healed/allowed to grow bigger to the point where they may be released back into their own home. 

If you have an aviary or large bird cage you are getting rid of or don't need anymore, please email via the link provided above. There is also a pressing need for release sites for brushtail possums - a species that is very territorial and where release into a site already lived in by one possum can result in serious problems and injury. 

If you have a decent backyard and can help out, Lyn and husband Dave can supply you with a simple drey for a nest and food for their first weeks of adjustment.

Sydney Wildlife Rescue: Helpers Needed

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

Truckloads Of Flood Debris Removed From The Hawkesbury Area

High tech eyes in the sky and people on the ground getting their hands dirty after the NSW Floods have seen the clean-up work to remove storm and flood debris from Central Coast waterways and the Hawkesbury River produce extraordinary results.

NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Director Arminda Ryan said since March this year over 5000 cubic metres of flood debris had been removed from the Hawkesbury River and Central Coast waterways –enough to fill 250 eight-tonne trucks or almost two Olympic swimming pools. More than 7200 cubic metres has now been removed from waterways across the state.

“It’s a mammoth effort that has seen the Hawkesbury and Central Coast waterways and beaches being cleared of the enormous amount of flood debris to make these waterways safer for local communities again,” Ms Ryan said.

“We will continue to use every resource available to us, with debris being collected from rivers, creeks and beaches using boats, cranes, barges, land vehicles and hand picking.”

Ms Ryan said the clean-up was able to move quickly to clear waterways as EPA contractors had already been working in the Hawkesbury as part of its shoreline maintenance project from the 2021 floods. The response was made even swifter with the help of local communities.  

“The clean-up included a significant amount of planning and resources including aerial surveillance. But equally, on the ground intelligence from the public to locate debris and waste really helped the clean-up effort.”

Ms Ryan said the extreme weather to start the year had been a testing experience for local communities but it lifted residents’ spirit to see this recovery work making headway.

“The benefits are clear to see, our waterways are now safer, not only for local communities and boat operators but also local wildlife.”

Ms Ryan praised the community for their patience and ongoing support during the clean-up and looked forward to seeing further clean-up progress in the coming months.

Communities affected by the February and March 2021 storms and floods will continue to receive support for their long-term recovery journey thanks to the staged rollout of eight programs from the NSW Storm and Flood Recovery Package, jointly funded by the Australian and NSW Governments.

Members of the community can report flood debris in local rivers and beaches to the Environment Line on 131 555 or or

Budget Boost To Keep Lord Howe Island Pest Free

Australia's World Heritage listed Lord Howe Island and the future of some of the world's rarest species of plants and animals are being safeguarded with a $32.9 million NSW Budget investment, announced on Friday June 17, 2022.

Treasurer Matt Kean said the funding over four years will support delivery of a comprehensive biosecurity regime to protect the Island from rats and other invasive species.

"Lord Howe Island has many threatened unique species that are found nowhere else on earth, and this $32.9 million being delivered in the NSW Budget will help us protect biodiversity on the island for generations to come," Mr Kean said.

"This Budget funding helps us continue increasing biodiversity, and ensuring the natural values that attract people from around the world are protected in perpetuity."

Minister for Environment James Griffin said this investment is a critical step towards protecting a global conservation icon.

"This is one of the biggest funding announcements for the Lord Howe Island in many years. It's a win for the environment and for tourism, and builds on years of intensive work to control invasive species," Mr Griffin said.

"Our pest control program has already doubled the population of Lord Howe Woodhens and supported the regeneration of many other native animals and plants."

The funding will deliver infrastructure upgrades to prevent rats and other pests accessing the island, support quarantine programs using trained detector dogs, as well as other measures to inspect boats and planes that arrive at Lord Howe Island.

Member for Port Macquarie Leslie Williams said the funding will provide confidence for the Lord Howe Island community.

"I'm thrilled to see this investment in the conservation of one of the world's most unique islands," Ms Williams said.

"This announcement demonstrates the NSW Government is backing the community and providing support for the Lord Howe Island Board. It's great to know Lord Howe Island will remain a natural wonder, attracting visitors from all over the world."

Before the rodent control program began in 2019, there were thousands of rodents on the island, which decimated native plant and animal species, driving some to the brink of extinction.

Since the rodent eradication program began in 2019:
  • the population of Lord Howe Woodhens has more than doubled
  • there are increased numbers and breeding success for birds such as the black-winged petrel, masked booby and Lord Howe currawong
  • endemic ground geckos and invertebrates such as land snails are recovering
  • numerous plant species including the critically endangered little mountain palm have increased seedling and seed numbers.

Lord Howe Woodhen (Gallirallus sylvestris). Photo: Toby Hudson 

Massive Investment In Bushfire Management And Climate Change Adaptation

June 12, 2022
The 2022-23 NSW Budget is delivering a major boost to fire management in national parks through a $598 million investment, delivering 250 permanent jobs and critical infrastructure upgrades.
The NSW Government has also committed an additional $93.7 million to deliver the Climate Change Adaptation Strategy to prepare for the impacts of climate change and capture new investment opportunities.

Treasurer and Minister for Energy Matt Kean said the funding will maintain record levels of national park firefighters, and help communities develop stronger climate resilience.

"Climate change is happening now. Adaptation helps protect the things we value most from floods, drought and bushfires: it can save lives, livelihoods, homes and ecosystems," Mr Kean said.

"This funding will help us translate cutting-edge science into real-world solutions to protect communities from the impacts of climate change."

Minister for Environment James Griffin said the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), in collaboration with the Rural Fire Service (RFS), conducts about 75% of all hazard reduction burning in New South Wales.

"This significant investment of $598 million over 10 years for NPWS will secure 250 permanent jobs for firefighting and conservation roles, and deliver important infrastructure and fleet upgrades," Mr Griffin said.

"This is a major part of our response to the Bushfire Inquiry, which resulted in a 20% increase in NPWS hazard reduction targets in high-risk areas.

"This will ensure NPWS can increase hazard reduction activity, strengthen remote area firefighting capability, and is supported to continue its critical work protecting communities and the environment from the threat of bushfires."

The funding boost will deliver:
  • 250 permanent jobs from July 2023, including 200 firefighters and 50 roles to meet new statutory requirements for protecting Assets of Intergenerational Significance (AIS) across the national parks estate
  • $27.7 million over 4 years to upgrade the radio network
  • $4.5 million over 4 years for safety upgrades to the NPWS fleet
The need for special measures to protect AIS habitats, such as the Wollemi Pine, was another outcome of the Bushfire Inquiry.

"With more than 200 Assets of Intergenerational Significance already declared, this dedicated funding will deliver fire management, feral animal control and other measures needed to protect the most important natural and cultural assets in our national parks estate," Mr Griffin said.

The Climate Change Adaptation Strategy will invest in best-practice climate change risk and opportunity assessments and planning, as well as embed climate change adaptation across Government decision making.

For more information on the Strategy, visit NSW Climate Change Adaptation Strategy

Image: Porto Hazard reduction Burn, Kuring-gai-chase National Park, August 2021. Credit: DPE

Environmental Conservation Through Biodiversity Credits

June 14, 2022
Biodiversity credits will be easier to secure and more efficiently priced thanks to a $106.7 million investment through the NSW Budget to establish a strategic new fund.
The new Biodiversity Credits Supply Fund will support economic activity and stimulate the market for NSW biodiversity offset credits, the state government has said in a statement.

''The biodiversity offsets scheme ensures that development in NSW is environmentally sustainable. The Scheme requires a development that impacts upon threatened ecosystems or species to conserve habitat elsewhere in New South Wales through the buying and selling of 'biodiversity credits'.'' the statement reads

Treasurer Matt Kean said the new fund will help public and private proponents to secure biodiversity offset credits through an efficient and trusted government fund.

"This is an important step change to ensure we continue to protect our precious and unique plants, wildlife and ecosystems," Mr Kean said.

"This $106.7 million investment over 3 years by the NSW Government will enable more than $200 million of biodiversity credits to be bought and resold."

Minister for Environment James Griffin said the innovative fund will help to mature the biodiversity credit market, making the entire system more efficient.

"The fund will ensure there's a strong pipeline of biodiversity offset credits ready to roll out when needed, and link those credits with the proponents that need them," Mr Griffin said.

"Ultimately, landholders will benefit by getting paid for generating biodiversity offset credits if they wish to participate, all the while, protecting and conserving biodiversity across New South Wales."

Credits generated will be purchased by the fund and then sold to proponents. This strategic approach to credit procurement should reduce the cost of biodiversity offset credits over time by increasing supply in the market.

"The Biodiversity Credits Supply Fund is great progress for industry and for the environment, and will strengthen economic activity while striking the right balance for conservation," Mr Kean said.

"This will reduce time and cost on both sides, as landholders will have an immediate buyer for their credits, and credits will be available to proponents when they need them."

The Biodiversity Credits Supply Fund will support landholders with transparent information to help identify if they have land suitable for credit generation, and to better understand their credit trading options.

In addition, the NSW Government will soon release new tools to help landholders, proponents and other scheme participants estimate the fair price of credits in the open market.

Dendrobium Mine Expansion Plan Still Poses Unacceptable Risks To Drinking Water And Climate

The Nature Conservation Council has urged the NSW Planning Department to reject the expansion of Dendrobium coal mine in Sydney’s drinking water catchment. 

South32’s previous application to expand the mine was rejected by the Independent Planning Commission in 2021 because of unacceptable long-term, irreversible impacts on the city’s water supply.   

The company has modified and resubmitted its proposal, which the Planning Department is now considering, along with public submissions. [1]  

“The problem is that the fundamental concerns have not been addressed,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.    

“The project poses an intolerable threat to a reliable clean water source for Sydney’s ever-growing population.   

“The nature and climate impacts of this project are also unacceptable. The project would triple the mine’s direct greenhouse gas emissions and could damage 16 endangered swamps.  

“The only responsible outcome is for the Planning Department to protect the city’s clean water supply by rejecting the proposal.”  

Mr Gambian said the mine’s projected climate emissions would undermine the NSW Government’s target of net-zero emissions and international efforts to keep the climate safe.  

“The United Nations has warned there is no place for new coal mines if the world is to have any hope of keeping global heating to safe levels,” Mr Gambian said.  

“We have entered a critical period in human history where every decision we make about coal and gas counts.   

“The future of our climate and human society depends on a thousand small decisions like the one the Planning Department will make regarding Dendrobium in coming weeks.  

“There is no room for error — we can’t afford to get any more of these decisions wrong.”   


Developing Santos’s Narrabri Gas Field Will Accelerate Climate Change, Poison Aquifers, And Destroy Wildlife Habitat

Opening Narrabri gas field will not ease the short-term energy shortage but it will cause lasting environmental harm to the climate, water supplies and wildlife habitat. the NSW Nature Conservation Council  states[1] 

“Minister Madeleine King’s suggestions to fast track the Narrabri gas field will do nothing to solve the immediate energy supply shortfall, and it ignores the obvious need for domestic gas reservation,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.  

‘It also disregards the significant environmental damage that the local community at Narrabri has been seriously concerned about for many years.  

“I have invited Minister King to tour the Pilliga with me so she can see first-hand what is at stake.  

“Fossil fuel companies must not be allowed to profit from this temporary energy crisis by locking in a long-term increase in their emissions.  

“Santos’s Narrabri gas project threatens water supplies, endangered wildlife and will lock in decades of climate pollution when we need to slashing emissions as fast as possible. 

“Even the International Energy Agency—hardly a green-left radical outfit—says if governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from this year. [2]

“Australia has plenty of gas plenty of gas — we just need to prioritise domestic use. Gas as a transition fuel is a myth. We also need to accelerate efforts to get out of gas, because gas is fuelling climate change.” 

Santos plans to sink more than 880 gas wells in the 500,000-hectare Pilliga Forest, the largest remaining temperate woodland in eastern Australia and the largest forest remnant left in the heavily cleared Wheat-Sheep Belt west of Narrabri. The area has recognised wilderness significance, and more than 117,698 hectares meet the criteria for the National Wilderness Inventory.  

A report by the Nature Conservation Council titled Icons Under Threat [3] found: 

The habitat loss, increase in fragmentation and predation as a result of the gas development is likely to severely impact the Squirrel Glider, Koala and Eastern Pygmy Possum.  

Declining woodland birds such as the Diamond Firetail, Hooded Robin and Speckled Warbler will also be impacted, as the Pilliga represents a major refuge area. Migratory species to be impacted include the Regent Honeyeater, Swift Parrot, Great Egret and the Rainbow Bee-eater. 

The Pilliga provides habitat for the only known population of the endemic Pilliga Mouse, the largest Koala population in NSW west of the Great Divide (due to the occurrence of some of the Koala’s favourite tree species) and one of only two known Black-striped Wallaby populations in NSW. It is also recognised as the national stronghold for the south-eastern Long-eared Bat. 


[1] NSW will need Narrabri gas: Resources Minister, 15-6-22, SMH.  

[2] No new oil, gas or coal development if world is to reach net zero by 2050, says world energy body The Guardian, 18-4-21. May Fatih Birol, the International Energy Agency’s executive director and one of the world’s foremost energy economists, told the Guardian: “If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year.” 

[3] Icons Under Threat, 2012, Nature Conservation Council.  

Forestry Corporation NSW Fined For Forestry Activities In Exclusion Zones Near Coffs Harbour - Destroying Koala Habitat

June 16, 2022
Fines and costs totalling $285,600 have been levelled against Forestry Corporation NSW (FCNSW) after the Land and Environment Court found tree felling in exclusion zones had done “actual harm” to koala habitat in Wild Cattle Creek Forest near Coffs Harbour. 

The Land and Environment Court handed down a fine of $135,600 and ordered FCNSW to pay the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA)’s legal and investigation costs of $150,000 after FCNSW pleaded guilty to four charges brought by the EPA.

EPA Executive Director Regulatory Operations Carmen Dwyer said the prosecution sent a clear message to the forestry industry and operators.  

“All forestry operators have a responsibility to protect the environment and comply with the law when carrying out tree harvesting activities,” Ms Dwyer said.

“Breaches of the forestry laws will be investigated and those responsible will be held to account.”

The felling was carried out by FCNSW contractors in 2018. 

Two charges were for the felling of trees in protected rainforest areas, a third charge was for the felling of two trees in an exclusion zone around warm temperate rainforest, and the fourth was for felling four trees and other forestry activities in a Koala Exclusion Zone.

The non-compliant activities carried out in the Koala Exclusion Zone attracted the largest fine of $60,000.

Justice Robson accepted there had been harm to Koala habitat as a result of the non-compliant activities.

“The felling of the large Eucalyptus trees and the construction or operation of snig tracks were highly likely to have had an adverse impact by reducing the size and the quality of the habitat available to the breeding female and offspring,” Justice Robson said.

 “As such, I accept the position adopted by the prosecutor and find that there has been actual harm.”

The EPA commenced the prosecution in 2020 after a long investigation into FCNSW’s activities in Wild Cattle Creek State Forest in 2018. 

“Strict operating rules are in place to protect precious wildlife, such as the Koala. Exclusion Zones, which are a critical part of preserving the habitat of koalas to ensure their survival in this forest.

“Disregarding the rules and harvesting trees in these areas can put animals under increased stress,” Ms Dwyer said.

The offence relating to Koala Exclusion Zones carries a maximum penalty of $440,000, while the other three offences carry a maximum penalty of $110,000 each.

The Nature Conservation Council (NSW) states the fines will never replace critical koala habitat destroyed by Forestry Corporation.

''Today’s $135,600 fine for destroying koala habitat is more evidence Forestry Corporation is a rogue entity unfit in its current state to manage a resource as important as the state’s public native forests.  

Forestry Corp was also ordered to pay $150,000 of the EPA’s legal cost, bringing for the total cost of the government logging company’s wrongdoing to $285,600.''

“We welcome the court’s decision to apply this substantial fine and to award costs — Forestry Corporation must be made to pay for its environmental vandalism,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“Fines, no matter how large, can never replace critical koala habitat destroyed by Forestry Corporation.  

“Regrettably, today’s fine is another instance of destructive and unlawful behaviour by a company entrusted with managing 2 million hectares of forest.  

“This is not an isolated instance — Forestry Corporation is a repeat offender, with six major breaches successfully prosecuted since April 2020. 

“In March 2021, the EPA had 16 live investigations into alleged breaches by Forestry Corporation and its contractors. [1] 

“The government must establish a comprehensive independent review of Forestry Corporation to ensure it acts lawfully and sustainably. 

“There is little evidence the corporation is meeting these basic standards under the existing arrangements.” 

FCNSW Fines 

May 2022 — $138,000 – Wild Cattle Creek State Forest 

Apr 2022 — $45,000 — Mogo State Forest  

Feb 2021 — $15,000 — Olney State Forest  

Feb 2021 — $30,000 — Ballengarra State Forest  

Mar 2021 — $33,000 — Boyne, Bodalla and Mogo State Forest  

Apr 2020 — $31,100 — Tantawangalo and Bago State Forest  


Australian frogs are dying en masse again, and we need your help to find out why

A dead Peron’s tree frog (Litoria peroniiKen GriffithsAuthor provided
Jodi RowleyUNSW Sydney and Karrie RoseUniversity of Sydney

Last winter, thousands of dead and dying frogs were found across Australia. Instead of hunkering down and out of sight, frogs were spotted during the day in the open, on footpaths, highways and doorsteps – often in the blazing sun.

These frogs were often thin, slow moving, and with dark patches on their back or red bellies. They were seeking water in pet bowls or pot plants. And they usually died in a matter of hours.

A crash in frog populations could have very real consequences, particularly for already threatened frog species, and the importance of frogs in both freshwater and land systems means it can also impact entire ecosystems.

Thankfully, reports of sick or dead frogs slowed as the weather got warmer, and by the end of last year they had all but ceased. We hoped the awful spate of frog deaths was a one-off. But now, we fear it is happening again.

In the last few weeks, we’ve started getting scarily similar reports of sick and dead frogs from people across Australia.

From Warwick in southeast Queensland, we’ve received emails reporting green tree frogs (Litoria caerulea), discoloured and hunched up, sitting in the open, with the upsetting email:

We normally have these beautiful creatures hopping around our house but in the last week have only spotted two. Both were dead.

From Sydney’s North Shore, another report:

I have just found a dead Peron’s tree frog when raking up leaves in my garden.

And most recently, one of our colleagues stumbled across a big green tree frog in the middle of the day while bird-watching in western Sydney. The bright green frog was sitting in the sun on an asphalt path. In only a few hours, the frog was dead.

A big green tree frog sitting on a hot asphalt path. It died in a matter of hours. Nadiah RoslanAuthor provided

How Many Frogs Died Last Year?

Photos of sick frogs started popping up on social media feeds in May last year. This was not initially alarming, as sick, old or injured frogs are most likely to die in winter as their immune system slows down.

However, reports increased over late June and July, and we began to worry about just how many frogs were dying. Unfortunately, just as we began to worry, we were in lockdown, unable to venture out and investigate for ourselves.

So we asked the community for help. We asked for reports of sick or dead frogs, and then aligned members of the public with local veterinary clinics willing to take in these frogs for examination, care and diagnostic sample collection.

A dead, shrivelled green tree frog found by a member of the public. Suzanne McgovernAuthor provided
Another dead, discoloured green tree frog. Jayne BarrettAuthor provided

This meant the welfare of frogs could be assured, and we could begin our scientific investigation into the cause once lockdown ended.

Reports came flooding in. Across Australia, a remarkable 1,600 people reported finding sick or dead frogs. Each report often described dozens of dead frogs, making the grim tally in the thousands.

Although most sick and dead frogs reported were green tree frogs, this is likely because this species tends to hang around houses and be spotted more. Frog species less tolerant of suburbia are far less likely to be seen.

Despite this, more than 40 species were reported, including threatened species such as the green and golden bell frog (Litoria aurea) and the giant barred frog (Mixophyes iteratus).

The true death count and full list of species impacted is likely to be orders of magnitude higher.

The green and golden bell frog, Litoria aurea Jodi RowleyAuthor provided
The giant barred frog, Mixophyes iteratus Jodi RowleyAuthor provided

Why Are The Frogs Dying?

We’ve been working with universities, government biosecurity and environment agencies to understand just what caused frogs to die last winter.

Our investigation has only been made possible due to the efforts of people across Australia reporting sick and dead frogs, taking sick frogs to veterinary clinics and freezing dead frogs for us to pick up and test ourselves.

In New South Wales alone, more than 350 people froze dead frogs for us to collect. Without this help, we would still be at square one with our investigation.

It’s a murder mystery, and there are so many possible suspects. We’ve been testing for parasitic, bacterial, viral and fungal pathogens. These tests include looking for pathogens known to kill frogs, and also looking for possible novel pathogens, which is by far the harder task. The potential role of toxins is also being assessed.

A dead green stream frog, Litoria phyllochroa Andrew JenningsAuthor provided

Right from the very first frog deaths last year, our number one suspect has been the amphibian chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis). This pathogen is a known frog killer, responsible for causing frog population declines and species extinctions around the world, including in Australia.

The fungus attacks the skin of frogs, which is their Achilles heel – frogs use their skin to breathe, drink and control electrolytes. Deaths of frogs due to this pathogen are often at cooler temperatures.

Our testing has revealed the amphibian chytrid fungus is certainly involved in this mass death event. Most of the hundreds of dead frogs tested so far have tested positive for the pathogen.

But we aren’t yet sure if the fungus is acting alone, or even the primary cause of death. We continue to test for an array of other pathogens, toxins and other potential stressors.

A healthy green tree frog. Jodi RowleyAuthor provided

Why Should We Care?

Australia has 247 known species of native frog40 of which are threatened with extinction, and at least four species are already extinct.

The impacts on Australia’s frog species from such large scale deaths are unknown, but scientific surveys of frogs, combined with large scale citizen science data are underway.

Frogs are often extremely abundant, and play an important role in the flow of energy and nutrients, and in food webs. In places where amphibians have declined, the impacts are noticeable, with ripple effects across entire ecosystems as animals that rely on frogs for food start to disappear, too.

The 26 Australian frog species at greatest risk of extinction.

We Need Your Help

To help us understand the scale and cause of any frog deaths this winter, please send any reports of sick or dead frogs to the Australian Museum’s citizen science project FrogID via

Please include your location and, if possible, photos of the frog(s).

To help us determine the impact of frog deaths on Australia’s frogs, and which species are likely to need our help the most, please download the free FrogID app and record calling frogs whenever you can.

Every recording will help us better understand and conserve Australia’s frogs.The Conversation

Jodi Rowley, Curator, Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Biology, Australian Museum, UNSW Sydney and Karrie Rose, Australian Registry of Wildlife Health - Taronga Conservation Society Australia, University of Sydney

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

This critically endangered marsupial survived a bushfire – then along came the feral cats

WWF Australia
Louis LignereuxUniversity of Adelaide

The Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20 pushed a host of threatened species closer to extinction, including the critically endangered Kangaroo Island dunnart. And as our research released today shows, feral cats posed a second lethal threat to the species in the weeks after the disaster.

The Kangaroo Island dunnart is a mouse-sized marsupial found only on the western end of the island. Bushfires in January 2020 burnt more than 98% of its habitat. The dunnart population was thought to be about 500 before the fire; its current numbers are being surveyed but are thought to have since declined even further.

Cat predation has caused the extinction or near-extinction of several native species around the globe. Our results confirm for the first time that feral cats prey on the dunnart and did so directly after the bushfires.

The findings underscore the importance of acting immediately to protect threatened species from predators in the wake of catastrophic natural events.

landscape turned to ash after fire
The Kangaroo Island fires burnt 98% of dunnart habitat. David Mariuz/AAP

Analysing Feral Cat Diets

Before the Black Summer fires, the Kangaroo Island dunnart’s habitat was fragmented due to land clearing and other pressures. Feral cats on the island were also suspected of contributing to the species decline, but this had not been proven.

A federally funded feral cat eradication program has been in place since 2015, and aims to make Kangaroo Island free of feral cats by 2030.

A 2020 study estimated there were between 1,000 and 2,300 feral cats on Kangaroo Island. We set out to determine whether cats threatened the dunnart.

We analysed the diet of feral cats humanely euthanised immediately after the 2019 bushfire. We accessed the stomach contents and digestive tracts of 86 cats captured between February and August 2020.

The cats were not killed for our study, but as part of the national feral cat control program and were euthanised in accordance with South Australia animal welfare laws. They were caught in unburnt areas where dunnarts and other species that survived the fire would likely have sought refuge.

We identified 263 distinct prey items in the cats’ stomachs and digestive tracts. They comprised:

  • 195 mammals
  • 46 birds
  • 10 reptiles
  • 12 arthropods (invertebrates such as beetles).

Among them, the introduced house mouse represented the most significant proportion, being part of the diet for 47 cats.

We found the remains of eight Kangaroo Island dunnarts in seven different cats. Three dunnarts were readily identifiable as they were nearly whole carcasses. Five more were identified based on hair features.

We observed dunnart tissue in both the stomach and large intestine of one cat, suggesting it had recently preyed on at least two individuals.

small furry animal in leaves
Researchers found the remains of eight dunnarts in seven different cats. WWF

Our results confirm for the first time that feral cats prey on Kangaroo Island dunnarts and were efficient hunters of this species directly after the fires.

Our results provides only a small snapshot of what the feral cat had eaten. That’s because once the prey is fully digested (between 27 and 36 hours after being caught) we cannot analyse it. So the cats may well have recently consumed more prey than we could identify.

Safe to say, the cats present a substantial threat to the dunnart. We also found the remains of the endangered southern brown bandicoot in a male cat’s stomach. This endangered species is likely the last out of eight native bandicoot species still living in the wild in South Australia.

cat carries animal in mouth
Cat predation has caused the extinction or near-extinction of several native species around the globe. University of Tasmania

Saving The Most Vulnerable

The Kangaroo Island dunnart is emblematic of challenges faced by threatened species across the world – especially those confined to increasingly fragmented habitats, coping with the catastrophic consequences of climate change and preyed on by introduced species.

Species already compromised can easily slide into extinction after disasters such as the Black Summer fires – the likes of which are predicted to become more frequent as the world warms and dries.

After such events, we must act immediately to protect vulnerable species from invasive predators. These measures can mean the difference between survival and extinction.

But prevention is better than cure, and we should not wait until after a catastrophic event to protect our most threatened fauna.The Conversation

Louis Lignereux, Researcher, University of Adelaide

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

Keen to retrofit your home to lower its carbon footprint and save energy? Consider these 3 things

Monica Silvestre/PexelsAuthor provided
Nimish BiloriaUniversity of Technology Sydney

If you’re anything like me, you’re increasingly working from home, one that was built before energy efficiency measures were introduced in Australia.

With temperatures along the east coast plunging and power bills skyrocketing, heating (and cooling) our homes is an energy intensive, expensive affair.

Almost 8 million homes across Australia lack sufficient insulation, use sub-par heating and cooling equipment, or are badly designed.

Indeed, these 8 million pre-energy rated homes account for 18% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. And research finds 26% of Australians across all housing types can’t stay warm at least half of the time during winter.

Retrofitting this housing stock to be more energy efficient is essential to successfully meet Australia’s target of cutting emissions 43% by 2030, while finding comfort in our future of intensifying climate extremes.

My research into net-zero emissions retrofitting identifies three broad categories that must be considered when retrofitting existing homes to be more climate friendly:

  1. visual comfort: the sufficient quality, quantity and distribution of light

  2. thermal comfort: determined by the temperature, humidity, air flow and a person’s physical condition

  3. energy consumption: the amount of energy we use, and the energy used in manufacturing, transporting, constructing, maintaining, and removal of materials to build our homes.

1. Visual Comfort

It’s vital to understand how much sunlight the outside and interior of your home is exposed to. One can, accordingly, re-organise interior functions based on the demand for lighting, heating or cooling needs.

During summer, spaces used often during the day, such as your home office, could benefit from being in places that receive less direct sunlight, so are cooler. In winter, consider moving your home office set up to a room with higher levels of direct sunlight, where it’s warmer.

This will naturally reduce the amount of energy needed to cool or heat these rooms while allowing for comfortable working conditions.

Other ways we can find more visual comfort include modifying the size of windows and skylights to let in more sunlight. To diffuse harsh lighting, consider adding screens, sun baffles, overhangs, or pergolas over windows.

You can also replace your lights with LEDs equipped with linear controllers and motion sensors in places where lights tend to be left on. LEDs use around 75% less energy than halogen light bulbs.

Moving your home office to rooms with more sunshine can help you save energy in winter. UnsplashCC BY

2. Thermal Comfort

Older Australian homes are incredibly draughty, and a lot of the energy we spend cooling or heating our homes escapes outside due to poor insulation. Retrofitting to improve your home’s natural ventilation can reduce the number of times you need to switch on the heater or air conditioner.

Sealing outside and internal surfaces until they’re airtight is crucial. Different surfaces – whether walls, floors or ceilings – require different methods, types and thicknesses of insulation.

Walls, for instance, require a “blow-in” method. This can involve installing cellulose foam or glasswool (made from fibreglass) into the wall, via a small hole through the wall cavities (for cellulose foam) or laying glasswool batts in wall cavities. Floors, on the other hand, can require insulation panels fitted between timber or steel supports or foam boards.

Also important is to choose materials and methods that maximise insulation while minimising thermal bridging. A thermal bridge is a weak point where heat is lost, such as wall intersections, connecting points of mounting brackets, and even penetration points of electric cables.

Insulating the walls is crucial to stabilise temperatures inside. Shutterstock

Between ten and 35% of the energy we spend cooling or heating our homes escapes through single glazed windows and doors. Installing double or triple glazed windows and doors will go a long way to keep temperatures more stable inside.

It’s worth noting the energy performance rating systems on measurement labels, which are often attached to window and door units you can buy in stores.

Ultimately, a combination of improved natural ventilation and mechanical ventilation (such as air conditioners as fans) can result in considerable energy savings – up to 79% in some instances.

3. Energy Consumption

While the above strategies will result in significant energy savings, it’s also vital to consider the energy required to produce and manufacture retrofitting materials. Consider using salvaged or recycled materials where possible, or choosing locally made products which avoid emissions associated with transport.

Effectively installing solar panels can offset this “hidden” carbon. Let’s say you’ve done all you can to lower your home’s carbon footprint – you’ve rolled out insulation, installed double glazed windows and made the most of sunshine.

You can then calculate the energy you still use to heat or cool your home. This number will determine how many rooftop solar panels you should install to break even, rather than simply installing as many panels that can fit.

This will not only save you money, but also minimise waste. Researchers estimate that by 2047, Australia will accumulate 1 million tonnes of solar panel waste.

It’s worth opting for solar panels with micro-inverters, which capture optimal energy performance per panel while allowing you to add more panels in future if needed.

Solar panels can offset some of the carbon associated with manufacturing the materials you’ve purchased. Shutterstock

Another option is to use air-source heat pumps, which absorb heat from outside and bring it inside (like a reverse air conditioner). These can take the form of mini-split heat pumps for individual rooms, or multi-zone installations.

They can sense indoor temperature, and operate at variable speeds and heating or cooling intensity, which means their energy performance is very efficient. My research finds well-planned use of such systems can reduce the energy used for heating by 69% and cooling by 38%.

It’s Well Worth The Effort

These retrofitting ideas might seem expensive, or take too much time. However, they’ll often save you money in the long run as energy prices become increasingly uncertain.

You can look to Every Building Counts, an initiative by the Green Building Council and the Property Council of Australia, which provides practical plans for emission reduction.

Australia can also learn from ongoing efforts by the Energiesprong network in the Netherlands. This network is industrialising energy efficiency with prefabricated retrofitting building elements.

Some initiatives include lightweight insulated panels that can simply be placed in front of existing walls of homes. These panels are precisely fitted after carefully laser scanning a facade and robotically cutting openings to match existing homes. Harnessing contemporary technology is vital for a speedy net-zero transition.The Conversation

Nimish Biloria, Associate Professor of Architecture, University of Technology Sydney

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

Australia’s National Electricity Market was just suspended. Here’s why and what happens next

Joel GilmoreGriffith University and Tim NelsonGriffith University

Australia’s energy market operator has just suspended the National Electricity market. That means instead of the price for wholesale electricity being set competitively, the market operator (AEMO) sets fixed prices and will take a greater role in directing which power stations generate energy and when.

This is the first time the market has been suspended across all states, and reflects the depth of the price and supply crisis plaguing Australia’s biggest electricity grid.

How Did We Get Here?

All electricity on Australia’s east coast is traded through the National Electricity Market (NEM), a wholesale market where generators are paid for the electricity they produce. Prices are set by an auction between generators held every five minutes.

Prices typically average around $A80/MWh (per megawatt hour), but can vary between -$1000/MWh (where generators actually pay to stay online) and $15,100/MWh. Retailers buy the energy from this auction and manage the price risk on behalf of households and energy-using businesses.

Over the past week, wholesale prices surged due to two main factors: high coal and gas prices (driven by the Russian invasion of Ukraine) and roughly 25% of coal power stations being out of action. The coal power stations are unavailable because of maintenance as well as the sudden exit of 3,000 MW of power due to breakdowns (unplanned outages).

This led AEMO to trigger a pricing “safety net” and capping prices at $300/MWh (much less than the normal cap of $15,100/MWh).

Unfortunately, $300/MWh is currently less than the cost of generating power from gas power stations and possibly even some coal power stations. Some generators subsequently withdrew their availability from the market, leading to further shortfalls.

The low price cap also meant there were weaker price signals as to when power stations with limited “fuel” should use it. This includes some diesel generators as well as batteries and hydro.

Power lines
The electricity wholesale market has been suspended. Shutterstock

All this makes it much harder for AEMO to operate the market. On Tuesday, AEMO was forced to direct power stations when to run and when not to run. This intervention applied to roughly 20% of demand yesterday, or 5,000 megawatts.

AEMO has now decided suspending the market will make it simpler to operate the grid during this crisis. Generators will now provide their availability and AEMO will tell generators when to run to ensure secure supply. Market prices are then fixed at the average of the past 28 days for that hour of the day - between $150/MWh and $300/MWh across the day.

If generation costs are higher, power station owners will be able to apply for additional compensation, which will be later recovered from consumers.

Although this is the first time it has been done nationally, AEMO has previously suspended the market in individual states such as in South Australia this year when control systems failed.

What’s Likely To Happen Next?

AEMO will continue to monitor the system, and will restart the market when it is appropriate.

This has been a perfect storm of factors – high input costs, significant capacity being unavailable, and a cold snap with high demand. It’s not clear any market would have been able to handle these extreme conditions unless the generation in the market is more modern and less susceptible to breaking down.

What this does point to is that, longer-term, it may be time to buy some insurance for the energy market, as energy ministers have proposed. This would help manage periods like this when so much capacity is unexpectedly offline.

Although coal owners are advocating for additional payments, it’s clear this would not have helped avoid the current crisis. As AEMO CEO Daniel Westerman pointed out, coal plant reliability is “slowly declining”.

This crisis shows we need to make sure we have modern new plant (like batteries and gas turbines), not ageing coal power stations. We also need reserves for when coal unexpectedly breaks down and for other extreme events. This means investing in new flexible capacity which is ready for when we need it.

A coal fired power station
The very high cost of coal and gas is driving up energy bills. Shutterstock

What Does It Mean For Energy Users?

These extreme prices in the National Electricity Market will ultimately impact on energy consumers, particularly larger energy users. Households are already being hit by up to a 20% rise in bills next month due to the very high cost of coal and gas.

Given the stresses on the grid, however, it’s sensible for Australians on the east cost to conserve energy if safe to do so, particularly during the peak hours of 5-8pm. The Conversation

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

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

5 policy decisions from recent history that led to today’s energy crisis

Roger DargavilleMonash University

If you aren’t a long-term energy policy news junkie, you’d be forgiven for thinking today’s crisis arrived fairly suddenly.

Indeed, Liberal leader Peter Dutton is framing it as a recent catastrophe, saying it was caused by Labor “transitioning into renewables too quickly […] they are spooking the market.”

But this crisis hasn’t come out of nowhere.

We arrived here thanks to a series of policy decisions under previous governments – state and federal – that left Australia’s energy system ill-equipped to cope with the demands placed on it.

Here are five key policy moments that in part led to the power crisis engulfing Australia today.

electricity infrastructure behind fence
The current energy market crisis hasn’t come out of nowhere. Jono Searle/AAP

1. Privatisation Of The Electricity Sector

The 1990s saw a trend towards privatisation of government-owned assets, on the logic that industry would run the assets more efficiently.

The Kennett government in Victoria had a strong policy to privatise generators and transmission assets, with South Australia and New South Wales also privatising energy assets.

However, the actual focus of industry is not to be efficient but to maximise shareholder profit (which may involve being more streamlined, but not necessarily). And so the the primary role of the energy sector to provide general benefits to Australian residents and businesses has been lost.

2. The Gladstone Gas Terminal Agreements

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports began from the Gladstone LNG gas terminal in Queensland in 2015, during the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison era, connecting the eastern states’ domestic gas markets to the international price.

But the journey began long prior, with construction of this terminal beginning in 2010 (in the middle of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd era). It involved years of strategy discussion, policy design and agreements.

These agreements, forged between industry and various state (especially the Beattie Queensland Labor government) and federal governments (going as far back as the Howard era), created an LNG export industry.

Unlike Western Australia, there was no domestic reserve for gas set up as part of the agreements. So on the east coast, we are now exposed to international gas prices.

Of course, in the lead up to creating the LNG export industry, federal governments perhaps could not have been expected to predict Russia’s invasion of Ukraine over a decade later, driving up gas prices.

But the decisions made around the Gladstone gas agreements allowed Australian gas to be shipped offshore and have led to extremely high gas prices domestically.

four men watch as woman signs paper
Then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull during a 2017 signing ceremony with gas industry representatives. Various state and federal governments have influenced policy gas export policy. Lukas Coch

3. Axing The Price On Carbon, Watering Down The Renewable Energy Target

Under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the then-Coalition government removed the price on carbon created by the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government. This was arguably one of the most backward steps in the efforts to rein in Australia’s carbon emissions and did nothing to incentivise renewable energy production.

It also tried very hard to scrap the renewable energy target (RET) – eventually settling for just watering it down significantly.

The RET required energy retailers and large customers to ensure a share of their energy was derived from renewable sources.

An earlier form of the target was established in 2001 by the Howard Coalition government. The Rudd Labor government increased the target’s ambition in 2009.

In 2015 the Abbott Coalition government dramatically reduced the target, and it was easily met in 2019. Since then, there has been no additional hard incentive to build more renewables.

The reason renewables are still being built now is because they are cheaper than coal.

Investment would continue at a more rapid pace, except for problems renewable energy producers face in getting their power into the grid (more on that later).

three men in orange vests in front of solar panels
The Rudd Labor government increased the renewable energy target. Ray Strange/AAP

4. An Effective Stop On Investment In Wind Farms In Victoria

In 2011, the Victorian Baillieu state government effectively put a stop to wind farm investment by creating a 2km exclusion zone around existing homes.

As researchers Lisa Caripis and Anne Kallies wrote in The Conversation in 2012, these laws:

effectively give the owners of any dwelling within 2km of a proposed wind farm the power to decide whether or not the development should proceed.

This decision, combined with the reduced RET, really slowed down investment in renewables.

These laws were reformed in 2015 by the Andrews government in Victoria.

5. Lack Of Investment In Transmission Infrastructure

This is not so much a policy moment, but a lack of one.

Transmission infrastructure is the wires, poles and other bits of the system needed to get electricity from power producers to households and businesses.

Most major transmission projects in Australia connecting coal, gas and hydro projects to the grid have been built by governments and then later privatised. Under the current privatised system, getting new transmission lines built is a complex process.

Renewables generation projects are often built at smaller scales in remote locations and new transmission infrastructure is needed to connect them to the grid.

Many renewable energy projects currently cannot connect to the grid because transmission infrastructure can’t securely absorb the extra capacity.

Both federal and state governments have failed to enact policies encouraging investment in transmission projects that can serve renewables generation. This has set the system up for the failure we’re seeing today.

A Tough Job Ahead

Of course, other policy decisions have also led to today’s crisis. For example, there’s been limited government policy encouraging the construction of batteries and pumped hydro in order to store renewable energy produced at times of lower demand.

The exception here is, of course, the tax payer funded Snowy 2.0 scheme, recently revealed to be running over time and over budget.

Without government intervention, it seems unlikely an orderly transition to renewables can be achieved.The Conversation

Roger Dargaville, Senior lecturer & Deputy Director Monash Energy Institute, Monash University

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

Fennel looking a bit feeble? Growing enough veggies to feed yourself depends on these 3 things

Isobel Violet HumeUniversity of AdelaideMatthias SalomonUniversity of Adelaide, and Timothy CavagnaroUniversity of Adelaide

Farming inside city boundaries is on the rise as countries become more urbanised and people seek to connect with the source of their food and improve their sustainability.

But despite the productivity potential of home food gardens and the like, they are rarely analysed as serious farming systems. There’s little data, for example, on how much can be grown on an average suburban property.

As climate change threatens global food supplies, however, building sustainable urban food systems will be crucial.

Our research has examined how productive the average home vegetable garden really is, and how to get the most from your patch.

person in gumboots stands on hoe
Home gardens are rarely analysed as serious farming systems. Shutterstock

Lawn With A Side Of Salad?

Urban agriculture refers to growing produce and raising livestock inside a city’s boundary. In Australian cities, it might involve a home vegetable patch, community garden, backyard beehives, an edible rooftop garden on an apartment block, indoor hydroponics, a communal orchard and more.

Sometimes, especially in developing countries, urban farming can help address issues such as poverty, unemployment and food insecurity.

More broadly, it can increase access to healthy, fresh produce and lead to more sustainable food production. It can also help us save money and improve our well-being.

Societies have traditionally lent on urban farming during times of stress. So it’s no surprise the practice resurged during the COVID pandemic. In Australia, keeping edible gardens significantly helped people maintain mental health during lowdown, particularly those on low incomes.

But to what extent can we rely on our backyard gardens to meet all our fresh produce needs? Our research shows these three factors are key.

public housing with vegetable gardens in foreground
Gardening helped people get through COVID lockdowns, especially those on low-incomes. David Crosling/AAP

1. Give Up Some Lawn

We looked at the potential for food production at about 40,000 residential properties in suburban Adelaide – mostly free-standing homes.

We calculated the amount of land required for a household of 2.5 people to grow the recommended five servings of vegetables per person each day. Then, using high-resolution aerial imagery to get a birds eye view of properties, we identified those with enough lawn area to make that happen.

Some 21m² of lawn is needed to produce the recommended vegetable intake. In a scenario where a garden is high-yielding, this would require converting 23% of lawn area on a typical block into a vegetable patch. Of the properties modelled, 93% had the room to a create 21m² garden from the total lawn space.

In a medium-yield garden, 72% of lawn on a typical block would need converting to produce enough vegetables to feed a household – equating to 67m².

We limited the research to in-ground veggie production and didn’t include fruit trees. So a property’s potential to grow food would be even higher if food gardens or fruit trees already exist, or other garden beds or paved areas could be converted.

house with front lawn and sold sign depicting blonde woman
Converting just 23% of lawn can provide enough room to grow your own vegetables. Dave Hunt/AAP

2. Up Your Gardening Game

Research out of Adelaide, which surveyed about 30 home gardeners, found yields per square metre ranged from 0.24kg to 16.07kg per year. This suggests a high rate of variability in home garden productivity – notwithstanding the fact people grow different crops.

Not all of us have green thumbs and in some cases, your veggie patch might not yield as much as you hoped.

Perhaps you gave it too much or too little water. Maybe you didn’t have time to pull out weeds or harvest produce. Pests and fungus might have struck down your crop. You may have planted the wrong seeds at the wrong time or just have poor soil.

Our research suggests low-yield gardens would need 1,407m² of converted lawn to meet the vegetable needs of a household. However, less than 0.5% of properties in the analysed Adelaide sites had so much land. So to reach self-sufficiency in urban agriculture environments, medium to high yields are preferred.

Skilled gardeners with high yields will need much less land. Given the space constraints in cities, upskilling gardeners is important to maximising production.

straggly plants in pots with bead bush
Your garden may not yield as much as you’d hoped. Shutterstock

3. Know What’s In Your Soil

Good soil is a key factor in productive gardens. It needs a good structure (one that allows water and air to enter and drain easily, while retaining enough moisture) an ample supply of plant nutrients and a rich microbial community.

In city areas, heavy metal contamination and pollution of soils can be a concern. We examined soils at 12 urban agricultural sites in Adelaide, and found in all cases that metal concentrations did not exceed health guidelines for residential areas – even at sites with an industrial history.

But this might not always be the case. An analysis of residential and community gardens in Melbourne, for example, showed some soils were contaminated at levels which could pose a human health hazard. This highlights the importance of testing urban soils before planting.

Proper management of inputs – particularly fertiliser – is also key. Our research has found urban gardeners can choose from a variety of organic waste-based fertilisers such as spent coffee grounds, food scraps or lawn clippings. But this abundance can lead to imbalances.

In Adelaide, for example, the widespread use of freely available horse manure led to excessive phosphorous levels in almost all of the 12 tested sites. This imbalance can depress plant growth and damage the broader environment.

garden bed with rake and manure on top
Using too much manure on a garden can lead to excessive phosphorus levels. Shutterstock

Helping City Gardens Flourish

Urban agriculture has been identified as a A$4 billion economic growth opportunity for Australia. However, suburban blocks are trending towards smaller yards with less growing space.

Given the many benefits of urban farming, it’s time to think more seriously about maximising efficiency and scale.

Community gardens are well placed for knowledge-sharing. Research on 13 community gardens in Sydney revealed they were very high-yield – around twice as productive than the typical Australian commercial vegetable farm.

Funding for more community gardens, and other education opportunities for urban gardeners, would be a valuable investment in improving public health and sustainability.

This should be coupled with policy and planning decisions designed to increase the amount of urban farming space in our cities.The Conversation

Isobel Violet Hume, PhD Candidate , University of AdelaideMatthias Salomon, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Adelaide, and Timothy Cavagnaro, , University of Adelaide

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

We know heatwaves kill animals. But new research shows the survivors don’t get off scot-free

Niki Teunissen/AWCAuthor provided
Justin EastwoodMonash University and Anne PetersMonash University

Extreme heat waves can cause birds and mammals to die en masse. But it’s more common for an animal to experience relatively mild heat stress that doesn’t kill it. Our new findings suggest that unfortunately, these individuals can suffer long-term health damage.

Our study, published today, describes how exposure to hot and dry conditions can damage the DNA of nestling birds in their first few days of life. This can mean they age earlier, die younger and produce less offspring.

We focused on a population of purple-crowned fairy-wrens – a small endangered songbird from Northern Australia.

The findings suggest unless the wrens can adapt rapidly to climate warming, their populations may struggle to survive as global temperatures rise. It’s vital we consider such subtle and otherwise hidden impacts when predicting how biodiversity will fare in a warmer world.

birds drink and shelter in shade
Hot weather can kill birds and leave others with shorter lives. WA Department of Environment and Conservation

The Cost Of Growing Up In The Heat

Nestlings are particularly sensitive to hot temperatures due to their immobility, rapid growth and immature physiology. And the consequences of heat stress are potentially amplified in young birds because damage may persist into adulthood.

We intensively monitored a population of individually-marked purple-crowned fairy-wrens at the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary in Western Australia’s Kimberley region, as part of our long-term ecological study.

These insect-eating birds form small social groups centred around a breeding pair. The birds we monitored spend their lives in dense vegetation beside their particular spot along a riverbank, which they enthusiastically defend from interlopers.

Breeding can occur all year but peaks in the monsoonal wet season. Nests contain between one to four nestlings. During our study they experienced maximum air temperatures between 31-45℃.

Our investigation focused on week-old nestlings, and the relationship between temperature and a section of the birds’ DNA known as “telomeres”.

Telomeres are DNA caps on the end of chromosomes which, among other functions, act as a buffer to protect cells from the byproducts of energy production and stress. Once this buffer erodes, the cell shuts down. As the number of these inactive cells builds up over time, the ageing process accelerates.

Nestlings exposed to hot, dry conditions during their first days of life had shorter telomeres. This suggests surviving heat stress may shorten their protective DNA buffer and make the birds age more quickly. Indeed, our previous research demonstrated nestlings with shorter telomeres tend to die younger, and subsequently have fewer offspring.

Interestingly, nestlings appeared to tolerate heat better when it coincided with rain, although we’re not sure why.

chicks with open mouth in nest with greenery
Purple-crowned fairy-wren chicks are sensitive to hot, dry conditions. Niki Teunissen/AWC.

What This Means Under Climate Warming

Hot, dry conditions are predicted to become more frequent in Australia under climate change. So we built a mathematical model to simulate whether their effects on nestling telomere length may depress reproduction enough to cause population decline.

We found even under relatively mild rates of warming, the population could decline solely as a consequence of nestling telomere shortening. The maths also revealed two potential “escape” measures that might maintain population viability.

First, the population could evolve longer telomeres, and thereby a larger buffer to prevent early ageing. However, this is entirely speculative as we do not understand how telomeres evolve or whether their evolution could keep pace with climate change.

Alternatively, the birds could adjust when they breed, so nestlings experience wet conditions more often. However, this seems unlikely because the number of rain days in the region is forecast to decline, and the birds already try to maximise breeding when it rains.

Importantly, if global warming continues to accelerate, the success of any countermeasures becomes increasingly unlikely.

Concealed and delayed costs of heat exposure, such as those identified in our study, can be subtle and difficult to detect. But they’re crucial when considering how climate warming might affect biodiversity.

Given that developing animals are generally more sensitive to heat, and telomeres function in similar way across species, our results could extend to many other birds and mammals. More research is needed to confirm this.

small bird at nest with food in mouth
Male purple-crowned fairy-wren arrives at the nest to feed his young. Unless the birds can adapt to climate change, their populations may decline further. Niki Teunissen/AWC

What’s Next?

Keeping cool is also costly for parent birds. Like us, birds often seek out shade and become less active in extreme heat. Instead of sweating, they open their beaks to pant and spread their wings to cool off.

But these behaviours leave a parent bird with less time to forage, defend the nest or feed offspring – activities required for the population to survive. We are investigating whether this exacerbates the effects of telomere shortening.

Next, we plan to expand our research by measuring temperatures in and around the nest. We’ll also study whether females are able to select cooler microsites to help their young better withstand climate warming, and investigate how this relates to habitat quality, management and threats.

Ultimately, we hope our research will inform the design of conservation strategies to climate-proof the future of this iconic Australian bird and others like it.

Acknowledgements: we thank the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, the Australian Research Council and our colleagues: Tim Connallon, Kaspar Delhey, Michelle L. Hall, Niki Teunissen, Sjouke A. Kingma, Ariana M. La Porte, and Simon Verhulst.The Conversation

Justin Eastwood, Postdoctoral research fellow in ecology, Monash University and Anne Peters, Professor in Behaviour, Ecology and Conservation, Monash University

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

‘We want to be part of that movement’: residents embrace renewable energy but worry how their towns will change

Rebecca PearseAustralian National UniversityDaniel J CassUniversity of SydneyLinda ConnorUniversity of Sydney, and Riikka HeikkinenUniversity of Technology Sydney

Amid soaring energy costs, the new Labor government is working to deliver a A$20 billion pledge to rebuild and modernise Australia’s electricity grid. It will help deliver a plan for 122 gigawatts of new renewable energy in the National Electricity Market by 2050, eventually replacing coal generation.

The transition will bring significant social, economic and environmental change. Electricity generation in New South Wales, for example, will shift from the concentrated coal power of the Hunter Valley and Central Coast to multiple sites across the state’s centre, north and southwest.

The shift also entails a host of new infrastructure. According to our calculations, the predicted extra renewable energy capacity will require nationally 24,000 large wind turbines or around 2,000 large solar farms, as well as new large-scale batteries.

So, in the first major study of its kind, we travelled to where renewable energy is expanding in NSW to ask communities how they feel about the changes. While their outlook was generally positive, governments can do more to ensure community support for the transition.

girl looks at wind turbines
The renewables transition will bring significant social, economic and environmental change. Shutterstock

What Our Work Involved

Most new energy infrastructure will be concentrated in designated “renewable energy zones”. These are areas where both renewable energy is generated, and the high-voltage poles and wires exist to deliver it where needed.

The national pilot zone will begin in NSW’s Central-West Orana region from 2023, followed by another zone in New England. Three more zones will be established in the Riverina, Hunter-Central Coast and Illawarra regions.

Our research involved travelling to and staying in affected towns including Wellington, Glen Innes, Inverell, and Uralla. New wind and solar farms are already built near these places and many more are proposed in the coming years in the Central-West Orana and New England.

We spoke to a broad range of residents. All together we conducted 44 semi-structured interviews, several group interviews and a community forum. We also visited solar and wind farm sites and landowners’ properties (both hosts of new utilities and their neighbours).

Positive, But Unsure What Lies Ahead

Overall, people were generally positive about the future development of renewable energy zones and the opportunities they presented. One resident told us:

“There are hundreds of small rural communities throughout Australia that are struggling, and most won’t have an opportunity like this development. We want to be part of that movement, we want to grow and evolve in a rapidly changing world.”

But some people were unsure about how the energy transition would affect their communities. This is unsurprising, given the lack of transition planning by the last federal government.

In places where multiple renewables projects have been built or planned, changes to land use and public assets were a concern to some. As one community member said:

“Rural views are a big issue out here. And bush fires. There’s a question mark over the viability of agricultural land, particularly with the solar farms. And wear and tear on the roads and infrastructure.”

State planning review processes will be tested as more closely located projects are proposed. This cumulative problem that needs to be addressed to ensure community support for renewable energy zones.

Local councils have fine-grained knowledge about their areas and should be key to these new planning processes. However, they have little co-ordinating power. As one council officer put it:

“It’s really market forces deciding when [projects] get built, or don’t get built.”

On transmission projects, Labor has said it will require the Australian Energy Regulator to take a broader view of costs and benefits and increase community engagement on transmission decisions.

turbines behind sheep in field
Some residents feared reduced agricultural production. Shutterstock

How Are Benefits Shared?

Landowners are paid to host wind or solar projects and this can form a big part of a farm’s income. One host landholder told us:

“The proposed solar development on our property is a massive positive. It allows us to drought proof our farm and continue as a viable business for the next generation.”

However, renewables projects can cause conflicts with neighbours who may be affected by the development but are only eligible for much smaller payments – or sometimes none at all.

Areas designated as renewable energy zones have a much higher proportion of Aboriginal residents than the NSW average. To maximise socioeconomic benefits and protect heritage during the energy transition, Traditional Owners and other Aboriginal residents should be better included and consulted, in culturally appropriate ways, than they have been in the past.

Communities were generally positive about the broad economic benefits that flow from renewable energy projects during the construction phase. A local worker told us:

“The workers would fill their vehicles [with fuel] in town before they left, or they’d get local caterers, or they’d sponsor local activities, that sort of thing.”

But renewable energy projects have a lifetime of up to 30 years. Ensuring they create local benefits beyond the construction phase requires a broader industrial strategy and more carefully coordinated development to spread out the construction phases over time.

Some renewable energy companies run small grants schemes to contribute to local community organisations. We support proposals to formalise and combine some of these schemes. This would create a very significant pool of funds that could make substantial investments within a renewable energy zone.

man installs solar panels
Renewable energy zones have a much higher proportion of Aboriginal residents than the NSW average. Lucy Hughes Jones/AAP

Planning For Equitable Change

The pilot renewable energy zones embody a bold vision for Australia’s clean energy future. They should be used as a policy test-bed to ensure we get the transition right.

In particular, the pilots must ensure all residents can participate and share in the benefits, that socioeconomic development is sustainable and co-ordinated, and projects give back to communities over their full lifespan.

If we can nail all this at the pilot stage, renewable energy zones can bring significant benefits to other host communities and Australia as a whole.The Conversation

Rebecca Pearse, Lecturer, Australian National UniversityDaniel J Cass, Research Affiliate, University of SydneyLinda Connor, Professor of Anthropology, University of Sydney, and Riikka Heikkinen, PhD Candidate, University of Technology Sydney

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

It’s time to come clean on Lismore’s future. People and businesses have to relocate away from the floodplains

Jerry VanclaySouthern Cross University

More than three months after the monster floods wrecked much of Lismore, there is still no clarity for the town’s residents and businesses who urgently need to make investment decisions. Should they move to higher ground, make temporary fixes, or renovate for the long haul?

The problem is, authorities differ. “The debate is over – we will be doing engineering work for flood mitigation,” declared Kevin Hogan, the federal member for Page, as he announced a A$10m CSIRO-led project to study flood mitigation.

Lismore Council has since recommended “a planned retreat of residential dwellings” from the highest flood risk areas.

It’s no wonder people in Lismore are confused. Can they stay put and rebuild, confident the government will stop flood devastation? Or should everyone at low elevation – including all businesses in the town centre – move? The city’s 44,000 people need clarity.

My view is stopping floods of this size or larger will simply not be viable. Raising the town’s 10 metre high levee won’t work. To contain the immense volume of water upstream, we would have to build many expensive new dams. Instead, we should move all buildings off the floodplains and work to reforest floodplains upriver to slow the floodwaters.

Lismore Is Prone To Floods. But This Year’s Were Off The Charts

My city floods regularly, with 100 floods over the past 152 years. When major rain hits the surrounding mountains, water from many creeks funnel into the Wilsons River, which runs through the centre of town. The town’s levee was built to stop major floods. But in 2017, the floods overtopped the levee for the first time. In February this year, the monster flood came through at 14.4 metres, fully two metres higher than the supposed “1-in-a-100-year” event and 2.3m higher than any previously recorded.

How much water is that? At its peak, Wilsons River at Lismore was flowing at 216 gigalitres per day. That’s an Olympic swimming pool of water every second. That is an unprecedented volume and very difficult to mitigate.

Inquiries and reports after earlier floods have usually been in favour of a gradual withdrawal from vulnerable areas. We had a voluntary acquisition program in 1954, a report in 1980 finding flood mitigation was uneconomic and ineffective, and a 1982 report advocating buy-backs, land swaps and relocation assistance. None of these led to major relocations. Instead, in 2005, a $A19 million levee was constructed to protect against a 1-in-10 year flood. It’s already been overtopped three times. Parts of the town are now effectively uninsurable.

Could the controversial proposal for a new dam upriver at Dunoon help, as some suggest? Unlikely, given its catchment only covers 5% of the Lismore basin, and its capacity is only 5% of what would be required to mitigate these floods. We would need 12 such dams, kept empty, to mitigate floods this size. These wouldn’t stack up economically, ecologically, or culturally.

What about raising the levees? This doesn’t work, because water constrained by the levee rises to greater heights. In a wide floodplain, this might not be a problem. But Lismore’s floodplain is narrow. If we had raised the existing levee from 10 to 15m, the February flood would have had its flow restricted by 75%. Water would have backed up and ultimately overtopped the levee.

Raising buildings above flood height is a major undertaking (especially in the CBD), and would substantially alter the character of the city. Renovating buildings for flood tolerance is possible, but this does not address the substantial costs of flood disruptions and the clean-up. Nor does this strategy protect lives from rapid and unexpected flooding.

What would work is restoring vegetation on the floodplains above Lismore, and clear vegetation on the floodplains below Lismore. Why? Because vegetation can make a five-fold difference in water velocity. If we reforest floodplains to the north through projects like tree plantations for koalas, horticulture and rainforest restoration, we would slow the floods significantly. If we clear more areas on the floodplains below Lismore, we would also speed up the clearance of floodwaters from the river. These two methods combined would lower the height of the flood peak. These interventions are also tolerant of imprecise assumptions and extreme situations, and are not prone to sudden failure.

We Must Take Relocation Seriously

While we might have considered the clean-up and restoration costs tolerable if they occur once in a lifetime, the nature of our floods is changing. Floods once considered rare are now more common, as climate change warms the air and lets it hold more moisture, coupled with ever-increasing hard surfaces such as roofs and roads which cause faster runoff. The reality is we need to prepare for more frequent and more severe flooding.

The logical solution is to relocate our city’s important infrastructure – houses, businesses and factories – away from the floodplain altogether. On a smaller scale, this is what happened in the south-east Queensland town of Grantham after the 2011 “inland tsunami” of water destroyed much of the town. The council pioneered a land-swap to move many of the houses most at risk to higher ground on a nearby cattle property.

The decision to relocate homes and businesses is a big one. We can no longer avoid this difficult discussion, however. Doing nothing will not bring back the old Lismore. Our city has changed, and will never be the same again.

On the positive side, we have a real opportunity to create a new, better version of Lismore. If we delay a decision or keep the idea of mitigation alive, we will create uncertainty and see our city dwindle, as hard-hit businesses and residents drift away and establish elsewhere.

Floodplain residents should not be misled into investing in expensive renovations, when relocation is the better solution.The Conversation

Jerry Vanclay, Professor, Southern Cross University

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

Climate change the issue on which Australians do not want both sides of the argument: new research

Sora ParkUniversity of CanberraKerry McCallumUniversity of Canberra, and Kieran McGuinnessUniversity of Canberra

Should journalists always treat an issue even-handedly? Our research reveals that when it comes to climate change, many Australians would prefer they didn’t. For general news, people want news outlets to reflect a range of views so they can make up their own mind about an issue. However, when it comes to news about climate change, four in ten say news outlets should pick a side.

That’s according to new research that surveyed 2,038 Australians about their news consumption in relation to climate change. The Digital News Report: Australia 2022 survey was conducted by the University of Canberra between January 21 and February 16 2022.

There is a divide driven by political orientation on how people think news outlets should be reporting on climate change. More than half (51%) of those who identify as left-wing and 42% of those who identify as centre of politics say news outlets should take a clear position. In contrast, only 24% of right-leaning audiences say so.

In fact, the majority of those on the right (66%) are in favour of news remaining impartial and leaving it up to people to decide. Revealingly, however, those who identify with the centre are not on the same page as those on the right. Only 41% of those who identify with the centre support impartiality on climate change.

Made with Flourish

These differences may partly be explained by varied levels of concern and where people get news about climate change.

Concern about climate change is becoming increasingly polarised across the political spectrum. On the left, 81% express concern, but only 32% of right-leaning consumers do. There is a disconnect on climate change between people who identify with the centre of politics and those who identify with right-wing beliefs, particularly among those with higher incomes and in urban areas.

While more than a third (38%) of right-wing consumers regard climate change as a “not very” or “not at all” serious problem, centrists are more concerned, attentive to climate change news and willing to see journalists take a clear position on the issue. This may help understand the success of teal independents in the 2022 federal election, many of whom campaigned on climate action in traditionally centre-right urban electorates.

News consumers in regional areas remain less concerned about climate change than those in cities, despite extreme weather events and bushfires disproportionately affecting regional areas. This may reflect the fact that higher proportions of older and more conservative Australians live in the regions.

It must be stressed the survey was in the field after a mild summer and before the severe floods in Queensland and News South Wales. This is possibly why the proportion considering climate change as a serious problem dropped by three percentage points. Now, three in four (76%) Australians regard climate change as a serious issue.

Made with Flourish

Encouragingly, rather than relying on celebrities and political parties, people go to experts and traditional news outlets for news about the climate crisis. The most popular sources of climate change news are scientists, experts and academics (50%), documentaries (33%) and major news outlets (27%).

There seems to be a small but important minority of Australians who have disengaged from the issue entirely. One in five Australians say they don’t pay any attention to climate change news.

Again, we see a steep political divide in whether people pay attention to climate change news. Almost one-third (29%) of right-wing consumers are disengaged from climate change news, while 97% of left-wing consumers access news about climate change. This polarisation has persisted and widened since 2020.

Made with Flourish

When it comes to reporting about climate change, Australians want less focus on individual responsibility (16%) and more attention on what governments and large companies should do about it (42%). Younger generations and left-wing Australians are particularly keen on both of these things.

The issue of climate change turned out to be serious enough to convince many to vote against traditional two-party lines, reshaping the political landscape and placing action on climate change as a spotlight issue for the incoming Labor government.

Digital News Report: Australia is produced by the News & Media Research Centre (N&MRC) at the University of Canberra. It is part of a global annual survey of digital news consumption in 46 countries, commissioned by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford. YouGov conducted the survey in January and February 2022. In Australia, this is the eighth annual survey of its kind produced by the N&MRC.The Conversation

Sora Park, Associate Dean of Research, Faculty of Arts & Design, University of CanberraKerry McCallum, Professor of Communication and Media Studies, Director, News and Media Research Centre, University of Canberra, and Kieran McGuinness, Postdoctoral Fellow, News & Media Research Centre, University of Canberra

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

Australia already has a UK-style windfall profits tax on gas – but we’ll give away tens of billions of dollars unless we fix it soon

Peter MartinCrawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

The really bizarre thing about calls for a UK-style windfall profits tax on gas is that Australia’s already got one.

Gas prices have soared to levels never envisioned in the lead-up to 2015, when three resource giants spent A$80 billion building terminals in Queensland with the potential to export three times the east coast gas Australia had been using.

At the time, the “netback” international gas price (net of the cost of liquefying and shipping) was barely A$10 a gigajoule, and wasn’t expected to climb much higher.

Suddenly, in the space of a year, it has jumped to three times that level. Local industrial customers are now being asked to pay an barely-credible $382 a gigajoule – and gas suppliers were about to ask for $800, before the energy market operator stepped in and capped prices at a still “crippling” $40 a gigajoule.

Gas Generators Aren’t Keen To Power Up

So expensive is gas that on Monday, when almost a quarter of Australia’s coal-fired power generating units were out of action and it looked as if NSW and Queensland would be plunged into darkness, gas generators were sitting on their hands rather than powering up.

They only acted when ordered to by the energy market operator.

In Britain, where export gas prices have climbed just as high (and one of the same companies, Shell, is involved) Prime Minister Boris Johnson has imposed a 25% windfall profits tax on oil and gas producers.

The special tax will help fund support for households struggling with high bills, and will be phased out when oil and gas prices return to normal.

Australia Already Has A Special Tax On Gas

There are precedents here for singling out an entire industry for an extra tax. Scott Morrison did it in 2017 with a special tax on big banks, which continues to this day.

The Rudd and Gillard governments tried it with a short-lived 40% super-profits tax on the mining industry, which was based on … well, it was based on the longstanding 40% resource rent tax applying to the oil and gas industry.

That’s right. Australian oil and gas producers have had to shell out 40% of their profits in tax, in addition to 30% company tax on profits, for years.

That’s a total big enough to ensure the windfall profits resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are well and truly taxed along the lines announced in the UK, allowing Australia’s government to grab most of the windfall and use it to support households suffering from high energy prices. Or so you would think.

And yet the amount collected is tiny: $2.4 billion, which is no more than was collected in 2005. At times, it has fallen as low as $1 billion. In the words of the Grattan Institute’s Tony Wood, himself a former energy executive, it is a “rather strange thing to have a tax that nobody pays”.

Australian Institute analysis of Tax Office data suggests that none of the big three Queensland gas exporters has paid any income tax since their projects began in 2015, except for $3 billion paid by Santos, once, on revenue of $5.3 billion.

Designed For Oil, Used For Gas

Former treasury official Michael Callahan.

In 2016 Morrison commissioned retired public servant Michael Callaghan to inquire into why the minerals resource tax was raising so little money.

Callahan found it well designed for oil, which it was set up to tax in 1988, but poorly designed for gas.

One of the two biggest problems was “uplift”. Profits are taxed after deducting earlier losses. These losses are carried forward using an uplift rate.

For oil projects, the uplift rate on losses doesn’t much matter because they start making profits fairly soon.

Gas projects are much more expensive and take many more years to produce a return, making the uplift rate significant.

Australia applies two uplift rates: the long-term bond rate plus 5% (for general losses), and the long-term bond rate plus 15% (for exploration losses).

So much can the long-term bond rate plus 15% grow over time that Callaghan found it allowed exploration deductions to

almost double every four years, which means that a moderate amount of exploration expenditure can grow into a large tax shield

And firms hang on to the high-uplift deductions, using the low-uplift ones first.

The second big problem is that, whereas with oil it is easy to tell when the oil has been mined and the profit should be taxed, with integrated liquidated natural gas projects, it is hard to tell when the mining stops and the liquefaction starts.

Taxing In The Dark

Without an observable final price for the gas before it is liquified, three methods are used – two of them complex and one a private agreement with the tax office.

Callaghan found that if the simpler “netback” method was used, the tax would raise an extra $89 billion between 2023 and 2050 including a “particularly strong” extra $68 billion between 2027 and 2039 at the prices then prevailing.

In his 2018 response Treasurer Josh Frydenberg cut the uplift rates and asked the treasury to review the method of calculating the transfer price. It was to report back “within 12 to 18 months”.

For all we know, the treasury did report back, perhaps two years ago in May 2020.

It’s a fair bet our new government will be keener than the old to actually raise more than a couple of billion from the petroleum resource rent tax, especially given the amount now available to tax.

If the extra tax was used to provide relief from high energy prices, Australia’s government could no more be criticised than could Boris Johnson’s in the UK.

And if it merely said it was thinking of properly applying the tax we’ve got, it might find Australia’s gas exporters suddenly more co-operative.The Conversation

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

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

Pittwater Reserves: Histories + Notes + Pictorial Walks

A History Of The Campaign For Preservation Of The Warriewood Escarpment by David Palmer OAM and Angus Gordon OAM
America Bay Track Walk - photos by Joe Mills
Angophora Reserve - Angophora Reserve Flowers
Annie Wyatt Reserve - A  Pictorial
Avalon's Village Green: Avalon Park Becomes Dunbar Park - Some History + Toongari Reserve and Catalpa Reserve
Bairne Walking Track Ku-Ring-Gai Chase NP by Kevin Murray
Bangalley Headland  Bangalley Mid Winter
Banksias of Pittwater
Barrenjoey Boathouse In Governor Phillip Park  Part Of Our Community For 75 Years: Photos From The Collection Of Russell Walton, Son Of Victor Walton
Barrenjoey Headland: Spring flowers 
Barrenjoey Headland after fire
Bayview Baths
Bayview Wetlands
Beeby Park
Bilgola Beach
Botham Beach by Barbara Davies
Bungan Beach Bush Care
Careel Bay Saltmarsh plants 
Careel Bay Birds  
Careel Bay Clean Up day
Careel Bay Playing Fields History and Current
Careel Creek 
Careel Creek - If you rebuild it they will come
Centre trail in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
Chiltern Track- Ingleside by Marita Macrae
Clareville Beach
Clareville/Long Beach Reserve + some History
Coastal Stability Series: Cabbage Tree Bay To Barrenjoey To Observation Point by John Illingsworth, Pittwater Pathways, and Dr. Peter Mitchell OAM
Cowan Track by Kevin Murray
Curl Curl To Freshwater Walk: October 2021 by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Currawong and Palm Beach Views - Winter 2018
Currawong-Mackerel-The Basin A Stroll In Early November 2021 - photos by Selena Griffith
Currawong State Park Currawong Beach +  Currawong Creek
Deep Creek To Warriewood Walk photos by Joe Mills
Drone Gives A New View On Coastal Stability; Bungan: Bungan Headland To Newport Beach + Bilgola: North Newport Beach To Avalon + Bangalley: Avalon Headland To Palm Beach
Duck Holes: McCarrs Creek by Joe Mills
Dunbar Park - Some History + Toongari Reserve and Catalpa Reserve
Dundundra Falls Reserve: August 2020 photos by Selena Griffith - Listed in 1935
Elsie Track, Scotland Island
Elvina Track in Late Winter 2019 by Penny Gleen
Elvina Bay Walking Track: Spring 2020 photos by Joe Mills 
Elvina Bay-Lovett Bay Loop Spring 2020 by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Fern Creek - Ingleside Escarpment To Warriewood Walk + Some History photos by Joe Mills
Iluka Park, Woorak Park, Pittwater Park, Sand Point Reserve, Snapperman Beach Reserve - Palm Beach: Some History
Ingleside Wildflowers August 2013
Irrawong - Ingleside Escarpment Trail Walk Spring 2020 photos by Joe Mills
Irrawong - Mullet Creek Restoration
Katandra Bushland Sanctuary - Ingleside
Lucinda Park, Palm Beach: Some History + 2022 Pictures
McCarrs Creek
McCarr's Creek to Church Point to Bayview Waterfront Path
McKay Reserve
Mona Vale Beach - A Stroll Along, Spring 2021 by Kevin Murray
Mona Vale Headland, Basin and Beach Restoration
Mount Murray Anderson Walking Track by Kevin Murray and Joe Mills
Mullet Creek
Narrabeen Creek
Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment: Past Notes Present Photos by Margaret Woods
Narrabeen Lagoon State Park
Narrabeen Lagoon State Park Expansion
Narrabeen Rockshelf Aquatic Reserve
Nerang Track, Terrey Hills by Bea Pierce
Newport Bushlink - the Crown of the Hill Linked Reserves
Newport Community Garden - Woolcott Reserve
Newport to Bilgola Bushlink 'From The Crown To The Sea' Paths:  Founded In 1956 - A Tip and Quarry Becomes Green Space For People and Wildlife 
Pittwater spring: waterbirds return to Wetlands
Pittwater's Lone Rangers - 120 Years of Ku-Ring-Gai Chase and the Men of Flowers Inspired by Eccleston Du Faur 
Pittwater's Parallel Estuary - The Cowan 'Creek
Resolute Track at West Head by Kevin Murray
Resolute Track Stroll by Joe Mills
Riddle Reserve, Bayview
Salvation Loop Trail, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park- Spring 2020 - by Selena Griffith
Stapleton Reserve
Stapleton Park Reserve In Spring 2020: An Urban Ark Of Plants Found Nowhere Else
The Chiltern Track
The Resolute Beach Loop Track At West Head In Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park by Kevin Murray
Towlers Bay Walking Track by Joe Mills
Trafalgar Square, Newport: A 'Commons' Park Dedicated By Private Landholders - The Green Heart Of This Community
Tranquil Turimetta Beach, April 2022 by Joe Mills
Turimetta Beach Reserve by Joe Mills, Bea Pierce and Lesley
Turimetta Beach Reserve: Old & New Images (by Kevin Murray) + Some History
Turimetta Headland
Warriewood Wetlands and Irrawong Reserve
Whale Beach Ocean Reserve: 'The Strand' - Some History On Another Great Protected Pittwater Reserve
Wilshire Park Palm Beach: Some History + Photos From May 2022
Winji Jimmi - Water Maze

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 -

20 Students Secure Premier's ANZAC Memorial Scholarship

June 16, 2022
Twenty students from Armidale to Parramatta and Gosford will embark on a two-week historical study tour in NSW, the ACT and Darwin as part of the 2022 Premier’s Anzac Memorial Scholarship announced today.

Premier Dominic Perrottet said by partaking in this tour, successful students will further develop their knowledge and understanding of the history of Australians at war.

“I congratulate the Scholarship recipients, who are being recognised for their positive contributions to their local communities, their respect for the service and sacrifice of Australian Defence Force personnel and their passion for studying history,” Mr Perrottet said.

“Over 125 students applied for the scholarship, and the 20 successful applicants come from places across Sydney and regional NSW, including Armidale, Bathurst, Young and Jindabyne.”

Minister for Transport and Veterans David Elliott said the 20 successful students will visit important places associated with Australia’s military history.

“This is a wonderful experience, and it is vital that current generations continue to learn about the military history of New South Wales and our nation,” Mr Elliott said.

“The tour will be accompanied by a military historian to teach students about our nation’s military past and help them understand the importance of commemoration.

“In the 80th year since the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese in 1942, students will visit significant sites associated with the Second World War in and around Darwin,” he said.

Karina from Willoughby Girls High School looks forward to learning more about Australia’s war and peacekeeping efforts.

“I applied for this unique opportunity because I truly love history. I’m only just beginning to appreciate the breadth of service our military has provided throughout history and how it has shaped our nation today,” Karina said.

Auryn from Dulwich Hill High School of Visual Arts and Design is honouring his Grandfather, who served in France in World War One.

“I want to develop a deeper understanding of the Anzac legacy. I am looking forward to hearing the stories about those who made sacrifices, gaining insights from experts and visiting places of historical significance,” Auryn said. 

Recipients of the 2022 Premier’s Anzac Memorial Scholarship are:

Name                              School
Aaron Rucinski              SHORE School
Alexander Woolnough      Wollemi College
Angus O'Brien                     Jindabyne Central School
Auryn Griffiths                     Dulwich Hill High School of Visual Arts
Blainey Heath                     Kandos High School
Chloe Familton             Cherrybrook Technology High School
Gabriel Varnakulasingham St Patrick College Campbelltown
Gwen Rumbel                     Dungog High School
Iris Lee                             Barker College
Jack Izzard                     Richard Johnson Anglican School
Jorja O'Brien                     Hennessy Catholic College
Karina Kowalczyk             Willoughby Girls High School
Lachlan Middlemiss     St Philips Christian College Gosford
Laura Perry                     Holsworthy High School
Megan Johnson             Oxley High School
Meisha Green                    MidCoast Christian College
Molly Simpson                   Corpus Christi Catholic High School
Rebecca Edwards           Cumberland High School
Scarlett Hall                  Mackillop College Bathurst
Sophia-Rose Markham Armidale Secondary College

More information about the Premier’s Anzac Memorial Scholarship is available here.

Free Training To Deliver In-Demand Winter Skills

June 7, 2022
More than 1,500 fee-free training places are up for grabs as part of the NSW Government’s Winter Skills program, which aims to get people skilled for a bumper winter tourism and hospitality season.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW Paul Toole said in-demand short courses would be on offer across parts of regional NSW to help people gain on-the-job experience while supporting local industries.

“The NSW Government has consulted with local businesses and industry groups to identify the key skills needed this winter season,” Mr Toole said.

“So whether it’s learning how to be a tour guide, pouring a beer at a pub, making a coffee at a local café, or lending a hand across the wine regions, regional NSW is keen to have you.”

Minister for Skills and Training Alister Henskens said the program will train people to work in the ski industry and related hospitality roles, bar tenders, wait staff and more, to help businesses meet demand for workers.

“NSW’s winter getaway destinations will be packed with people this season, so now is the perfect time for people looking to get skilled and work in some of the most beautiful places in our state,” Mr Henskens said.

“Following the success of the Winter Skills campaign last year, the program has been expanded to include the Snowy Mountains, Blue Mountains, Southern Highlands, Hunter Valley and the Central West.”

Some of the courses available include Food Safety Supervision, Statement of Attainment in Hospitality, Statement of Attainment in Outdoor Recreation and Statement of Attainment in Public Safety.

Minister for Hospitality and Racing Kevin Anderson said the State’s pubs, clubs, restaurants, bars and other hospitality businesses have been impacted over the past few years.

From Perisher to Thredbo to villages packed with fireplace warmed restaurant and cellar doors, we want to make sure our hospitality venues continue to be the lifeblood for local communities,” Mr Anderson said.

“This initiative will ensure our local hospitality businesses have access to a pipeline of skilled and job-ready workers, helping address industry needs and skills shortages as a result of the pandemic and the gradual re-emergence of international travel.”

For more information and to enrol in courses, visit

HSC Artists In Virtual Exhibition

The creative force of the 2021 HSC visual arts students will be available for the world to see when ARTEXPRESS Virtual 2022 launched on Wednesday 25 May.

The exhibition features bodies of work by 52 accomplished visual arts students from across all school sectors and regions of NSW.

Now in its third year, the exhibition uses world-leading 3D technology to create an authentic gallery experience in the virtual world where viewers can “walk” around artworks and virtually lift them up.

ARTEXPRESS Virtual 2022 curator and Wyndham College Creative and Performing Arts head teacher, Ron Pratt, said the quality of the work on show was astonishing.

“The diversity of materials and inspired ideas that have emerged, highlight the resilience of these students and the commitment they had for their art practice and creative selves,” Mr Pratt said.

“When viewing this year’s showcase we should reflect that these works were completed when NSW was under its harshest lockdown laws and many students’ access to resources, support and equipment along with their school classroom was limited,” Mr Pratt said.

ARTEXPRESS Virtual 2021, which used the same technology, had more than 78,000 visits to its website with the painting At Face Value, by Riverside Girls High School student Adina Carapetian, the most viewed artwork with 1181 views.

The ARTEXPRESS Virtual exhibition has been nominated for the Museums Australasia Multimedia and Publication Design Award which will be announced next month.

ARTEXPRESS is a partnership between the New South Wales Department of Education and the New South Wales Education Standards Authority. The National Art School is the Launch Venue Partner for ARTEXPRESS Virtual 2022.

To view the virtual exhibition, please visit:

Example of works on Exhibition:

Emily McGhee
Northern Beaches Secondary College Mackellar Girls Campus
Charcoal, paper

My body of work explores the current sense of apathy regarding the climate crisis. Using stop-motion animation I represent two diametrically opposed processes: a manufactured machine that contributes to the ruination of the Earth; and a natural ecosystem that works as a filter and serves to protect the Earth. My intent is to condemn rapacious modern consumerism and its resulting negligence of the exponential degradation of the natural world, and to offer a reminder of the ways in which the Earth works to undo the harm we inflict upon it.
My artmaking practice has been influenced by the study and interpretation of the artist William Kentridge, Felix in Exile.

Alignment Of Planets This June

From June 10 a rare chance to see all five bright planets in the sunrise direction presents itself. Mercury will be lowest in the sky; Venus continues its early morning dominance as it slides lower towards the horizon; Mars brightens, making it easier to spot and identify; Jupiter gleams high in the sky as dawn approaches; and Saturn finishes out this rare planet parade.

This rare phenomenon has not occurred since December 2004, and this year, the distance between Mercury and Saturn will be smaller, according to Sky & Telescope.

As June progresses, Mercury will become brighter and easier to see, according to Diana Hannikainen, observing editor of Sky & Telescope. The rest of the planets should be consistently visible to the naked eye, she added.

The delightful view of all five naked-eye planets will greet early risers throughout the month of June. While seeing two or three planets close together (in what’s known as a conjunction) is a rather common occurrence, seeing five is somewhat more rare. And what’s even more remarkable about this month’s lineup is that the planets are arranged in their natural order from the Sun.

Throughout the month of June, shortly before the Sun rises, viewers could see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn — in that order — stretching across the sky from low in the east to higher in the south. Mercury will be tougher to spot: Early in the month, viewers will need an unobstructed eastern horizon as well as binoculars to potentially see the little world. As the month wears on, Mercury climbs higher and brightens significantly, making it easier to see, and thus completing the planetary lineup.

June 24: According to Sky & Telescope magazine, the planetary lineup this morning is even more compelling. To begin with, Mercury will be much easier to snag, making the five-planet parade that much more accessible. And you’ll have about an hour to enjoy the sight, from when Mercury pops above the horizon to when the rising Sun washes it out of the sky. But the real bonus is the waning crescent Moon positioned between Venus and Mars, serving as a proxy Earth. By this time of month, the planets are spread farther across the sky — the distance between Mercury and Saturn will be 107°.

The best time to view the five planets is in the 30 minutes before sunrise. The night before you plan to view the alignment, check when the sun will rise in your area. In Sydney the sun rises at 6.55 am - so 6.30am will be prime viewing time.

Image: At dawn on June 24th, the crescent Moon joins the planetary lineup. It's conveniently placed between Venus and Mars, serving as a proxy Earth. Image: Sky & Telescope illustration

Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards 2022: Entries Close June 30th

Details and more at:

There's also a special History page running this Issue for you - the Australian poet Dorothea Mackellar, after whom the Electorate of Mackellar is named, had a house here in Pittwater at Lovett Bay.

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

In 2022, the Dorothea Mackellar Memorial Society has chosen the theme “In My Opinion.” 

As always, it is an optional theme. The Society encourages students to write about topics and experiences that spark their poetic genius (in whatever form they choose.)




Primary school and secondary school entries can be submitted anytime during the competition period. Visit:

Word Of The Week: Youth

Word of the Week returns in 2022 simply to throw some disruption in amongst the 'yeah-nah' mix.

The quality or state of being young. The part of life following childhood; the period of existence preceding maturity or age; the whole early part of life, from childhood, or, sometimes, from infancy, to adulthood. A young person. A young man; a male adolescent or young adult. 

From Middle English youthe, from Old English geoguth; akin to Old English geong young — Middle English youthe, youhthe, ȝouthe, ȝewethe, ȝuȝethe, ȝeoȝuthe, from Old English ġeoguþ (“the state of being young; youth”), from Proto-West Germanic *juwunþa, from Proto-Germanic *jugunþō, *jugunþiz (“youth”), corresponding to young +‎ -th. Cognate with Saterland Frisian Juugd, West Frisian jeugd, Dutch jeugd, German Low German Jöögd, German Jugend.

Compare YOLAN ‘young man’ from Old Norse. Compare Old High German uhlan, Polish ulan, Turkish olan, Old English yulan, Sanskrit juman.

Bruce Springsteen - Dancing In The Dark (Official Video)

Directed by Brian DePalma, the video was filmed during Springsteen's concert at the St. Paul Civic Center in Minnesota on June 29, 1984. Courteney Cox, who was planted in the audience, got the role of the adoring fan in the front row who gets to dance on stage with Bruce.

Kansas - Carry On Wayward Son (Official Audio)

The Faces - Ooh La La (1973)

Who really gets fired over social media posts? We studied hundreds of cases to find out

Brady RobardsMonash University and Darren GrafMonash University

What you say and do on social media can affect your employment; it can prevent you from getting hired, stall career progression and may even get you fired. Is this fair – or an invasion of privacy?

Our recent research involved a study of 312 news articles about people who had been fired because of a social media post.

These included stories about posts people had made themselves, such as a teacher who was fired after they came out as bisexual on Instagram, or a retail employee let go over a racist post on Facebook.

It also included stories about posts made by others, such as videos of police engaging in racial profiling (which led to their dismissal).

Racism was the most common reason people were fired in these news stories, with 28% of stories related specifically to racism. Other forms of discriminatory behaviour were sometimes involved, such as queerphobia and misogyny (7%); workplace conflict (17%); offensive content such as “bad jokes” and insensitive posts (16%); acts of violence and abuse (8%); and “political content” (5%).

We also found these news stories focused on cases of people being fired from public-facing jobs with high levels of responsibility and scrutiny. These included police/law enforcement (20%), teachers (8%), media workers (8%), medical professionals (7%), and government workers (3%), as well as workers in service roles such as hospitality and retail (13%).

Social media is a double-edged sword. It can be used to hold people to account for discriminatory views, comments or actions. But our study also raised important questions about privacy, common HR practices and how employers use social media to make decisions about their staff.

Young people in particular are expected to navigate social media use (documenting their lives, hanging out with friends, and engaging in self-expression) with the threat of future reputational harm looming.

Are All Online Posts Fair Game?

Many believe people just need to accept the reality that what you say and do on social media can be used against you.

And that one should only post content they wouldn’t mind their boss (or potential boss) seeing.

But to what extent should employers and recruiting managers respect the privacy of employees, and not use personal social media to make employment decisions?

Or is everything “fair game” in making hiring and firing decisions?

On the one hand, the capacity for using social media to hold certain people (like police and politicians) to account for what they say and do can be immensely valuable to democracy and society.

Powerful social movements such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter used social media to call out structural social problems and individual bad actors.

On the other hand, when everyday people lose their jobs (or don’t get hired in the first place) because they’re LGBTQ+, post a photo of themselves in a bikini, or because they complain about customers in private spaces (all stories from our study), the boundary between professional and private lives is blurred.

Mobile phones, emails, working from home, highly competitive employment markets, and the intertwining of “work” with “identity” all serve to blur this line.

Some workers must develop their own strategies and tactics, such as not friending or following workmates on some social media (which itself can lead to tensions).

And even when one does derive joy and fulfilment from work, we should expect to have some boundaries respected.

Employers, HR workers, and managers should think carefully about the boundaries between professional and personal lives; using social media in employment decisions can be more complicated than it seems.

Many believe people just need to accept the reality that what you say and do on social media can be used against you. Shutterstock

A ‘Hidden Curriculum Of Surveillance’

When people feel monitored by employers (current, or imagined future ones) when they use social media, this creates a “hidden curriculum of surveillance”. For young people especially, this can be damaging and inhibiting.

This hidden curriculum of surveillance works to produce compliant, self-governing citizen-employees. They are pushed to curate often highly sterile representations of their lives on social media, always under threat of employment doom.

At the same time, these very same social media have a clear and productive role in revealing violations of power. Bad behaviour, misconduct, racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry, harassment, and violence have all been exposed by social media.

So, then, this surveillance can be both bad and good – invasive in some cases and for some people (especially young people whose digitally-mediated lives are managed through this prism of future impact) but also liberating and enabling justice, accountability, and transparency in other scenarios and for other actors.

Social media can be an effective way for people to find work, for employers to find employees, to present professional profiles on sites like LinkedIn or portfolios of work on platforms like Instagram, but these can also be personal spaces even when they’re not set to private.

How we get the balance right between using social media to hold people to account versus the risk of invading people’s privacy depends on the context, of course, and is ultimately about power.The Conversation

Brady Robards, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Monash University and Darren Graf, Assistant researcher, Monash University

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

Could steam-powered cars decrease the CO2 in the atmosphere?

President William Howard Taft and his wife rode in this steam-powered automobile in 1909. AP Photo
Brian StewartWesleyan University and Gary W. YoheWesleyan University

Curious Kids is a series for children of all ages. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to

Could steam-powered cars decrease the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere? – Emma, age 16, Springville, Utah

With the growing severity and frequency of stormsheat waves and wildfires, and the other dangers from climate change, there are many reasons to be concerned about the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Scientists have shown that humanity’s addiction to burning fossil fuels is causing this problem, which means it’s time to kick that habit.

Because transportation generates more than one-fourth of the CO2 emitted by burning fossil fuels, slashing CO2 emissions requires phasing out vehicles powered by gasoline, diesel and natural gas.

Steam powered many of the early automobiles sold around 1900. Could the same technology play a role again?

The ‘Stanley Steamer’

The steam-powered car became possible once gasoline and diesel oil replaced wood and coal for the powering of engines.

Inventors Francis and Freelan Stanley, twin brothers, became automaking pioneers after they improved photographic technology. In 1898 and 1899 they were selling more vehicles than any other early automaker, and their steam-powered “Rocket Racer” set a speed record in 1906.

All along, cars powered by internal combustion engines – the kind most in use today – were competing with steam cars and winning the technology war. Starting in 1912, electric starters made them safer and more convenient by replacing dangerous hand cranks. By 1920, when its assembly lines started producing the Model T with an electric starter, Ford was selling hundreds of thousands of cars per year.

In contrast, early steam cars were heavy and expensive, and it took a long time to make enough steam to get them rolling. Doble Steam Motors, another early automaker, eventually solved this last problem and many others, but the cars remained pricey, and it was too late: The noisy and polluting but much cheaper internal combustion engine had won out. The Stanley Motor Carriage Co. ceased operating in 1924.

To be clear, because the heat to boil water to make steam has to come from somewhere, these steam-powered vehicles burned fossil fuels to heat their water anyway.

Two grown identical twins with beards, wearing bowler derbies, atop an early automobile
Twins and automobile manufacturers Freelan and Francis Stanley go for a ride in an early Stanley Steamer in 1897. PhotoQuest/Getty Images

A 1970s Comeback

Steam power had something of a comeback in the 1970s, but not because of climate concerns. Back then, air pollution spewed by vehicles had become a serious problem filling cities with smog.

Steam boilers can burn fuel more thoroughly than a standard internal combustion engine, leading to cleaner exhaust that is mostly water and carbon dioxide.

At the time, that was seen as an improvement.

Some of the cities battling pollution from automobile exhaust added steam-powered buses to their fleets. This resurgence was short-lived because of the arrival of new technologies that could curb pollution from internal combustion engines.

A bus in the 1970s emblazoned with the words 'Steam Is Beautiful.'
This experimental steam-powered bus was rolled out in in 1972. Frank Lodge/National Archives at College Park via Wikimedia Commons

Steam’s Drawback And Electricity’s Advantages

The biggest obstacle for steam-powered vehicles is that steam isn’t a source of energy. Rather, it is a source of power for the wheels.

While getting around in steam-powered vehicles might make the air cleaner in the drivers’ own communities, switching to steam-powered engines that continue to burn gasoline and diesel wouldn’t reduce CO2 emissions.

A different approach can potentially eliminate the need to burn fossil fuels for transportation: replacing gasoline tanks with batteries to provide the energy, along with swapping out internal combustion engines for electric motors to turn the wheels.

The reduction in carbon emissions will be far greater if vehicles run on electricity generated by wind turbines, solar panels or other energy sources that don’t emit carbon dioxide.

Yellow electric school buses
School buses are beginning to run on electricity instead of fossil fuels. AP Photo/Business Wire

As it happens, some of the first cars ever made were electric. Manufacturers stopped making those models because the need to recharge their batteries after short distances rendered those vehicles less convenient than those powered by fossil fuels.

Battery technology is so much better now that some electric vehicles can travel 400 miles (640 kilometers) without needing to recharge. Instead of switching to steam as a source of power to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions, we recommend electricity generated from renewable sources.

Hello, curious kids! Do you have a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to Please tell us your name, age and the city where you live.

And since curiosity has no age limit – adults, let us know what you’re wondering, too. We won’t be able to answer every question, but we will do our best.The Conversation

Brian Stewart, Professor of Physics, Wesleyan University and Gary W. Yohe, Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Wesleyan University

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

If you’re renting, chances are your home is cold. With power prices soaring, here’s what you can do to keep warm

Cynthia Faye IsleyUniversity of AdelaideEmma BakerUniversity of AdelaideLyrian DanielUniversity of Adelaide, and Trivess MooreRMIT University

If you’re feeling the cold this winter, you’re not alone. About a quarter of all Australians have trouble keeping their homes warm enough in winter. That figure is likely to soar this year, due to poor quality housing and the rapidly escalating energy crisis.

Renters are particularly at risk, but our research has shown many home owners are in the same boat as well. We’ve collected data over the last few years on how many Australians have cold homes, find it difficult to stay warm, and can’t afford their heating bills.

What counts as cold? The World Health Organization recommends a minimum home temperature of 18℃ for health and wellbeing. About a fifth of Australian renters, for example, have cold homes. Our current research has shown this applies to home owners as well, with 26% of people across all housing types unable to stay warm at least half of the time during winter.

Australia’s energy crisis is likely to see soaring rates of energy poverty, meaning being unable to keep your home warm or cool enough. Here’s why this is such a problem – and what you can do about it.

Cold Homes Affect Our Health

If you’re cold at home, you have a higher risk of developing respiratory problems and high blood pressure. People in the coldest homes face a higher risk of dying in winter. Cold can have a flow-on impact on our health system, which is already struggling.

Australia’s south-east has had the coldest start to winter in decades. Melbourne hasn’t been this cold this early since 1949, while Sydney hasn’t seen these temperatures in early June since 1989.

old couple cold high bills
Low income households who are renting are particularly vulnerable to energy price spikes. Shutterstock

Double Trouble: Cold Weather And The Energy Crisis

If you’ve been hit by the recent cold snap, chances are you’ll have been reminded how cold your home can get. This is not a surprise given how badly existing homes and new housing perform in keeping an even temperature.

The cold has made many people doubly worried, because the energy required to heat our leaky, poorly insulated homes is about to get very expensive.

Early results from our survey of over 350 Australians found 25% of people were experiencing shortages of money to the point they will be unable to adequately heat their homes. One third of our respondents said energy was unaffordable. Some reported making trade-offs, such as skimping on food or healthcare to pay energy bills.

These people are experiencing energy poverty, where a household is unable to properly heat or cool their home or face significant financial difficulty doing so.

While data about energy poverty in Australia is patchy, we know around 180,000 households in Victoria had persistent bill payment issues as of 2018, and 45,000 households were consistently unable to heat their homes.

Energy Price Increases Hit Lower Income Households Hardest

Lower income households are more at risk from the cold. That’s because they’re more likely to live in homes that are in poor condition and hard to heat. One quarter of low income households told us they struggle to stay warm. Insulation may be a key factor, with 25% of our respondents reporting their rental properties did not have insulation.

Insulation matters, because heat escapes homes through single-pane windows, or poorly insulated walls and ceilings. As a result, poorly insulated homes cost more to heat.

This makes life harder for low income renters, given they have little control over insulation or other home modifications. Worse still, heaters that are cheap to buy are often the most expensive to run.

While an efficient reverse cycle air conditioner would save money and heat the space better over the longer term, it is often difficult for renters to negotiate installation with property managers or landlords – especially given the intense competition for rentals at present in many cities. That can mean renters will suffer in silence, unwilling to ask for something that will make their lives better.

Reverse cycle air con
Efficient reverse cycle air conditioners can be the cheapest form of heating. But renters face challenges in getting landlords to install them. Shutterstock

What Can Renters Do?

Low income renters face real threats from energy poverty this year. While we need systemic change to improve the outlook for Australia’s renters, there are low-cost DIY ways to improve how your house retains heat this winter.

The first step: check your current heating appliances are working efficiently. Many people don’t clean the filters on their reverse cycle air conditioners. This makes them less efficient, and can drive up energy bills.

Poorly sealed windows and doors make it hard to stay warm.

Using thermal curtains, and keeping them closed makes a big difference. Putting a piece of plywood or even a scarf between the curtain rail and the wall to make a DIY pelmet also helps keep the heat in. If you have single glazed windows, consider window films as a way to improve performance for a fraction of the cost of double glazed windows.

Sealing the cracks around windows, under doors and around the wider home is also important. Silicon or expanding foam can be used for gaps and cracks. Draughts under doors can be stopped with door seals or door snakes.

Thick curtains
Thick curtains, DIY pelmets and door snakes are cheap ways to make your home keep its heat. Shutterstock

Close the doors to your bathroom, laundry and other rooms not in use to keep the heat where you need it most. Hanging a blanket over a doorway can also be a cheap way to seal off a room and concentrate heat.

It’s also worth checking what rebates and concessions your state government or council is offering. These might include energy efficiency improvements or extra help with heating costs. If you’re renting, your home must meet minimum standards, so make sure you check what you are entitled to as these vary by state.

Everyone deserves a warm home. Our health and well-being depend on it. Building new, energy efficient homes is only part of the answer. We also have to make our 10.8 million existing dwellings warmer.The Conversation

Cynthia Faye Isley, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Australian Centre for Housing Research, University of AdelaideEmma Baker, Professor of Housing Research, University of AdelaideLyrian Daniel, Senior lecturer, University of Adelaide, and Trivess Moore, Senior Lecturer, School of Property, Construction and Project Management, RMIT University

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

Goodbye Internet Explorer. You won’t be missed (but your legacy will be remembered)

Mohiuddin AhmedEdith Cowan UniversityM Imran MalikEdith Cowan University, and Paul Haskell-DowlandEdith Cowan University

After 27 years, Microsoft has finally bid farewell to the web browser Internet Explorer, and will redirect Explorer users to the latest version of its Edge browser.

As of June 15, Microsoft ended support for Explorer on several versions of Windows 10 – meaning no more productivity, reliability or security updates. Explorer will remain a working browser, but won’t be protected as new threats emerge.

Twenty-seven years is a long time in computing. Many would say this move was long overdue. Explorer has been long outperformed by its competitors, and years of poor user experiences have made it the butt of many internet jokes.

How It Began

Explorer was first introduced in 1995 by the Microsoft Corporation, and came bundled with the Windows operating system.

To its credit, Explorer introduced many Windows users to the joys of the internet for the first time. After all, it was only in 1993 that Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the web, released the first public web browser (aptly called WorldWideWeb).

Providing Explorer as its default browser meant a large proportion of Windows’s global user base would not experience an alternative. But this came at a cost, and Microsoft eventually faced multiple antitrust investigations exploring its monopoly on the browser market.

Still, even though a number of other browsers were around (including Netscape Navigator, which pre-dated Explorer), Explorer remained the default choice for millions of people up until around 2002, when Firefox was launched.

How It Ended

Microsoft has released 11 versions of Explorer (with many minor revisions along the way). It added different functionality and components with each release. Despite this, it lost consumers’ trust due to Explorer’s “legacy architecture” which involved poor design and slowness.

It seems Microsoft got so comfortable with its monopoly that it let the quality of its product slide, just as other competitors were entering the battlefield.

Even just considering its cosmetic interface (what you see and interact with when you visit a website), Explorer could not give users the authentic experience of modern websites.

On the security front, Explorer exhibited its fair share of weaknesses, which cyber criminals readily and successfully exploited.

While Microsoft may have patched many of these weaknesses over different versions of the browser, the underlying architecture is still considered vulnerable by security experts. Microsoft itself has acknowledged this:

… [Explorer] is still based on technology that’s 25 years old. It’s a legacy browser that’s architecturally outdated and unable to meet the security challenges of the modern web.

These concerns have resulted in the United States Department for Homeland Security repeatedly advising internet users against using Explorer.

Explorer’s failure to win over modern audiences is further evident through Microsoft’s ongoing attempts to push users towards Edge. Edge was first introduced in 2015, and since then Explorer has only been used as a compatibility solution.

What Explorer Was Up Against

In terms of market share, more than 64% of browser users currently use Chrome. Explorer has dropped to less than 1%, and even Edge only accounts for about 4% of users. What has given Chrome such a leg-up in the browser market?

Made with Flourish

Chrome was first introduced by Google in 2008, on the open source Chromium project, and has since been actively developed and supported.

Being open source means the software is publicly available, and anyone can inspect the source code that runs behind it. Individuals can even contribute to the source code, thereby enhancing the software’s productivity, reliability and security. This was never an option with Explorer.

Moreover, Chrome is multi-platform: it can be used in other operating systems such as Linux, MacOS and on mobile devices, and was supporting a range of systems long before Edge was even released.

Meanwhile, Explorer has mainly been restricted to Windows, XBox and a few versions of MacOS.

Under The Hood

Microsoft’s Edge browser is using the same Chromium open-source code that Chrome has used since its inception. This is encouraging, but it remains to be seen how Edge will compete against Chrome and other browsers to win users’ confidence.

We won’t be surprised if Microsoft fails to nudge customers towards using Edge as their favourite browser. The latest stats suggest Edge is still far behind Chrome in terms of market share.

Also, the fact Microsoft took seven years to retire Explorer after Edge’s initial release suggests the company hasn’t had great success in getting Edge’s uptake rolling.

A screenshot of a Microsoft web page showing Internet Explorer has been retired.
Only some Microsoft operating systems (mainly server platforms) will continue to receive security updates for Explorer under long-term support agreements. Screenshot

What’s Next?

Web browsers play a vital role in establishing privacy and security for users. Design and convenience are important factors for users when selecting a browser. So ultimately, the browser that can most effectively balance security and ease of use will win users.

And it’s hard to say whether Chrome’s current popularity will be sustained over time. Google will no doubt want it to continue, since web browsers are significant revenue sources.

But Google as a corporation is becoming increasingly unpopular due to massive data gathering and intrusive advertising practices. Chrome is a key component of Google’s data-gathering machine, so it’s possible users may slowly turn away.

As for what to do about Explorer (if you’re one of the few people that still has it sitting meekly on your desktop) – simply uninstall it to avoid security risks.

Even if you’re not using Explorer, just having it installed could present a threat to your device. No one wants to be the victim of a cyber attack via a dead browser!

The Conversation

Mohiuddin Ahmed, Lecturer of Computing & Security, Edith Cowan UniversityM Imran Malik, Cyber Security Researcher, Edith Cowan University, and Paul Haskell-Dowland, Professor of Cyber Security Practice, Edith Cowan University

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

Did a giant radio telescope in China just discover aliens? Not so FAST…

Danny C PriceCurtin University

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
– Carl Sagan (Cosmos, 1980)

This phrase is the standard that astronomers will be applying to a curious signal captured with China’s “Sky Eye” telescope that might be a transmission from alien technology.

An article reporting the signal was posted on the website of China’s state-backed Science and Technology Daily newspaper, but was later removed. So have astronomers finally found evidence of intelligent found life beyond Earth? And is it being hushed up?

We should be intrigued, but not too excited (yet). An interesting signal has to go through a lot of tests to check whether it truly carries the signature of extraterrestrial technology or is just the result of an unexpected source of terrestrial interference.

And as for the deletion: media releases are normally timed for simultaneous release with peer-reviewed results – which are not yet available – so it was likely just released a bit early by mistake.

An Eye On The Sky

Sky Eye, which is offically known as the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), is the the largest and most sensitive single-dish radio telescope in the world. A engineering marvel, its gargantuan structure is built inside a natural basin in the mountains of Guizhou, China.

The telescope is so huge it can’t be physically tilted, but it can be pointed in a direction by thousands of actuators that deform the telescope’s reflective surface. By deforming the surface, the location of the telescope’s focal point changes, and the telescope can look at a different part of the sky.

FAST detects radiation at radio wavelengths (up to 10 cm) and is used for astronomical research in a wide range of areas. One area is the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI.

SETI observations are mainly done in “piggy-back” mode, which means they are taken while the telescope is also running its primary science programs. In this way, large swaths of the sky can be scanned for signs of alien technology – or “technosignatures” – without getting in the way of other science operations. For special targets like nearby exoplanets, dedicated SETI observations are still carried out.

The Hunt For Alien Technology

Technosignature searches have been ongoing since the 1960s, when the American astronomer Frank Drake pointed the 26-metre Tatel telescope toward two nearby Sun-like stars and scanned them for signs of technology.

Over the years, technosignature searches have become far more rigorous and sensitive. The systems in place at FAST are also able to process billions of times more of the radio spectrum than Drake’s experiment.

Despite these advances, we haven’t yet found any evidence of life beyond Earth.

FAST sifts through enormous amounts of data. The telescope feeds 38 billion samples a second into a cluster of high-performance computers, which then produces exquisitely detailed charts of incoming radio signals. These charts are then searched for signals that look like technosignatures.

With such a large collecting area, FAST can pick up incredibly faint signals. It is about 20 times more sensitive than Australia’s Murriyang telescope at the Parkes Radio Observatory. FAST could easily detect a transmitter on a nearby exoplanet with a similar output power to radar systems we have here on Earth.

The Trouble With Sensitivity

The trouble with being so sensitive is that you can uncover radio interference that would otherwise be too faint to detect. We SETI researchers have had this problem before.

Last year, using Murriyang, we detected an extremely interesting signal we called BLC1.

However, it turned out to be very strange interference (not aliens). To uncover its true nature, we had to develop a new verification framework.

Technosignature verification flowchart
A flowchart for verifying candidate technosignatures, developed for BLC1. Sofia Sheikh (SETI Institute)

With BLC1, it took about a year from when it was initially reported to when peer-reviewed analysis was published. Similarly, we may need to wait a while for the FAST signal to be analysed in depth.

Professor Zhang Tongjie, chief scientist for the China Extraterrestrial Civilization Research Group, acknowledged this in the Science & Technology Daily report:

The possibility that the suspicious signal is some kind of radio interference is also very high, and it needs to be further confirmed and ruled out. This may be a long process.

And we may need to get used to a gap between finding candidate signals and verifying them. FAST and other telescopes are likely to find many more signals of interest.

Most of these will turn out to be interference, but some may be new astrophysical phenomena, and some may be bona fide technosignatures.

Stay Intrigued

Will FAST’s extraordinary signals meet the burden of extraordinary evidence? Until their work is reviewed and published, it’s still too early to say, but it’s encouraging that their SETI search algorithms are finding curious signals.

Between FAST, the Breakthrough Listen initiative, and the SETI Institute’s COSMIC program, the SETI field is seeing a lot of interest and activity. And it’s not just radio waves: searches are also underway using optical and infrared light.

As for right now: stay intrigued, but don’t get too excited.The Conversation

Danny C Price, Senior research fellow, Curtin University

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

Nine vegetables that are healthier for you when cooked

Ivana Lalicki/Shutterstock
Laura BrownTeesside University

Raw food diets are a fairly recent trend, including raw veganism. The belief being that the less processed food is, the better. However, not all food is more nutritious when eaten raw. Indeed, some vegetables are actually more nutritious when cooked. Here are nine of them.

1. Asparagus

All living things are made up of cells, and in vegetables, important nutrients are sometimes trapped within these cell walls. When vegetables are cooked, the walls break down, releasing the nutrients that can then be absorbed more easily by the body. Cooking asparagus breaks down its cell walls, making vitamins A, B9, C and E more available to be absorbed.

2. Mushrooms

Mushrooms contain large amounts of the antioxidant ergothioneine, which is released during cooking. Antioxidants help break down “free radicals”, chemicals that can damage our cells, causing illness and ageing.

3. Spinach

Spinach is rich in nutrients, including iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc. However, these nutrients are more readily absorbed when the spinach is cooked. This is because spinach is packed with oxalic acid (a compound found in many plants) that blocks the absorption of iron and calcium. Heating spinach releases the bound calcium, making it more available for the body to absorb.

Research suggests that steaming spinach maintains its levels of folate (B9), which may reduce the risk of certain cancers.

4. Tomatoes

Cooking, using any method, greatly increases the antioxidant lycopene in tomatoes. Lycopene has been associated with a lower risk of a range of chronic diseases including heart disease and cancer. This increased lycopene amount comes from the heat that helps to break down the thick cell walls, which contain several important nutrients.

Although cooking tomatoes reduces their vitamin C content by 29%, their lycopene content increased by more than 50% within 30 minutes of cooking.

5. Carrots

Cooked carrots contain more beta-carotene than raw carrots, which is a substance called a carotenoid that the body converts into vitamin A. This fat-soluble vitamin supports bone growth, vision and the immune system.

Cooking carrots with the skins on more than doubles their antioxidant power. You should boil carrots whole before slicing as it stops these nutrients from escaping into the cooking water. Avoid frying carrots as this has been found to reduce the amount of carotenoid.

6. Bell Peppers

Bell peppers are a great source of immune-system-boosting antioxidants, especially the carotenoids, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin and lutein. Heat breaks down the cell walls, making the carotenoids easier for your body to absorb. As with tomatoes, vitamin C is lost when peppers are boiled or steamed because the vitamin can leach out into the water. Try roasting them instead.

7. Brassica

Brassica, which include broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts, are high in glucosinolates (sulfur-containing phytochemicals), which the body can convert into a range of cancer-fighting compounds. For these glucosinolates to be converted into cancer-fighting compounds, an enzyme within these vegetables called myrosinase has to be active.

Research has found that steaming these vegetables preserves both the vitamin C and myrosinase and, therefore, the cancer-fighting compounds you can get from them. Chopping broccoli and letting it sit for a minimum of 40 minutes before cooking also allows this myrosinase to activate.

Similarly, sprouts, when cooked produce indole, a compound that may reduce the risk of cancer. Cooking sprouts also causes the glucosinolates to break down into compounds that are known to have cancer-fighting properties.

Chopped broccoli
Let your chopped broccoli sit for at least 40 minutes before cooking it. Dream79/Shutterstock

8. Green Beans

Green beans have higher levels of antioxidants when they are baked, microwaved, griddled or even fried as opposed to boiled or pressure cooked.

9. Kale

Kale is healthiest when lightly steamed as it deactivates enzymes that prevent the body from using the iodine it needs for the thyroid, which helps regulate your metabolism.

For all vegetables, higher temperatures, longer cooking times and larger quantities of water cause more nutrients to be lost. Water-soluble vitamins (C and many of the B vitamins) are the most unstable nutrients when it comes to cooking because they leach out of vegetables into the cooking water. So avoid soaking them in water, use the least amount of water when cooking and use other cooking methods, such as steaming or roasting. Also, if you have cooking water left over, use it in soups or gravies as it holds all the leached nutrients.The Conversation

Laura Brown, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition, Food, and Health Sciences, Teesside University

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

Ethereal, evocative, and inventive: why the music of Kate Bush spans generations

Lorna Piatti-FarnellAuckland University of Technology

Keen observers of popular culture will have become aware of the recent inclusion of Kate Bush’s 1985 song Running Up That Hill into the storyline of the widely-watched Netflix show Stranger Things. As a result of this inclusion, Kate Bush’s classic song was catapulted (again) into the mainstream musical scene, experiencing a true resurgence in popularity and ranking highly in download charts around the world.

Kate Bush herself provided a response by issuing a rare message on social media about the whole affair, not only declaring her enthusiasm over Stranger Things, but also her gratitude for its ability to bestow “a new lease of life” upon her now famous song.

As a result of the boost in popularity of Running Up That Hill, there has been great talk of a whole new group of music listeners from the Gen Z demographic “discovering” Kate Bush’s work, and becoming instantly enamoured with it.

An anecdotal look would seem to suggest that, somehow, Kate Bush is reaching greater fame in 2022 than she did during the 1980s, a prolific creative period that many would rank (unkindly) as the peak of her musical journey. And yet, while there is no denying the instant hold that Kate Bush’s music seems to be having on current listeners, there is definitely something strange in suggesting that her fame was only moderate in previous decades.

Indeed, Kate Bush was popular during and after the ‘80s, especially in the UK, and her music has been continuously well-received by a growing number of avid fans since.

In And Out Of The Mainstream

Since her debut in the late 1970s, Kate Bush has released over 25 UK Top 40 singles, including Babooshka (#5, 1980), Hounds of Love (#18, 1986), Rubberband Girl (#12, 1993), The Red Shoes (#21, 1994), and King of the Mountain (#4, 2005).

The 2022 impact of Stranger Things on fans of her music only signals cycles of discovery, re-discovery, and re-appreciation that have been characteristic of Kate Bush’ music and performances ever since she first broke onto the scene as a decidedly avant-garde artist in 1978. Her now well-known hit Wuthering Heights, reached #1 in the UK Singles charts.

So, one is left to wonder as to the reason for Kate Bush’s long-standing appeal. While there are likely many different reasons for this – undoubtedly including the ever-changing circumstances of individual music listeners – there are certainly aspects of Kate Bush’s music, performances and perhaps even persona that feed her enduring attraction.

Experimental And Innovative

Kate Bush’s music was undoubtedly experimental and innovative in the late '70s and '80s. Its seemingly open disregard for the dominant musical trends of the time conferred upon her songs a certain out-of-time quality, which transformed and materialised into a timeliness appeal.

Her music’s refusal to fit into strict categories of genre and audience classification is perhaps what makes it able to seemingly morph according to situation, attuning itself to changing tastes, and squeezing itself into the evolving bounds of cultural relevance.

In addition to the very particular sound qualities of her music, one must also take into account the visual appeal of Kate Bush’ actual performances. Her music videos, where she is known to display arresting, sinuous choreographies and floating gowns, create a dream-like atmosphere.

While a touch of the late '70s and '80s can certainly be spotted in her videos, with the typical soft-focus lenses of the time making an obvious appearance, her performances are beautifully strange and suggestively haunting. The choreography seen in the video for Wuthering Heights is particularly well-known in this respect. Here, Kate sports an arresting, floaty red dress, and dances lithely in a natural landscape, incorporating mesmerising movements into her routine, while a light mist surrounds her.

The recurring combination of unconventional sounds and visuals is arguably what established Kate Bush as a distinct icon: one who is not only instantly recognisable for her almost intoxicating individuality, but who is also seemingly unfettered by the restrictions of neither time nor space.

A Contemporary Icon

There is no doubting the fact that Kate Bush’s lyrics speak to a variety of identities and desires. She has been credited as an extremely influential figure by contemporary artists such as Lady Gaga, Tori Amos, and Florence + The Machine.

Unavoidably, there is a lot of nostalgia involved in the constant re-discovery of Kate Bush’s music as well, especially for those fans whose memories are attached to her songs from different moments in time. And yet, there also seems to be something more peculiar at play. Kate Bush’s music has a certain nostalgic feel to it, even if new fans and listeners do not have any actual memories of the past associated with her songs.

There is an intimate sense of longing that is interlaced within the fabric her work: a desire to feel, to experience, and to find oneself, which makes her performances so captivating. It is perhaps this definitive characteristic that maintains Kate Bush’s multi-generational appeal, as her music continues to speak to a multitude of fans across the years.The Conversation

Lorna Piatti-Farnell, Professor of Film, Media, and Popular Culture, Auckland University of Technology

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

Woodward and Bernstein didn’t bring down a president in Watergate – but the myth that they did lives on

U.S. President Richard Nixon at a White House lectern reading a farewell speech to his staff following his resignation on Aug. 9, 1974. George Tames/New York Times Co./Getty Images
W. Joseph CampbellAmerican University School of Communication

In their dogged reporting of the Watergate scandal, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered the crimes that forced Richard Nixon to resign the presidency in August 1974.

That version of Watergate has long dominated popular understanding of the scandal, which unfolded over 26 months beginning in June 1972.

It is, however, a simplistic trope that not even Watergate-era principals at the Post embraced.

For example, the newspaper’s publisher during Watergate, Katharine Graham, pointedly rejected that interpretation during a program 25 years ago at the now-defunct Newseum in suburban Virginia.

“Sometimes, people accuse us of ‘bringing down a president,’ which of course we didn’t do, and shouldn’t have done,”Graham said. “The processes that caused [Nixon’s] resignation were constitutional.”

Graham’s words, however accurate and incisive, scarcely altered the dominant popular interpretation of Watergate. If anything, the intervening 25 years have solidified the “heroic-journalist” myth of Watergate, which I address and dismantle in my book “Getting It Wrong: Debunking the Greatest Myths in American Journalism.”

Two men, one in a topcoat and one in a raincoat, walk away from a building. One is carrying a file folder.
Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward, left, and Carl Bernstein on March 1, 1974, Washington, D.C. David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

Impact Exaggerated

However popular, the heroic-journalist myth is a vast exaggeration of the effect of their work.

Woodward and Bernstein did disclose financial links between Nixon’s reelection campaign and the burglars arrested June 17, 1972, at headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, in what was the signal crime of Watergate.

They publicly tied prominent Washington figures, such as Nixon’s former attorney general, John Mitchell, to the scandal.

They won a Pulitzer Prize for the Post.

But they missed decisive elements of Watergate, notably the payment of hush money to the burglars and the existence of Nixon’s White House tapes.

Nonetheless, the heroic-journalist myth became so entrenched that it could withstand disclaimers by Watergate-era principals at the Post such as Graham. Even Woodward has disavowed the heroic-journalist interpretation, once telling an interviewer that “the mythologizing of our role in Watergate has gone to the point of absurdity, where journalists write … that I, single-handedly, brought down Richard Nixon.

"Totally absurd.”

So why not take Woodward at his word? Why has the heroic-journalist interpretation of Watergate persisted through the 50 years since burglars linked to Nixon’s campaign were arrested at the Watergate complex in Washington?

The movie ‘All the President’s Men’ placed Woodward and Bernstein at the decisive center of Watergate’s unraveling.

Glosses Over Intricacies

Like most media myths, the heroic-journalist interpretation of Watergate rests on a foundation of simplicity. It glosses over the scandal’s intricacies and discounts the far more crucial investigative work of special prosecutors, federal judges, the FBI, panels of both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court.

It was, after all, the court’s unanimous ruling in July 1974, ordering Nixon to surrender tapes subpoenaed by the Watergate special prosecutor, that sealed the president’s fate. The recordings captured Nixon, six days after the burglary, agreeing to a plan to deter the FBI from pursuing its Watergate investigation.

The tapes were crucial to determining that Nixon had obstructed justice. Without them, he likely would have served out his presidential term. That, at least, was the interpretation of the late Stanley Kutler, one of Watergate’s leading historians, who noted: “You had to have that kind of corroborative evidence to nail the president of the United States.”

The heroic-journalist myth, which began taking hold even before Nixon resigned, has been sustained by three related influences.

One was Woodward and Bernstein’s “All the President’s Men,” the well-timed memoir about their reporting. “All the President’s Men” was published in June 1974 and quickly reached the top of The New York Times bestseller list, remaining there 15 weeks, through Nixon’s resignation and beyond. The book inescapably promoted the impression Woodward and Bernstein were vital to Watergate’s outcome.

More so than the book, the cinematic adaptation of “All the President’s Men” placed Woodward and Bernstein at the decisive center of Watergate’s unraveling. The movie, which was released in April 1976 and starred Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, was relentlessly media-centric, ignoring the work of prosecutors and the FBI.

The book and movie introduced Woodward’s super-secret source, “Deep Throat.” For 31 years after Nixon’s resignation, Washington periodically engaged publicly in guessing games about the source’s identity. Such speculation sometimes pointed to W. Mark Felt, a former senior FBI official.

Felt brazenly denied having been Woodward’s source. Had he been “Deep Throat,” he once told a Connecticut newspaper, “I would have done better. I would have been more effective.”

The “who-was-Deep-Throat” conjecture kept Woodward, Bernstein and the heroic-journalist myth at the center of Watergate conversations. Felt was 91 when, in 2005, he acknowledged through his family’s lawyer that he had been Woodward’s source after all.

It’s small wonder that the heroic-journalist myth still defines popular understanding of Watergate. Other than Woodward and Bernstein, no personalities prominent in Watergate were the subjects of a bestselling memoir, the inspiration for a star-studded motion picture, and the protectors of a mythical source who eluded conclusive identification for decades.The Conversation

W. Joseph Campbell, Professor of Communication Studies, American University School of Communication

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

NASA to launch 3 rockets from Northern Territory in boost for Australian space efforts

Equatorial Launch Australia
Melissa de ZwartFlinders University

Over the next month, NASA will launch three rockets from the Arnhem Space Centre in the Northern Territory on the Dhupuma Plateau, near Nhulunbuy. The rockets are 13 metre “sounding” rockets that will not reach orbit but will take scientific observations.

The launches represent a number of firsts for the Australian space industry. They also represent a major step forward for commercial space operators, as well as signalling the opportunity for future joint projects between Australia and the United States.

The Launches

The Arnhem Space Centre is owned and operated by a commercial operator, Equatorial Launch Australia. It is located on the land of the Gumatj people, who as the traditional custodians of the land, have been consulted as part of the launch approval process.

Gumatj Corporation chair Djawa Yunupingu told the ABC last year the launch plans are “a step towards the future for our people”.

This is the first time NASA has conducted a rocket launch from a commercial facility outside the US. This involves a significant logistical undertaking, with each rocket delivered to the launch site via barge.

More than 70 NASA personnel will travel to the NT to support the launch and the scientific program.

The rockets have been designed and built by NASA and will be used for scientific investigations into the physics of the Sun, astrophysics and the type of planetary science we can only conduct in the southern hemisphere. After the launches, NASA says it will clean up all material such as casing and payloads and return it to the US.

The NASA contract was first announced in 2019. However, COVID lockdowns and travel restrictions have delayed the launches until now.

What Else Is Likely To Be Launched From This Site?

Equatorial Launch Australia also plans to construct a larger launch facility, with three launch pads, accommodating larger rockets and payloads.

Several more launches are planned this year. The company is aiming to have 50 or more launches a year by 2024 and 2025.

What Does This Mean For The Future Of The Australian Space Industry?

The Arnhem Space Centre is one of three proposed commercial launch sites in Australia.

In September 2020 another operator, Southern Launch, conducted sub-orbital launches from its Koonibba Test Range in South Australia, which is operated with the Koonibba Community Aboriginal Corporation.

Southern Launch has also recently obtained a licence to operate its own commercial launch site, Whaler’s Way Orbital Launch Complex, on the Eyre Peninsula.

Gilmour Space Technologies has applied for a licence to undertake launches from Bowen in North Queensland. Its application is supported by the Queensland government and the Juru people, who are the traditional owners of the land. The company plans to build and launch its own rockets from this site.

Decades Of Disappointment

The development of an Australian launch capability will be a big step for the country’s space industry.

In the 1960s, Australia’s launch facilities at Woomera in South Australia were used as part of the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO) project.

In 1967, Australia became the fourth nation in the world to launch a domestic-built satellite from its own territory. That satellite, the WRESAT, was launched from Woomera on an American Redstone rocket, and stayed in orbit until early 1968.

However, Australia lost interest in launching rockets when ELDO relocated to French Guiana.

In the early 1990s, an American company expressed interest in building a launch facility in Australia. However, those plans never materialised.

Onwards And Upwards

In recent years, Australia’s interest in space science has been returning. However, even when the Australian Space Agency was created in 2018 there was some doubt over whether we would be able to carry out our own launches.

These latest developments make it clear we will. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described the launches as a project to “bring together global and local industry to take Australia’s space sector into a new era”.

Australia has also signed the Artemis Accords, joining the Artemis program to return humans to the Moon and on to Mars. The Artemis Accords were developed by NASA as “a shared vision for principles, grounded in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, to create a safe and transparent environment which facilitates exploration, science, and commercial activities for all of humanity to enjoy”.

Enrico Palermo, Head of the Australian Space Agency, said the Northern Territory launch would “further cement our reputation as a nation that global space players want to do business with”.

With new businesses and jobs at stake, this is an important move forward for Australia’s re-emergence as a serious space operator.The Conversation

Melissa de Zwart, Professor (Digital Technology, Security and Governance), Flinders University

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

65,000-year-old ‘stone Swiss Army knives’ show early humans had long-distance social networks

Paloma de la PeñaAuthor provided
Amy Mosig WayAustralian Museum

Humans are the only species to live in every environmental niche in the world – from the icesheets to the deserts, rainforests to savannahs. As individuals we are rather puny, but when we are socially connected, we are the most dominant species on the planet.

New evidence from stone tools in southern Africa shows these social connections were stronger and wider than we had thought among our ancestors who lived around 65,000 years ago, shortly before the large “out of Africa” migration in which they began to spread across the world.

Social Connection And Adaptation

The early humans weren’t always so connected. The first humans to leave Africa died out without this migratory success and without leaving any genetic trace among us today.

But for the ancestors of today’s people living outside of Africa, it was a different story. Within a few thousand years they had migrated into and adapted to every type of environmental zone across the planet.

Archaeologists think the development of social networks and the ability to share knowledge between different groups was the key to this success. But how do we observe these social networks in the deep past?

To address this question, archaeologists examine tools and other human-made objects that still survive today. We assume that the people who made those objects, like people today, were social creatures who made objects with cultural meanings.

Social Connectivity 65,000 Years Ago

A small, common stone tool gave us an opportunity to test this idea in southern Africa, during a period known as the Howiesons Poort around 65,000 years ago. Archaeologists call these sharp, multipurpose tools “backed artefacts”, but you can think of them as a “stone Swiss Army knife”: the kind of useful tool you carry around to do various jobs you can’t do by hand.

These knives are not unique to Africa. They are found across the globe and come in many different shapes. This potential variety is what makes these small blades so useful to test the hypothesis that social connections existed more than 60,000 years ago.

A graphic with photos of stone tools and a map showing where each was found in Southern Africa.
Similar designs of ‘Stone Swiss Army knives’ have been found across southern Africa. Paloma de la PeñaAuthor provided

Across southern Africa, these blades could have been made in any number of different shapes in different places. However, around 65,000 years ago, it turns out they were made to a very similar template across thousands of kilometres and multiple environmental niches.

The fact they were all made to look so similar points to strong social connections between geographically distant groups across southern Africa at this time.

Importantly, this shows for the first time that social connections were in place in southern Africa just before the big “out of Africa” migration.

A Useful Tool In Hard Times

Previously it has been thought people made these blades in response to various environmental stresses, because just like the Swiss Army knife they are multi-functional and multi-use.

There is evidence the stone blades were often glued or bound to handles or shafts to make complex tools such as spears, knives, saws, scrapers and drills, and used as tips and barbs for arrows. They were used to process plant material, hide, feathers and fur.

While the making of the stone blade was not particularly difficult, the binding of the stone to the handle was, involving complex glue and adhesive recipes.

During the Howiesons Poort, these blades were produced in enormous numbers across southern Africa.

Data from Sibudu Cave in South Africa shows that their peak in production occurred during a very dry period, when there was less rain and vegetation. These tools were manufactured for thousands of years before the Howiesons Poort, but it is during this period of changing climatic conditions that we see a phenomenal increase in their production.

It is the multi-functionality and multi-use which makes this stone tool so flexible, a key advantage for hunting and gathering in uncertain or unstable environmental conditions.

A Strong Social Network Adapted To A Changing Climate

However, the production of this tool at this time cannot be seen as only a functional response to changing environmental conditions.

If their proliferation was simply a functional response to changing conditions, then we should see differences in different environmental niches. But what we see is similarity in production numbers and artefact shape across great distances and different environmental zones.

This means the increase in production should be seen as part of a socially mediated response to changing environmental conditions, with strengthening long-distance social ties facilitating access to scarce, perhaps unpredictable resources.

The similarity in the stone “Swiss Army knife” across southern Africa provides insight into the strength of social ties in this key period for human evolution. Their similarity suggests that it was the strength of this social network which allowed populations to prosper and adapt to changing climatic conditions.

These findings hold global implications for understanding how expanding social networks contributed to the expansion of modern humans out of Africa and into new environments across the globe.The Conversation

Amy Mosig Way, Lecturer in Archaeology, University of Sydney, and Archaeologist, Australian Museum

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

‘Transparency reports’ from tech giants are vague on how they’re combating misinformation. It’s time for legislation

Uri GalUniversity of Sydney

On May 30, Meta, Google and Twitter released their 2021 annual transparency reports, documenting their efforts to curb misinformation in Australia.

Despite their name, however, the reports offer a narrow view of the companies’ strategies to combat misinformation. They remain vague on the reasoning behind the strategies and how they are implemented. They therefore highlight the need for effective legislation to regulate Australia’s digital information ecosystem.

The transparency reports are published as part of the Digital Industry (DIGI) Group’s voluntary code of practice that Meta, Google and Twitter signed onto in 2021 (along with Adobe, Apple, Microsoft, Redbubble and TikTok).

The DIGI group and its code of practice were created after the Australian government’s request in 2019 that major digital platforms do more to address disinformation and content quality concerns.

What Do The Transparency Reports Say?

In Meta’s latest report, the company claims to have removed 180,000 pieces of content from Australian Facebook and Instagram pages or accounts for spreading health misinformation during 2021.

It also outlines several new products, such as Facebook’s Climate Science Information Centre, aimed at providing “Australians with authoritative information on climate change”. Meta describes initiatives including the funding of a national media literacy survey, and a commitment to fund training for Australian journalists on identifying misinformation.

Similarly, Twitter’s report details various policies it implements to identify false information and moderate its spread. These include:

  • alerting users when they engage with misleading tweets
  • directing users to authoritative information when they search for certain key words or hashtags, and
  • punitive measures such as tweet deletion, account locks and permanent suspension for violating company policies.

In the first half of 2021, Twitter suspended 7,851 Australian accounts and removed 51,394 posts from Australian accounts.

Google’s highlights that in 2021 it removed more than 90,000 YouTube videos from Australian IP addresses, including more than 5,000 videos with COVID-19 misinformation.

Google’s report further notes that more than 657,000 creatives were blocked from Australia-based advertisers, for violating the company’s “misrepresentation ads policies (misleading, clickbait, unacceptable business practices, etc)”.

Google’s Senior Manager for Government Affairs and Public Policy, Samantha Yorke, told The Conversation:

We recognise that misinformation, and the associated risks, will continue to evolve and we will reevaluate and adapt our measures and policies to protect people and the integrity of our services.

The Underlying Problem

In reading these reports, we should keep in mind that Meta, Twitter, and Google are essentially advertising businesses. Advertising accounts for about 97% of Meta’s revenue, 92% of Twitter’s revenue and 80% of Google’s.

They design their products to maximise user engagement, and extract detailed user data which is then used for targeted advertising.

Although they dominate and shape much of Australia’s public discourse, their core concern is not to enhance its quality and integrity. Rather, they hone their algorithms to amplify content that most effectively grabs users’ attention.

Having said that, let’s examine their transparency reports.

Who Decides What ‘Misinformation’ Is?

Despite their apparent specificity, the reports leave out some important information. First, while each company emphasises efforts to identify and remove misleading content, they don’t reveal the exact criteria through which they do this – or how these criteria are applied in practice.

There are currently no acceptable, enforceable standards on identifying misinformation (DIGI’s code of practice is voluntary). This means each company can develop and use its own interpretation of the term “misinformation”.

Given they don’t disclose these criteria in their transparency reports, it’s impossible to gauge the actual scope of the mis/disinformation problem within each platform. It’s also hard to compare the severity across the platforms.

A Twitter spokesperson told The Conversation its policies regarding misinformation focused on four areas: synthetic and manipulated mediacivic integrityCOVID misinformation, and crisis misinformation. But it’s not clear how the policies are applied in practice.

Meta and YouTube (which is owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet) are also vague in describing how they apply their misinformation policies.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, earns the vast majority of its revenue through advertising. Shutterstock

There Is Little Context

The reports also don’t provide enough quantitative context for their statements of content removal. While the companies do provide specific numbers of posts removed, or accounts acted against, it’s not clear what proportion of the overall activity these actions represent on each platform.

For example, it’s difficult to interpret the claim that 51,394 Australian posts were removed from Twitter in 2021 without knowing how many were hosted that year. We also don’t know what proportion of content was flagged in other countries, or how these numbers track over time.

And while the reports detail various features introduced to combat misleading information (such as directing users to authoritative sources), they don’t provide evidence as to their effectiveness in reducing harm.

What’s Next?

Meta, Google and Twitter are some of the most powerful actors in the Australian information landscape. Their policies can affect the well-being of individuals and the country as a whole.

Concerns over the harm caused by misinformation on these platforms have been raised in relation to the COVID-19 pandemicfederal elections and climate change, among other issues.

It’s crucial they operate on the basis of transparent and enforceable policies whose effectiveness can be easily assessed and independently verified.

In March, former prime minister Scott Morrison’s government announced that, if re-elected, it would introduce new laws to provide the Australian Communications and Media Authority “new regulatory powers to hold big tech companies to account for harmful content on their platforms”. It’s now up to Anthony Albanese’s government to carry this promise forward.

Local policymakers could take a lead from their counterparts in the European Union, who recently agreed on the parameters for the Digital Services Act. This act will force large technology companies to take greater responsibility for content that appears on their platforms.The Conversation

Uri Gal, Professor in Business Information Systems, University of Sydney

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

Battered by 9 years of Coalition government, the ABC now has a hard road of repair ahead

Joel Carrett/AAP
Denis MullerThe University of Melbourne

The Liberal-National Coalition government has been defeated, but the legacy of its nine-year onslaught on the ABC remains.

That onslaught consisted of relentless accusations of left-wing bias, a succession of pointless and enervating inquiries, punitive funding cuts, and the use of the ABC for target practice in the Coalition’s interminable climate and culture wars.

The government also joined with News Corporation in a pincer attack on the ABC. But worst of all, it stacked the board.

The Turnbull and Morrison governments routinely appointed to the board people not recommended by the independent merit-based selection process introduced by the Abbott government in 2013, in what turned out to be a piece of rank window-dressing.

Even so, when Scott Morrison took over from Turnbull as prime minister, he wasted no time in using an appearance on ABC television to warn the ABC board to “expect a bit more attention from me” if it didn’t “do better”.

In fact, the board was already stacked with people appointed by Turnbull’s communications minister, Mitch Fifield, outside the independent merit-based system.

Documents obtained at the time by The Guardian Australia showed Fifield had directly appointed five of the eight members then on the board, some of them having been rejected by the nominations panel. Fifield’s appointments included Vanessa Guthrie, chair of the Minerals Council of Australia, a fossil fuel lobby group.

On top of this, to replace chair Justin Milne, Morrison parachuted in his own captain’s pick for chair, Ita Buttrose, disregarding three recommendations from the merit panel.

In May last year, Morrison’s communications minister, Paul Fletcher, appointed three further members to fill vacancies on the board. Two of those – Peter Tonagh and Mario D’Orazio – were recommended by the independent nominations panel and one – Fiona Balfour – was not.

ABC chair Ita Buttrose was one of those appointed outside the usual merit process. Dan Himbrechts/AAP

The net effect of these comings and goings is that the minister directly appointed three of the seven current non-executive directors – Buttrose, Balfour and Joseph Gersh – outside the nominations process.

A fourth, Peter Lewis, was recommended by a politically loaded panel, including News Corp columnist and former board member Janet Albrechtsen and former Liberal minister Neil Brown, after Lewis had produced a report showing how the Abbott government could cut the ABC’s funding.

None of this is to question the integrity of the individuals appointed – in fact, Buttrose has been a robust defender of the ABC. But it raises legitimate questions about how well equipped they are for the job.

For example, does the board as a whole have the guts to stand up for the ABC’s editorial independence, or even a decent understanding of what the term means? The backgrounds of its members, aside from staff member Jane Connors, do not suggest they have any experience of what it is like to do the heavy lifting in journalism, where editorial independence really counts.

Buttrose, Tonagh and Lewis have a ton of experience in corporate media management, and Buttrose of course was a journalist, but not of the kind that makes programs for 4 Corners.

Investigative journalism exposes the journalists doing it to a degree of sometimes personal risk and often severe political and legal pressure. It is essential they have a rock-solid belief that the organisation they work for has their backs. As the founding editor of The Sydney Morning Herald’s investigative unit in 1984, I can personally attest to this.

The ABC’s journalists would be entitled to harbour doubts about this after the board announced in May it was appointing an ombudsman to oversee the complaints system.

Not only is this yet another layer of bureaucracy on top of an onerous complaints system already in place, but worse by far is that the ombudsman will report directly to a board that has been politically stacked.

Given most of the complaints that cause trouble for the ABC come from politicians or well-connected people with partisan political interests, that amounts to an outright betrayal of editorial independence.

The decision to appoint an ombudsman was based on a recommendation by a former Commonwealth ombudsman, John McMillan, and Jim Carroll, an experienced commercial television executive, who carried out a review of the complaints process. However, they did not recommend the direct reporting line to the board.

This board decision had all the hallmarks of a pre-emptive buckle, the cutting witticism coined long ago by a radio producer to describe the way ABC management reacts to threats and pressure, real or anticipated.

Former NSW ombudsman John McMillan, along with TV executive Jim Carroll, carried out a review of the ABC’s complaints handling process. David Moir/AAP

In this case it had the desired effect. A month after the ombudsman proposal had been announced, an attempt by Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg to set up a Senate inquiry into the ABC’s complaints system was abandoned.

The decision to review the complaints system was taken in the aftermath of an earlier external review into a complaint about a three-part television series called Exposed: The Ghost Train Fire. The ABC’s complaints unit rejected the complaint, but this decision was vociferously challenged by a group of people anxious to protect the legacy and reputation of the deceased former premier of New South Wales, Neville Wran. One segment in part three of this series contained an unjustifiable implication that Wran was an associate of an organised crime figure, Abe Saffron, who the program alleged was connected with the fire.

The review was conducted by distinguished political scientist Rodney Tiffen of the University of Sydney and the celebrated investigative journalist Chris Masters.

They found against that one segment but were otherwise generous in their praise of the series.

The ABC accepted the praise but rejected the negative finding.

Shortly afterwards, in October 2021, the board established the complaints system review by McMillan and Carroll.

It is important that ABC journalists feel the broadcaster’s management has their backs. Shutterstock

The upshot is that ABC journalists are now working in an environment where, if their story generates a complaint, it can end up in the hands of an ombudsman appointed by, and answerable to, a board, four of whose members have been either appointed by ministerial fiat outside the independent merit-based system or by a politically loaded panel.

Former ABC Melbourne broadcaster Jon Faine has described the existing complaints process as:

a burdensome sledgehammer that chews up work time on sometimes vexatious and often trivial […] things.

The process is also prone to being bypassed by powerful people who get in the ear of senior managers, leading to investigations outside the system.

McMillan and Carroll say their anecdotal impression is the ABC often resists criticism, particularly of high-profile programs. Doubtless there is truth in this. The self-serving reaction to the Ghost Train Fire report is an example.

However, a simple solution would be to have someone with substantial expertise in investigative journalism seconded to the complaints unit to deal with complex cases like that.

There are many ways to destroy a media institution, but weak boards and uncertain editorial direction are two of the most effective. Look at the Fairfax newspaper company. For more than 150 years it seemed impregnable. Then in 1987, a Fairfax scion, “young” Warwick, privatised the company. It could not sustain the ensuing $1.6 billion debt and its bankers had it auctioned off.

Then a succession of purblind boards and senior management left it mortally exposed to the digital revolution that gutted its classified advertising revenue. Journalistically it struggled to harmonise its print and online content, staff were laid off in droves, and the shrunken remains were absorbed into the Nine Entertainment organisation.

At the ABC a reset is necessary but will take time. The recent appointment as news director of Justin Stevens, a journalist with real runs on the board, encourages the belief that at least the journalists in his division will be given a safe place in which to do good journalism.

However, the big test for the ABC is whether the board as a whole can engender confidence in its willingness to defend the ABC’s editorial independence and send the message to senior management and all ABC journalists that this a place where journalists can do good work without having to look over their shoulder to see if the corporation has their back.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, The University of Melbourne

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

CE’s Corner June 2022

June 14, 2022: COTA Australia
The dust is settling from the Federal Election, and Australia has a new Government. Before speculating about what benefits and risks the new Government will have for Older Australians, I would first like to reflect on the events of the last few weeks.

Most importantly for Older Australians, the election was more focused on the issues that matter to us than any other election I can remember. Aged Care, Retirement Incomes, and Rights for Older People and intergenerational justice all featured in the election. For all we like or don’t like about what different parties had to say, it was far better than being ignored.

Most importantly for me, I announced my departure from COTA Australia. I will still be here for much of this year whilst a new Chief Executive is found, and to support them in transition. After over three decades, first  at COTA South Australia, then 20 years in the national role, it was a good time to announce a transition before the election. I will continue to be heavily involved in the implementation of the findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care, and on many other topics as well. As I have said for many years – retirement is a word that should be retired, and I don’t plan on being retired!

I want to acknowledge the achievements of the outgoing Coalition government in a number of our key portfolios. We need to recognise in particular their acceptance of and commitment to the recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission, as set out in the very comprehensive and complex response in the 2021 Federal Budget. The implementation plan that was developed by the Department and Ministers is a highly sophisticated multiyear and multi-project planning process, that for some reason the government did not release widely to the sector and the public.

Implementation of many recommendations has commenced and in some cases is well advanced. With over $19 billion now allocated, more to come when the Fair Work Value case is funded, over 80,000 home care packages, and much more, this is without question the most comprehensive aged care reform package ever.

We have also seen significant reforms of superannuation over several Budgets including the Your Future Your Super reforms of this term and the passage into law of the very important Retirement Income Covenant. There has also been significant development and improvement of the former Pension Loan Scheme into the Home Equity Access Scheme.

There are many other things to acknowledge in time. The coalition government did not do many things we wanted them to do, but they did do a lot in aged care and retirement incomes, and in health, so we honour the initiatives that have occurred over recent years. We look forward to many positive initiatives from Labor over the coming term, including those we didn’t achieve with the coalition, but hope will get a better hearing now.

There is now a new government with a mix of familiar and very new faces. We have met with some already and have sent many of them formal briefings. As the new Labor Ministers get their feet under the desk and find out where the challenges are that weren’t mentioned in the election, we will continue to advance our agenda of ageing as a time of possibility, opportunity and influence within an equitable, just and inclusive society, in which the voices of older Australians are respected and strong.

Best regards
Ian Yates AM
Chief Executive
COTA Australia

Support At Home Program – Let’s Talk Survey

June 14, 2022
COTA Australia extends a warm thank you to all who expressed a high interest in the survey and those submitted a response.  In addition to the multiple-choice options selected, rich insights were provided in the free text responses. The message was clear – there are areas you are keen to hear more about.

While 53% of respondents were largely unaware of the Federal Department of Health’s Support at Home Program Overview, 93% said they would welcome opportunities to learn more about, discuss, engage with the design and/or provide feedback.  

This feedback reinforces COTA Australia’s view that, if required, older people’s preference is to receive aged care services in their own home. There is strong interest in all developments occurring within this space, therefore, comes as no surprise.

Who responded?
Respondents identified themselves as:
  • 84% as aged 65 years or older
  • 46% of whom said they do not receive aged care services
  • 22% as family members/carers
  • 7% as members of the aged care workforce
Some respondents aged 65 years or older also identified as a family member/carer.

Areas of principal concern
Respondents indicated that if they were to receive services through the new Support at Home Program, their priority concerns would be having a clear understanding of:
  • fees and charges; receiving value for money -97%
  • services being offered – 96%
  • support plans changing as needs change – 95%
  • maintaining independence – 94%
  • deciding how involved they would be the development of support plan- 92%
Several people stressed their response reflected the main challenges they experience (as a consumer or carer) with the current non-residential aged care programs. They were unanimous around the new Program, at a minimum, needing to fully address these concerns if it is to be embraced by consumers and deliver on promises the Australian Government outlined in its response to the final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

Additionally, in the free text section connected to this question, people added they consider the following as critical:
  • feeling safe and carers respecting the fact they are delivering care and support in a person’s home
  • not having to pay administrative cost on days when no service is provided
  • having the flexibility to change providers without penalty
  • reduced wait times – 30 days from assessment to receipt of services should be the norm
  • transparency around fees and charges with a strong preference for government to stipulate a maximum cost for each service type
  • program language being clear – no bureaucratic or legalese speak; no ambiguous use of terms or aphorisms/cliches
  • having one’s mental health needs identified as part of the assessment process
  • written reports provided following a complaint
  • training for consumers and family/carers about the new program and the transition process
  • consistency of service delivery
  • having greater choice to access services the consumer wants, employ own staff, purchase equipment etc. directly, employ more competitively priced
  • non-aged care services
Areas of highest interest
The survey results are clear-cut in drawing attention to the areas, where people want more information and a say in influencing the design of the Support at Home Program.
  • types of services available
  • assessment process
  • funding and how it will be allocated
  • accountability for the timeliness and quality of services
In the free text part of the question, people also asked for more information about
  • Reablement – how will it benefit older people
  • Care Finders – how will assist people to navigate the new Program
  • Training – what and how will be available to people as they transition to Program
  • Clinical and non-clinical – how it will be provided to people with high complex care/support needs
COTA Australia:  next steps
In June 2022 we will be hosting several online discussions focused on talking openly about the new Support at Home Program and gathering and refining questions you want responded to by the Federal Department of Health. Each one-hour session will follow a similar format –
  • Introductions
  • A COTA Australia presentation on the Overview and developments since its public release.
  • Participants’ sharing insights and concerns about the new program
  • Participant agreement on the priority questions we want Government to answer or share information highlighting a clear way forward
Online discussion dates
Session date Session time (AEST)
1. Mon. 27th  June 4:00pm
2. Thurs. 30th June 1:00pm
3. Fri.  1st July 3:00pm
4. Fri. 8th July 2:00pm*AEST –

Want to participate?

Calling Out Elder Abuse

June 15, 2022
National Seniors Australia today is marking World Elder Abuse Awareness Day by calling out and identifying all forms of elder abuse.

In Australia, it is estimated that as many as 185,000 older people experience some form of abuse and neglect each year.

Every year on 15 June, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) takes place. It was officially recognised by the United Nations General Assembly in 2011, following a request by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA). The day was first established by INPEA in June 2006.

​​What is elder abuse?
The World Health Organisation have defined elder abuse as 'a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person'.

While elder abuse can be physical, it can take on many forms. There are five commonly recognised forms of abuse of older people: financial, physical, psychological & emotional, sexual abuse, and neglect. 

National Seniors CEO and Director of Research, Professor John McCallum says most elder abuse is unfortunately hidden because the abuse occurs at home, behind closed doors and elders can’t or won’t act against family or other perpetrators.

“When we talk of elder abuse, many of us think of physical assaults, but elder abuse takes on many forms such as financial abuse.

“As inflation rises and mortgage stress increases so will financial abuse. Ironically this is partly facilitated by the inappropriate exploitation of a powers-of-attorney (POA) which should protect people.

“This is where a family member or friend, trusted with sorting out the financial affairs of an elderly person, abuses that trust and financially fleeces the victim,“ said Professor McCallum.

National Seniors has long been a part of the Australian Banking Association’s campaign against financial elder abuse and has campaigned for uniform POAs across the country to stamp out financial abuse in each state and territory.

“We are proud to be part of this campaign, but there is still much to do, and we know incoming Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfuss is aware that this needs to be addressed,” Professor McCallum said.

He also pointed to the growing crime of digital scams ripping off older Australians.

“This has become so much of a problem that when National Seniors embarked on our wellbeing calls to ring older Australians during the COVID lockdowns, many wouldn’t answer, fearing the call was from a scammer. It causes people to shelter behind closed doors and lose social connections.

“Digital scams need more attention than they are getting and people need help to develop resilience to deal with them,” Professor McCallum said.

Residential care abuse was ‘outed’ by the Royal Commission, but home care also needs better regulation to prevent abuse of seniors receiving care in their home. Home care is growing and covers many more people than nursing home residents who at least have care workers to monitor them.

Professor McCallum says the best way to mark Elder Abuse Awareness Day is to be aware and report any suspected abuse and neglect.

“We should also not forget that neglecting an older person unable to properly look after themselves is also a form of abuse and should be dealt with accordingly.”

Researchers On A Mission To Block Rogue Melanoma Protein

June 14, 2022
Despite years of skin cancer warnings, Australia continues to hold the unenviable record for the highest melanoma rates in the world, a disease that is almost universally fatal if it spreads to other organs.

More than 16,000 Australians will receive a melanoma diagnosis by year’s end. For 40 per cent of people with newly diagnosed melanomas, their chances of survival will be markedly poorer due to a nasty little protein on the cancer cells that is accelerating the disease.

University of South Australia researchers from the Centre for Cancer Biology are now on a mission to learn more about this protein (desmoglein-2) that they have discovered and why melanoma patients are two and a half times more likely to die within 10 years if they express it.

But they need the public’s help.

Lead researcher Professor Claudine Bonder says initial lab work has identified the protein, DSG-2, and how to block it using nanotechnology.

“By injecting a cancer cell-seeking molecule intravenously, we can find the melanoma cells with high levels of DSG-2 and attack them, reducing their severity,” Prof Bonder says. “We already know that in people with lower levels of this protein, the melanoma does not grow as quickly, and we have a better chance of arresting it.”

Prof Bonder’s team is hoping that financial support from the community will help further their research into new treatments for melanoma, including the nanotechnology work and improved methods to detect the aggressive protein.

“We’re confident that we can identify the sub-group of patients that have elevated expressions of DSG-2 on their cancer cells. We’re also confident that we can block this protein on the melanoma, giving patients a better outcome.”

Professor Claudine Bonder

Globally, melanoma cases have increased by nearly 50 per cent in the past decade, topping 300,000 people.

And while 95 per cent of melanomas are caused by unprotected sun exposure, there are other risk factors at play.

A family history can increase your risk of melanoma, as can fair skin, a weakened immune system, and having many, or unusual, moles.

“Melanoma doesn’t just appear on the sun-exposed skin either,” Prof Bonder says. “Melanoma can appear in the eye, nose, mouth, and genitals. What we do know is once it spreads beyond the skin into vital organs such as our lung, liver or brain, it is almost always fatal.”

Researchers are hoping to raise funding towards pre-clinical laboratory work into early detection and more advanced treatment options for melanoma.

Ian Dempster, 78, who has had successive skin grafts due to melanoma.

For 78-year-old SA resident Ian Dempster, a melanoma diagnosis in 2014 led to years of surgery, drug infusions, radiotherapy and finally, remission.

Ian admits he is one of the ‘lucky ones’, particularly given his melanoma was already well advanced (Stage 4) when a biopsy on a spot on his left cheek proved malignant.

“I was initially misdiagnosed, but I went back to the doctor after six months as I was really concerned the spot was changing shape. Within a week of the biopsy, I had the first of numerous surgeries,” Ian says.

Over two years, Ian had 35 intravenous infusions of the melanoma drug Keytruda and lost a portion of his left cheek, replaced in a skin graft from his wrist.

A childhood of endless hot summer holidays on Kangaroo Island, working on a farm and playing a lot of sport has come with a price and Ian is keen to prevent others from making the same mistakes.

“Wear a hat, wear sunscreen, cover up as best you can, and just be aware of any suspicious moles or skin lesions and get them looked at immediately,” he says.

“Melanoma is so prevalent in this country and anything we can do to support research to find better treatments and even a cure, is vital.”

Vitamin D Deficiency Leads To Dementia

June 14, 2022
Dementia is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide, affecting thinking and behaviours as you age. But what if you could stop this degenerative disease in its tracks?

world-first study from the University of South Australia could make this a reality as new genetic research shows a direct link between dementia and a lack of vitamin D.

Investigating the association between vitamin D, neuroimaging features, and the risk of dementia and stroke, the study found:
  • low levels of vitamin D were associated with lower brain volumes and an increased risk of dementia and stroke
  • genetic analyses supported a causal effect of vitamin D deficiency and dementia.
  • in some populations as much as 17 per cent of dementia cases might be prevented by increasing everyone to normal levels of vitamin D (50 nmol/L).
Dementia is a chronic or progressive syndrome that leads to deterioration in cognitive function. About 487,500 Australians live with dementia and it is the country’s second leading cause of death. Globally, more than 55 million people have dementia with 10 million new cases diagnosed every year.

Supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the genetic study analysed data from 294,514 participants from the UK Biobank, examining the impact of low levels of vitamin D (25 nmol/L) and the risk of dementia and stroke. Nonlinear Mendelian randomisation (MR) – a method of using measured variation in genes to examine the causal effect of a modifiable exposure on disease - were used to test for underlying causality for neuroimaging outcomes, dementia, and stroke.

Senior investigator and Director of UniSA’s Australian Centre for Precision Health, Professor Elina Hyppönen, says the findings are important for the prevention of dementia and appreciating the need to abolish vitamin D deficiency.

“Vitamin D is a hormone precursor that is increasingly recognised for widespread effects, including on brain health, but until now it has been very difficult to examine what would happen if we were able to prevent vitamin D deficiency,” Prof Hyppönen says.

“Our study is the first to examine the effect of very low levels of vitamin D on the risks of dementia and stroke, using robust genetic analyses among a large population.

“In some contexts, where vitamin D deficiency is relatively common, our findings have important implications for dementia risks. Indeed, in this UK population we observed that up to 17 per cent of dementia cases might have been avoided by boosting vitamin D levels to be within a normal range.”

The findings are incredibly significant given the high prevalence of dementia around the world.

“Dementia is a progressive and debilitating disease that can devastate individuals and families alike,” Prof Hyppönen says.

“If we’re able to change this reality through ensuring that none of us is severely vitamin D deficient, it would also have further benefits and we could change the health and wellbeing for thousands.”

“Most of us are likely to be ok, but for anyone who for whatever reason may not receive enough vitamin D from the sun, modifications to diet may not be enough, and supplementation may well be needed.”

Grandparent ‘Child Care’ A Win Across Generations

As parents struggle to juggle work and family commitments, early childhood education experts are encouraging Australians to acknowledge the important role of grandparents as critical caregivers in society.

With an ageing population and challenges with Australia’s childcare system, the University of South Australia’s Emeritus Professor Marjory Ebbeck says strong grandparent-child relationships can deliver reciprocal benefits for Australian families.

Investigating intergenerational relationships in Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong, a new study led by Prof Ebbeck contrasts cultural differences between family life in Asian and Western societies.

She says while cultural and societal values differ across countries, the wisdom and knowledge that grandparents can share is universal. 

“In many Asian cultures, grandparents are very integrated into family life, often living with their children and playing an active role in their grandchildren’s education and development,” Prof Ebbeck says.

“While this immediately suggests benefits for working families – in the form of potential childcare – it also delivers significant value to grandparents by boosting their self-worth, social connections and wellness.

“In return, children enjoy a close and respectful relationship with grandparents, with the opportunity to learn more about their family culture and stories.

“In Singapore and Hong Kong there is still a strong Confucian tradition of filial piety and respect for the elderly, and this respect can lead to grandparents having a stronger sense of identity and purpose. These increased intergenerational interactions also provide more social connections for grandparents.

“In contrast, through necessity, many older Australians spend their later years away from their families with many of them in residential health care facilities.

“As a result, they’re often lonely and less involved with the grandchildren.”

Prof Ebbeck says close intergenerational ties could support both Australia’s oldest and youngest citizens.

“The grandparent-grandchild relationship isn’t a new phenomenon, but an increase in women in the workforce, the high cost of childcare and a range of other factors have seen many grandparents become critical caregivers,” Prof Ebbeck says.

“In an ageing society, where more parents are working longer, we must find ways to create synergies across generations.”

How should an Australian ‘centre for disease control’ prepare us for the next pandemic?

Ben MaraisUniversity of SydneyJocelyne BassealUniversity of SydneyLyn GilbertUniversity of Sydney, and Tania SorrellUniversity of Sydney

Over the past two years, Australians have become familiar with the threat of infectious disease outbreaks. COVID won’t be the last pandemic to affect our lives.

Early, aggressive restrictions were generally seen as necessary. But they also caused hardship, exacerbated inequality and undermined trust in government.

The pandemic exposed differences between states and territories. We saw inadequate national coordination of disease tracking, data analysis, lab capacity to process PCR tests, vaccination uptake and communication. This prompted renewed calls for the establishment of an Australian centre for disease control (CDC).

Before the election, Labor leader Anthony Albanese expressed the view that Australia’s COVID response had been undermined by a breakdown in our federated system and noted Australia was the only OECD country without a CDC. He committed to establishing one if elected.

So what should an Australian CDC look like? And how can it improve our response to future infectious disease outbreaks?

What Is A CDC?

There is no single definition of a CDC. Broadly, it’s a national agency that promotes public health through the control and prevention of disease and disability.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US-CDC) employs more than 10,000 staff. It focuses on infectious diseases, food-borne diseases, environmental health, injury prevention, health promotion, and non-communicable diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

But the US-CDC has been criticised for being overly bureaucratic, lacking innovation and being “missing in action” during the COVID pandemic, when the Trump administration completely sidelined scientific guidance. This demonstrates the importance of such an entity being free from political interference.

Other examples include the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), a networked European Union agency with a restricted focus on infectious diseases. It delivers disease surveillance and epidemic intelligence to guide regional and national responses in member states.

COVID alert on a screen.
The US-CDC was criticised as being ‘missing in action’ during the pandemic. Markus Spiske/Unsplash

In the United Kingdom, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) recently replaced Public Health England. It has a slightly broader focus on protecting people and communities from the impact of infectious diseases and chemical, biological and nuclear incidents.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has the broadest remit of all. It includes preventing disease and injury, responses to public health threats, promotion of physical and mental health, and providing information to support informed decision making.

What Does Australia Need?

In Australia, states and territories are legally responsible for public health protection and providing the infrastructure for disease surveillance and response. A national CDC would need to work within our unique federated system.

The COVID pandemic showed Australia lacks a rapidly responsive national mechanism to:

  • collate, analyse and monitor disease surveillance data
  • coordinate outbreak control responses
  • evaluate the effectiveness of these responses
  • undertake rapid research to inform policy and guide decision-making.

Comprehensive infectious disease surveillance and near real-time data analysis is critical for coordinating national disease control responses, such as restricting population movement or contact tracing.

This surveillance and analysis requires an experienced workforce with expertise in epidemiology, microbiology and infection prevention and control.

Doctor or nurse puts on her PPE
Experts need real-time data to determine when to use restrictions or other public health measures. Viki Mohamed/Unsplash

A new national system will need to improve on the current model, which has served us well in many respects, despite its limitations. The risk is that something hastily implemented can worsen the situation, by establishing less effective mechanisms, duplicating efforts and wasting resources.

Specifically, a new system will require more effective mechanisms for data collation and sharing between states and territories, as well as workforce upskilling and building of core capacities, such as genomic testing of bugs, in all states and territories.

A national CDC will need sufficient funding and a governance structure that allows effective engagement with academic experts and policy makers, with protection from government interference.

Most importantly, it will need a transparent process that provides independent evidence-based advice to government. Australians need assurance that public health responses are based on evidence not politics.

Recent outbreaks of Japanese encephalitis and monkeypox also highlight the need for coordination between human and animal disease surveillance.

The Way Forward

Following Labor’s election victory, there is risk that the establishment of an Australian CDC may be rushed through for a “quick win”. However, careful consideration and consultation is needed on how best to position such an entity.

It will need to engage with government and policymakers, while ensuring its decisions are independent, evidence-based and without political bias. It will also need to prioritise effective public communication and community engagement.

The best starting point is to define key principles that will guide its establishment and to commit to an open process that works closely with states and territories.

Important questions will need to be answered, such as whether an Australian CDC will encompass both infectious and non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes. And where such a centre should be located to ensure it’s seen as a national asset without jurisdictional bias.

The ongoing impacts of COVID and multiple new threats make the need for concrete action to improve our national surveillance and response capacity increasingly urgent.The Conversation

Ben Marais, Associate Professor in Paediatrics and Child Health, University of SydneyJocelyne Basseal, Senior Executive Officer, Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases, University of SydneyLyn Gilbert, Honorary Professor Faculty of Health and Medical Science, Univeristy of Sydney; Senior Researcher Sydney Institue for Infectious Disease, University of Sydney., University of Sydney, and Tania Sorrell, Professor, Clinical Infectious Diseases, Director, Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases, University of Sydney

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

$132 Million Record Investment To Future-Proof The NSW SES

June 13, 2022
The NSW Government is making its single biggest investment ever in the NSW State Emergency Service (SES), with $132.7 million going towards its infrastructure, resources and staffing.

The new funding includes more than $50 million to upgrade 18 critical priority Unit facilities across NSW.

Premier Dominic Perrottet said the Budget boost would also see the creation of two new zones through the division of both the Western and Northern Zones, the construction of new Incident Control Centres and upgrades to Unit facilities across the State.

“The recent flooding has caused widespread devastation across the State, which is why it’s so important we ensure the SES has the resources it needs to respond to natural disasters of this significant scale,” Mr Perrottet said.

“As part of this $132.7 million investment, the NSW Government is ramping up the SES’s presence in the Northern Rivers, with a new Incident Control Centre to be built and staffed in Lismore.

“The NSW Government is committed to investing in communities to strengthen frontline services right across the State.”

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW Paul Toole said the funding would ensure a more targeted and rapid response for future emergency events attended by the SES across NSW.

“The new facilities and additional staff will help boost the SES’s capability to handle severe weather events particularly in flood prone areas like the Northern Rivers, and to ensure these communities are better prepared,” Mr Toole said.

“But this funding will also fortify the presence of the SES across NSW building on our previous track record of investment into this vital service run predominantly by the community, for the community.”

Treasurer Matt Kean said investing in emergency services is a priority for the NSW Government in this year’s Budget.

“Our SES volunteers are there for our families and communities at their times of need. This record investment is about investing in them and building community resilience to natural disasters,” Mr Kean said.

Minister for Emergency Services and Resilience and Minister for Flood Recovery Steph Cooke said the funding would support the more than 10,000 SES volunteers who selflessly serve their communities.

“Today is a great demonstration of the NSW Government’s commitment to all of our wonderful volunteers, our very own Orange Army,” Ms Cooke said.

“We rely on the dedication and commitment of SES volunteers in times of great need, and they always deliver, and part of this funding will go towards upgrading 18 Units across the State.”

SES Commissioner Carlene York welcomed the news and said it would assist the agency strengthen its responsiveness into the future.

“This investment in the SES enhances our support of our greatest asset, our volunteers, and enables us to provide the vital assistance NSW communities need to protect life and property around the State,” Commissioner York said.

The $132.7 million Budget boost includes:
  • $58.7 million to upgrade 18 critical priority Unit facilities across the State;
  • $43 million to split the existing Northern Zone into two new zones, and split the existing Western Zone into two new zones;
  • $11.7 million to establish Zone Headquarters in the two new zones with Level 3 Incident Control Centre capabilities;
  • $18 million to upgrade existing Zone Headquarters to Level 3 Incident Control Centres; and
  • $1.3 million to develop a Facility Strategy and complete further detailed business cases to address the remainder of the recommendations from the 2021 independent review.

Energy Harvesting To Power The Internet Of Things

June 13, 2022
The wireless interconnection of everyday objects known as the Internet of Things depends on wireless sensor networks that need a low but constant supply of electrical energy. This can be provided by electromagnetic energy harvesters that generate electricity directly from the environment. 

Lise-Marie Lacroix from the Université de Toulouse, France, with colleagues from Toulouse, Grenoble and Atlanta, Georgia, USA, has used a mathematical technique, finite element simulation, to optimise the design of one such energy harvester so that it generates electricity as efficiently as possible. This work has now been published in the journal EPJ Special Topics.

The Internet of Things consists of an enormous number of generally small, portable devices, each of which needs its own sustainable micro-energy source. Batteries are unsatisfactory for this as they will often need to be replaced or recharged. Many different technologies are being considered instead, with one of the most promising solutions being electromagnetic energy harvesting.

An electromagnetic energy harvester consists of a vibrating plate holding an array of micromagnets facing and coupled with a parallel, static coil. Electrical energy is generated by the vibrating magnets and the amount of electricity that can enter a circuit depends on the design of the coil and magnet and the spacing between them.

Lacroix and her team studied a system in which the magnets were state-of-the-art NdFeB ones -- that is, they were composed from an alloy of the rare earth metal neodymium with iron and boron. They found that power could be optimised through a trade-off between the spacing of the magnets in the array and the number of turns in the coil; reducing the distance between coil and array and increasing the thickness of the magnets can also increase it. 

"We are now producing harvesters using the guidelines that we have developed through this study," she explains. These devices are likely to prove useful in the aerospace, automotive and biomedical sectors and others that have come to rely on the Internet of Things.

Ilona Lecerf, Pierre Moritz, José Elías Angulo-Cervera, Fabrice Mathieu, David Bourrier, Liviu Nicu, Thierry Leïchlé, Frederico Orlandini-Keller, Thibaut Devillers, Nora M. Dempsey, Guillaume Viau, Lise-Marie Lacroix, Thomas Blon. Optimization of a vibrating MEMS electromagnetic energy harvester using simulations. The European Physical Journal Special Topics, 2022; DOI: 10.1140/epjs/s11734-022-00577-8

New Evidence About When, Where, And How Chickens Were Domesticated

June 6, 2022
New research transforms our understanding of the circumstances and timing of the domestication of chickens, their spread across Asia into the west, and reveals the changing way in which they were perceived in societies over the past 3,500 years.

Experts have found that an association with rice farming likely started a process that has led to chickens becoming one of the world's most numerous animals. They have also found evidence that chickens were initially regarded as exotica, and only several centuries later used as a source of 'food'.

Previous efforts have claimed that chickens were domesticated up to 10,000 years ago in China, Southeast Asia, or India, and that chickens were present in Europe over 7,000 years ago.

The new studies show this is wrong, and that the driving force behind chicken domestication was the arrival of dry rice farming into southeast Asia where their wild ancestor, the red jungle fowl, lived. Dry rice farming acted as a magnet drawing wild jungle fowl down from the trees, and kickstarting a closer relationship between people and the jungle fowl that resulted in chickens.

This domestication process was underway by around 1,500 BC in the Southeast Asia peninsula. The research suggests that chickens were then transported first across Asia and then throughout the Mediterranean along routes used by early Greek, Etruscan and Phoenician maritime traders.

During the Iron Age in Europe, chickens were venerated and generally not regarded as food. The studies have shown that several of the earliest chickens are buried alone and un-butchered, and many are also found buried with people. Males were often buried with cockerels and females with hens. The Roman Empire then helped to popularise chickens and eggs as food. For example, in Britain, chickens were not regularly consumed until the third century AD, mostly in urban and military sites.

The international team of experts re-evaluated chicken remains found in more than 600 sites in 89 countries. They examined the skeletons, burial location and historical records regarding the societies and cultures where the bones were found. The oldest bones of a definite domestic chicken were found at Neolithic Ban Non Wat in central Thailand, and date to between 1,650 and 1,250 BC.

The team also used radiocarbon dating to establish the age of 23 of the proposed earliest chickens found in western Eurasia and north-west Africa. Most of the bones were far more recent than previously thought. The results dispel claims of chickens in Europe before the first millennium BC and indicate that they did not arrive until around 800 BC. Then, after arriving in the Mediterranean region, it took almost 1,000 years longer for chickens to become established in the colder climates of Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia and Iceland.

The two studies, published in the journals Antiquity and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, were carried out by academics at the universities of Exeter, Munich, Cardiff, Oxford, Bournemouth, Toulouse, and universities and institutes in Germany, France and Argentina.

Professor Naomi Sykes, from the University of Exeter, said: "Eating chickens is so common that people think we have never not eaten them. Our evidence shows that our past relationship with chickens was far more complex, and that for centuries chickens were celebrated and venerated."

Professor Greger Larson, from the University of Oxford, said: "This comprehensive re-evaluation of chickens firstly demonstrates how wrong our understanding of the time and place of chicken domestication was. And even more excitingly, we show how the arrival of dry rice agriculture acted as a catalyst for both the chicken domestication process and its global dispersal."

Dr Julia Best, from Cardiff University said: "This is the first time that radiocarbon dating has been used on this scale to determine the significance of chickens in early societies. Our results demonstrate the need to directly date proposed early specimens, as this allows us the clearest picture yet of our early interactions with chickens."

Professor Joris Peters, from LMU Munich and the Bavarian State Collection of Palaeoanatomy, said: "With their overall highly adaptable but essentially cereal-based diet, sea routes played a particularly important role in the spread of chickens to Asia, Oceania, Africa and Europe."

Dr Ophélie Lebrasseur, from the CNRS/Université Toulouse Paul Sabatier and the Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Pensamiento Latinoamericano, said: "The fact that chickens are so ubiquitous and popular today, and yet were domesticated relatively recently is startling. Our research highlights the importance of robust osteological comparisons, secure stratigraphic dating and placing early finds within their broader cultural and environmental context."

Professor Mark Maltby, from Bournemouth University, said, "These studies show the value of museums and the importance of archaeological materials to reveal our past."

A Brown Leghorn rooster at Collingwood Children's Farm. Photo: Fernando de Sousa.

Journal References:
Julia Best, Sean Doherty, Ian Armit, Zlatozar Boev, Lindsey Büster, Barry Cunliffe, Alison Foster, Ben Frimet, Sheila Hamilton-Dyer, Tom Higham, Ophélie Lebrasseur, Holly Miller, Joris Peters, Michaël Seigle, Caroline Skelton, Rob Symmons, Richard Thomas, Angela Trentacoste, Mark Maltby, Greger Larson, Naomi Sykes. Redefining the timing and circumstances of the chicken's introduction to Europe and north-west Africa. Antiquity, 2022; 1 DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2021.90

Joris Peters, Ophélie Lebrasseur, Evan K. Irving-Pease, Ptolemaios Dimitrios Paxinos, Julia Best, Riley Smallman, Cécile Callou, Armelle Gardeisen, Simon Trixl, Laurent Frantz, Naomi Sykes, Dorian Q. Fuller, Greger Larson. The biocultural origins and dispersal of domestic chickens. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2022; 119 (24) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2121978119

Scientists Discover New Molecule That Kills Hard-To-Treat Cancers

June 9, 2022
A new molecule synthesized by a University of Texas at Dallas researcher kills a broad spectrum of hard-to-treat cancers, including triple-negative breast cancer, by exploiting a weakness in cells not previously targeted by other drugs.

A study describing the research -- which was carried out in isolated cells, in human cancer tissue and in human cancers grown in mice -- was published online June 2 in the journal Nature Cancer.

Dr. Jung-Mo Ahn, a co-corresponding author of the study and a UT Dallas associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, has been passionate about his work designing small molecules that target protein-protein interactions in cells for over a decade. Using an approach called structure-based rational drug design, he previously developed potential therapeutic candidate compounds for treatment-resistant breast cancer and for prostate cancer.

In the current work, Ahn and his colleagues tested a novel compound he synthesized called ERX-41 for its effects against breast cancer cells, both those that contain oestrogen receptors (ERs) and those that do not. While there are effective treatments available for patients with ER-positive breast cancer, there are few treatment options for patients with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), which lacks receptors for oestrogen, progesterone and human epidermal growth factor 2. TNBC generally affects women under 40 and has poorer outcomes than other types of breast cancer.

"The ERX-41 compound did not kill healthy cells, but it wiped out tumour cells regardless of whether the cancer cells had oestrogen receptors," Ahn said. "In fact, it killed the triple-negative breast cancer cells better than it killed the ER-positive cells.

"This was puzzling to us at the time. We knew it must be targeting something other than oestrogen receptors in the TNBC cells, but we didn't know what that was."

To investigate the ERX-41 molecule, Ahn worked with collaborators, including co-corresponding authors Dr. Ganesh Raj, professor of urology and pharmacology at the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center, as well as Dr. Ratna Vadlamudi, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UT Health San Antonio. Dr. Tae-Kyung Lee, a former UTD research scientist in Ahn's Bio-Organic/Medicinal Chemistry Lab, was involved in synthesizing the compound.

The researchers discovered that ERX-41 binds to a cellular protein called lysosomal acid lipase A (LIPA). LIPA is found in a cell structure called the endoplasmic reticulum, an organelle that processes and folds proteins.

"For a tumour cell to grow quickly, it has to produce a lot of proteins, and this creates stress on the endoplasmic reticulum," Ahn said. "Cancer cells significantly overproduce LIPA, much more so than healthy cells. By binding to LIPA, ERX-41 jams the protein processing in the endoplasmic reticulum, which becomes bloated, leading to cell death."

The research team also tested the compound in healthy mice and observed no adverse effects.

"It took us several years to chase down exactly which protein was being affected by ERX-41. That was the hard part. We chased many dead ends, but we did not give up," Ahn said.

"Triple-negative breast cancer is particularly insidious -- it targets women at younger ages; it's aggressive; and it's treatment resistant. I'm really glad we've discovered something that has the potential to make a significant difference for these patients."

The researchers fed the compound to mice with human forms of cancerous tumours, and the tumours got smaller. The molecule also proved effective at killing cancer cells in human tissue gathered from patients who had their tumours removed.

They also found that ERX-41 is effective against other cancer types with elevated endoplasmic reticulum stress, including hard-to-treat pancreatic and ovarian cancers and glioblastoma, the most aggressive and lethal primary brain cancer.

"As a chemist, I am somewhat isolated from patients, so this success is an opportunity for me to feel like what I do can be useful to society," Ahn said.

Ahn is a joint holder of patents issued and pending on ERX-41 and related compounds, which have been licensed to the Dallas-based start-up EtiraRX, a company co-founded in 2018 by Ahn, Raj and Vadlamudi. The company recently announced that it plans to begin clinical trials of ERX-41 as early as the first quarter of 2023.

Ahn's research on this project is supported by the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health (1R01CA223828); the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas; and The Welch Foundation.

In addition to researchers from UT Southwestern and UT Health San Antonio, other study authors from Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Research Campus, Northwest A&F University in China and the Medical College of Xiamen University in China contributed.

Xihui Liu, Suryavathi Viswanadhapalli, Shourya Kumar, Tae-Kyung Lee, Andrew Moore, Shihong Ma, Liping Chen, Michael Hsieh, Mengxing Li, Gangadhara R. Sareddy, Karla Parra, Eliot B. Blatt, Tanner C. Reese, Yuting Zhao, Annabel Chang, Hui Yan, Zhenming Xu, Uday P. Pratap, Zexuan Liu, Carlos M. Roggero, Zhenqiu Tan, Susan T. Weintraub, Yan Peng, Rajeshwar R. Tekmal, Carlos L. Arteaga, Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, Ratna K. Vadlamudi, Jung-Mo Ahn, Ganesh V. Raj. Targeting LIPA independent of its lipase activity is a therapeutic strategy in solid tumours via induction of endoplasmic reticulum stress. Nature Cancer, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s43018-022-00389-8

Paving The Way For Faster Computers, Longer-Lasting Batteries

June 9, 2022
University of Queensland scientists have cracked a problem that's frustrated chemists and physicists for years, potentially leading to a new age of powerful, efficient, and environmentally friendly technologies.

Using quantum mechanics, Professor Ben Powell from UQ's School of Mathematics and Physics has discovered a 'recipe' which allows molecular switches to work at room temperature.

"Switches are materials that can shift between two or more states, such as on and off or 0 and 1, and are the basis of all digital technologies," Professor Powell said.

"This discovery paves the way for smaller and more powerful and energy efficient technologies.

"You can expect batteries will last longer and computers to run faster."

Until now, molecular switching has only been possible when the molecules are extremely cold -- at temperatures below minus 250 degrees centigrade.

"Engineering-wise, this is a big problem," Professor Powell said.

"By following this detailed 'recipe', chemists should be able to make molecular switches work at room temperature.

"This will open the door to a bounty of technological advancements, such as improving MRI scans which could lead to earlier detection of diseases like cancer.

"These materials can also be used for sensors, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen fuel cells, and as actuators, which can turn electricity into movement, which would be useful for robots.

"All of these applications need materials that can be switched at or above room temperature, which is why our discovery is so important.

"Using these materials will also reduce the burden on the environment because computer energy use will be cut, aiding the fight against climate change."

UQ researchers will be collaborating with chemists at the University of Sydney and University of New South Wales, to make new materials to test the new 'recipe'.

M. Nadeem, Jace Cruddas, Gian Ruzzi, Benjamin J. Powell. Toward High-Temperature Light-Induced Spin-State Trapping in Spin-Crossover Materials: The Interplay of Collective and Molecular Effects. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2022; 144 (20): 9138 DOI: 10.1021/jacs.2c03202

Pre-Historic Wallacea: A Melting Pot Of Human Genetic Ancestries

June 10, 2022
The Wallacean islands have always been separated from Asia and Oceania by deep-sea waters. Yet, these tropical islands were a corridor for modern humans migrating into the Pleistocene Australia-New Guinea landmass (Sahul) and have been home to modern human groups for at least 47 thousand years. 

The archaeological record attests a major cultural transition across Wallacea that started around 3,500 years ago and is associated with the expansion of Austronesian-speaking farmers, who intermixed with local hunter-gatherer groups. However, previous genetic studies of modern-day inhabitants have yielded conflicting dates for this intermixing, ranging from 1,100 to nearly 5,000 years ago.

To shed light on the details of this expansion and the resulting human interactions, an international team of researchers analysed DNA from 16 ancient individuals from different islands in Wallacea, greatly increasing the amount of ancient genomic data representing this region. "We found striking differences between regions in Wallacea and surprisingly, the ancestry of ancient individuals from the southern islands cannot be simply explained by admixture between Austronesian- and Papuan-related groups," says Sandra Oliveira, one of the study's lead authors.

Early ancestry contribution from Mainland Southeast Asia
The team identified an additional ancestry contribution from Mainland Southeast Asia, closest to present-day Austroasiatic speakers, and proposed that admixture occurred first between the Mainland Southeast Asian and Papuan-related ancestry and that gene flow from Austronesian-related groups occurred only later. 

"That Mainland Southeast Asian component is a great mystery to me. I suspect that we might be looking at small groups, perhaps of early farmers, who travelled a long way, left no archaeological or linguistic traces along the way, but who increased their population sizes after arrival," says Peter Bellwood, an author of the study who has conducted archaeological work in Island Southeast Asia for decades.

While the identity of the people who spread this ancestry is still unclear, the discovery of the Mainland Southeast Asian ancestry and its possible antiquity in the southern Wallacean islands has major implications for the understanding of the Neolithic dispersals into Island Southeast Asia.

"This finding is very important for the archaeologists in the region," adds Toetik Koesbardiati, an Indonesian anthropologist involved in the study. He adds, "We will certainly intensify our efforts to study this migration with other lines of evidence."

Cave entrance of the Topogaro 2 site, one of the cave sites of the Topogaro complex located in Central Sulawesi. Topogaro 2 has been excavated since 2016. Human remains from the past 2,000 years were found in the upper layers. © Rintaro Ono

Multiple admixture events throughout Wallacea
This work also revealed a closer relationship between the Austronesian-related ancestry of ancient individuals from northern Wallacea and the Pacific, compared to those from southern Wallacea -- a pattern matched by linguistic evidence. Additionally, it shed light on the timing of the Asian-Papuan genetic admixture. 

"Previous studies based on present-day populations have reported widely different estimates, some of which preceded the archaeological evidence for the Austronesian expansion, while others were much more recent. Since we now have ancient individuals from different time periods we can directly show that admixture occurred in multiple pulses or continuously since at least 3,000 years ago throughout Wallacea," explains Mark Stoneking, a senior author of the study. 

He adds, "Future studies on older genomes might extend this date even further."

Local hunter-gatherers' genetic ancestry was largely replaced
The team also searched for genetic similarities between the newly reported ancient Wallaceans and a previously published pre-Neolithic individual from Sulawesi, another island in Wallacea. 

"All Wallacean individuals sequenced in this study are more similar to present-day New Guinean groups than to the earlier local population, suggesting that these two regions were more closely connected in ancient times than previously imagined," says Cosimo Posth, another senior author of the study. 

He concludes, "These results also confirm that the genetic ancestry of Wallacean hunter-gatherers has been largely replaced."

Sandra Oliveira, Kathrin Nägele, Selina Carlhoff, Irina Pugach, Toetik Koesbardiati, Alexander Hübner, Matthias Meyer, Adhi Agus Oktaviana, Masami Takenaka, Chiaki Katagiri, Delta Bayu Murti, Rizky Sugianto Putri, Mahirta, Fiona Petchey, Thomas Higham, Charles F. W. Higham, Sue O’Connor, Stuart Hawkins, Rebecca Kinaston, Peter Bellwood, Rintaro Ono, Adam Powell, Johannes Krause, Cosimo Posth, Mark Stoneking. Ancient genomes from the last three millennia support multiple human dispersals into Wallacea. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41559-022-01775-2

Stem Cell Research Reveals Detailed Genetic Roadmap Of Glaucoma

June 9, 2022
A new, detailed genetic roadmap of glaucoma -- the world's leading cause of irreversible blindness -- will help researchers develop new drugs to combat the disease, by identifying potential target areas to stall or reverse vision loss.

By comparing stem cell models of the retinal ganglion cells of people with Primary Open Angle Glaucoma to those without the disease, more than 300 novel genetic features of these cells were uncovered.

The findings are the result of a national collaboration led by Professor Alex Hewitt (Centre for Eye Research Australia, University of Melbourne and University of Tasmania), Professor Alice Pébay and Dr Maciej Daniszewski (University of Melbourne) and Ms Anne Senabouth and Professor Joseph Powell (Garvan Institute of Medical Research).

Identifying genes: Members of CERA’s Clinical Genetics team Professor Alex Hewitt, Linda Clarke, Lisa Kearns and Dr Helena Liang. ©Anna Carlile

Professor Hewitt, who is Head of Clinical Genetics at CERA, says the study will lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms that damage retinal ganglion cells and lead to the onset of glaucoma.

This will help researchers develop new drugs to combat glaucoma, by identifying potential new areas to target to stall or reverse vision loss caused by the disease.

Healthy retinal ganglion cells -- which transmit visual information from the eye to the brain via the optic nerve -- are essential for vision. In glaucoma, the gradual damage and death of these cells leads to a progressive, irreversible decline in sight.

"Glaucoma is often an inherited condition and comparing diseased retinal ganglion cells with healthy one is an effective way to increase our understanding of the mechanisms that contribute to vision loss,'' says Professor Hewitt.

Professor Pébay, whose team lead the stem cell aspects of this work, says: "Until recently that's been impossible because you cannot obtain or profile retinal ganglion cells from living donors without an invasive procedure."

To overcome this challenge, the scientists used Nobel Prized-winning induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology to 'reprogram' skin cells provided by donors into a stem cells that were then turned into a retinal ganglion cell in the lab.

They then mapped the individual genetic expression of almost a quarter of a million cells to identify features that could impact on the way genes are expressed in the cell, impacting its function, and potentially contributing to vision loss.

The researchers identified 312 unique genetic features in the retinal ganglion cell models that warrant further investigation.

"The sequencing identifies which genes are turned on in a cell, their level of activation and where they are turned on and off -- like a road network with traffic lights,'' says Professor Powell, whose team led the analysis of world leading dataset.

"This research gives us a genetic roadmap of glaucoma and identifies 312 sites in the genome where these lights are blinking.

"Understanding which of these traffic lights should be turned off or on will be the next step in developing new therapies to prevent glaucoma.''

Professor Hewitt, an ophthalmologist, says the research provides hundreds of new targets for researchers developing new drugs to treat glaucoma which is predicted to affect more than 80 million people globally by 2040.

"Current therapies are limited to slowing vision loss by reducing pressure in the eye -- but they do not work for all patients and some people continue to lose many retinal ganglion cells and vision despite having normal eye pressure.

"The rich source of genetic information generated by this research is an important first step towards developing new treatments that go beyond lowering eye pressure and can reverse damage and vision loss.''

The research was the result of an extensive national collaboration including researchers from the University of Melbourne, Centre for Eye Research Australia, Garvan Institute for Medical Research, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, St Vincent's Institute of Medical Research, St Vincent's Hospital, Flinders University, Lion's Eye Institute, Macquarie University, University of Tasmania and University of New South Wales.

Maciej Daniszewski, Anne Senabouth, Helena H. Liang, Xikun Han, Grace E. Lidgerwood, Damián Hernández, Priyadharshini Sivakumaran, Jordan E. Clarke, Shiang Y. Lim, Jarmon G. Lees, Louise Rooney, Lerna Gulluyan, Emmanuelle Souzeau, Stuart L. Graham, Chia-Ling Chan, Uyen Nguyen, Nona Farbehi, Vikkitharan Gnanasambandapillai, Rachael A. McCloy, Linda Clarke, Lisa S. Kearns, David A. Mackey, Jamie E. Craig, Stuart MacGregor, Joseph E. Powell, Alice Pébay, Alex W. Hewitt. Retinal ganglion cell-specific genetic regulation in primary open-angle glaucoma. Cell Genomics, 2022; 2 (6): 100142 DOI: 10.1016/j.xgen.2022.100142

Good News On Blocking Hendra Virus 

June 13, 2022
Scientists have reported good news on the pandemic preparedness front: A cocktail of four manufactured antibodies is effective at neutralizing a virus from the Henipavirus family, a group of pathogens considered to be a global biosecurity threat.

The study focused on protection against a recently identified variant of the Hendra virus, which, along with Nipah virus, has been responsible for deadly animal and human infection outbreaks in the Eastern Hemisphere. The 2011 movie Contagion depicts a fictional viral outbreak traced to an infected pig that is modelled on the Nipah virus.

The Hendra variant, identified in two fatally diseased horses and sick bats in Australia, featured dramatic genetic changes from the original virus -- which created a sense of urgency among scientists to learn how existing countermeasures stack up against the restructured pathogen.

Researchers screened and determined in cell studies that several previously developed monoclonal antibodies designed to neutralize the original virus are also effective against the variant. The team also designed an additional antibody that could join three others in a powerful cocktail that would leave the virus with minimal ability to further mutate its way out of antibody recognition.

"These four antibodies can bind simultaneously, which is important for preventing future escaping mutants," said co-lead study author Kai Xu, assistant professor of veterinary biosciences at The Ohio State University.

"If you have only one or two antibodies, the virus can easily develop a mechanism to escape antibody recognition. If you have more antibodies in a cocktail developed as a therapeutic, it will decrease the chances of an escape mutant by many orders of magnitude."

The study was published online recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Both Hendra and Nipah viruses can cause fatal disease in humans, horses, pigs and other mammals, and are transmitted between humans and animals. The flying fox, a bat species, is considered the viruses' natural host. The very similar pathogens, discovered in the 1990s in Australia and Malaysia, respectively, cause severe respiratory symptoms and brain inflammation that lead to death in up to 95% of those infected.

"Initially people thought these viruses might not mutate so much -- their genome is largely stable, so it appeared that a countermeasure like an antibody, drug or vaccine could totally prevent them. But that's not the case -- just like SARS-CoV-2, a vaccine alone can't win the war. The virus constantly evolves to adapt to a new host," Xu said.

In a series of experiments conducted in a virus system lacking the pathogenic gene, the researchers first found that the variant, known as HeV-g2, attaches to the same receptor as the original HeV virus to enter host cells, and with the same strength. The variant, like the original, uses two proteins to get in.

A total of six monoclonal antibodies -- three for each entry protein -- that were previously developed to attach to matching "footprints" on both Hendra and Nipah viral surface proteins were found to neutralize the HeV-g2 variant nearly as well as they blocked the original viruses. In earlier studies, post-infection treatment with these antibodies protected numerous animal species against lethal doses of Hendra and Nipah viruses.

To provide even further protection, the researchers developed an additional antibody to be combined with three others that neutralize one of the two viral proteins that gain access to host cells.

"We know after precise atomic modeling and binding studies that these four antibodies, the new one plus the three developed previously, are compatible to each other and can bind at the same time," Xu said. "You don't want them to compete or interfere with each other -- and you want that kind of combination as a cocktail for therapeutic development."

A resulting monoclonal antibody treatment would be used after exposure to the virus. The researchers also tested the effectiveness of an existing Hendra virus vaccine candidate in two rhesus macaques, and found in blood drawn 28 days after the last of three injections that the vaccine generated a neutralizing antibody response in the animals against the HeV-g2 variant.

"These findings are proof of principle that antibodies are effective against the new variant and we can combine multiple antibodies for multivalent drug development," Xu said. "And most important, we found that although the mutation is significant, the existing countermeasures are still effective."

Xu co-led the research with Christopher Broder of Uniformed Services University and David Veesler of the University of Washington. Yan Xu of Ohio State was a co-first author on the study. Additional co-author institutions include the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine; the U.S. Public Health Services Commissioned Corps; and the University of Sydney, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Equine Veterinary and One Health Epidemiology, and a private veterinary practice, all in Australia.

This work was supported by the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, Path to K Grant through the Ohio State University Center for Clinical & Translational Science, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a Pew Biomedical Scholars Award, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the University of Washington, the National Institutes of Health, and the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

Zhaoqian Wang, Ha V. Dang, Moushimi Amaya, Yan Xu, Randy Yin, Lianying Yan, Andrew C. Hickey, Edward J. Annand, Bethany A. Horsburgh, Peter A. Reid, Ina Smith, John-Sebastian Eden, Kai Xu, Christopher C. Broder, David Veesler. Potent monoclonal antibody–mediated neutralization of a divergent Hendra virus variant. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2022; 119 (22) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2122769119

Could Used Beer Yeast Be The Solution To Heavy Metal Contamination In Water?

June 13, 2022
A new analysis by researchers at MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) has found that inactive yeast could be effective as an inexpensive, abundant, and simple material for removing lead contamination from drinking water supplies. The study shows that this approach can be efficient and economic, even down to part-per-billion levels of contamination. Serious damage to human health is known to occur even at these low levels.

The method is so efficient that the team has calculated that waste yeast discarded from a single brewery in Boston would enough to treat the city's entire water supply. Such a fully sustainable system would not only purify the water but also divert what would otherwise be a waste stream needing disposal.

The findings are detailed today in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment, in a paper by MIT Research Scientist Patritsia Statathou; Brown University postdoc and MIT Visiting Scholar Christos Athanasiou; MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld, the director of CBA; and nine others at MIT, Brown, Wellesley College, Nanyang Technological University, and National Technical University of Athens.

Lead and other heavy metals in water are a significant global problem that continues to grow because of electronic waste and discharges from mining operations. In the U.S. alone, more than 12,000 miles of waterways are impacted by acidic mine-drainage-water rich in heavy metals, the country's leading source of water pollution. And unlike organic pollutants, most of which can be eventually broken down, heavy metals don't biodegrade, but persist indefinitely and bioaccumulate. They are either impossible or very expensive to completely remove by conventional methods such as chemical precipitation or membrane filtration.

Lead is highly toxic, even at tiny concentrations, especially affecting children as they grow. The European Union has reduced its standard for allowable lead in drinking water from 10 parts per billion to 5 parts per billion. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency has declared that no level at all in water supplies is safe. And average levels in bodies of surface water globally are 10 times higher than they were 50 years ago, ranging from 10 parts per billion in Europe to hundreds of parts per billion in South America.

"We don't just need to minimize the existence of lead; we need to eliminate it in drinking water," says Stathatou. "And the fact is that the conventional treatment processes are not doing this effectively when the initial concentrations they have to remove are low, in the parts-per-billion scale and below. They either fail to completely remove these trace amounts, or in order to do so they consume a lot of energy and they produce toxic by-products."

The solution studied by the MIT team is not a new one -- a process called biosorption, in which inactive biological material is used to remove heavy metals from water, has been known for a few decades. But the process has been studied and characterized only at much higher concentrations, at more than one part-per-million levels. "Our study demonstrates that the process can indeed work efficiently at the much lower concentrations of typical real-world water supplies, and investigates in detail the mechanisms involved in the process," Athanasiou says.

The team studied the use of a type of yeast widely used in brewing and in industrial processes, called S. cerevisiae, on pure water spiked with trace amounts of lead. They demonstrated that a single gram of the inactive, dried yeast cells can remove up to 12 milligrams of lead in aqueous solutions with initial lead concentrations below 1 part per million. They also showed that the process is very rapid, taking less than five minutes to complete.

Because the yeast cells used in the process are inactive and desiccated, they require no particular care, unlike other processes that rely on living biomass to perform such functions which require nutrients and sunlight to keep the materials active. What's more, yeast is abundantly available already, as a waste product from beer brewing and from various other fermentation-based industrial processes.

Stathatou has estimated that to clean a water supply for a city the size of Boston, which uses about 200 million gallons a day, would require about 20 tons of yeast per day, or about 7,000 tons per year. By comparison, one single brewery, the Boston Beer Company, generates 20,000 tons a year of surplus yeast that is no longer useful for fermentation.

The researchers also performed a series of tests to determine that the yeast cells are responsible for biosorption. Athanasiou says that "exploring biosorption mechanisms at such challenging concentrations is a tough problem. We were the first to use a mechanics perspective to unravel biosorption mechanisms, and we discovered that the mechanical properties of the yeast cells change significantly after lead uptake. This provides fundamentally new insights for the process."

Devising a practical system for processing the water and retrieving the yeast, which could then be separated from the lead for reuse, is the next stage of the team's research, they say.

"To scale up the process and actually put it in place, you need to embed these cells in a kind of filter, and this is the work that's currently ongoing," Stathatou says. They are also looking at ways of recovering both the cells and the lead. "We need to conduct further experiments, but there is the option to get both back," she says.

The same material can potentially be used to remove other heavy metals, such as cadmium and copper, but that will require further research to quantify the effective rates for those processes, the researchers say.

Rows are ordered as follows: control yeast cells (C0: 0 ppb) (1), yeast cells after Pb2+ biosorption (C0: 100 ppb) (2). a SEM images presenting an overview of yeast cells (scale bar: 10 μm). b Magnified SEM images showing individual yeast cells (scale bar: 2 μm). c TEM images of individual yeast cells (scale bar: 1 μm). Image courtesy MIT Resaerchers

The team also included Marios Tsezos at the National Technical University of Athens, in Greece; John Gross at Wellesley College; Camron Blackburn, Filippos Tourlomousis, and Andreas Mershin at MIT's CBA; Brian Sheldon, Nitin Padture, Eric Darling at Brown University; and Huajian Gao at Brown University and Nanyang Technological University, in Singapore.

Patritsia M. Stathatou, Christos E. Athanasiou, Marios Tsezos, John W. Goss, L. Camron Blackburn, Filippos Tourlomousis, Andreas Mershin, Brian W. Sheldon, Nitin P. Padture, Eric M. Darling, Huajian Gao, Neil Gershenfeld. Lead removal at trace concentrations from water by inactive yeast cells. Communications Earth & Environment, 2022; 3 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s43247-022-00463-0

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.