Inbox and environment news: Issue 566

December 11 2022 - January 14 2023: Issue 566

The Good, The Bad,  The Ugly 2022

The good remains those volunteers who have toiled all year at local bushcare sites and shared knowledge of our local plants and seasons and how to look after and restore these places. There are many great examples, everywhere you look. New volunteers always welcome.

The bad is the amount of tree loss our area is sustaining, and the loss of wildlife that follows.

The ugly is the destruction of all that work, over many decades, sometimes due to not knowing the impact such activities have on our special environment, along with the growing number of over the top developments or even incremental height increases for housing developments that are passed and block razings of everything on a site, as well as carving out a chunk of the hillside. 

This is occurring across the Sydney Basin, where habitat for listed critically endangered species is being destroyed or removed, and all that lives in it in the form of wildlife killed, under the direction, policy and changing laws of the incumbent state government.

We still, too, have those who are poisoning protected trees, for views.

Who Owns The Beach?

The Australian Coastal Society (ACS) is proud to present the podcast “Let’s Talk Coast” a short series that brings you conversations on coastal issues and projects from around Australia.

Episode 1 – Who owns the beach?

In our very first episode of “Let’s Talk Coast”, Emeritus Professor Bruce Thom and coastal engineer, Angus Gordon, explore issues around beach management, beach access, private ownership and coastal policy.

Known as the founding father of the Australian Coastal Society, Professor Bruce Thom is Emeritus Professor at the University of Sydney and a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists. In 2010, Bruce was awarded a member of the Order of Australia for his services to the environment and advocacy for the ecological management of the coastal zone and as a contributor to a public debate on natural resource policy. Bruce regularly writes blogs for ACS, which can be found here.

Angus Gordon is a coastal engineer and former General Manager of Pittwater Council. Angus has worked on coastal engineering, coastal zone management and planning projects across Australia and the globe, and in 2018 he received an Order of Australia for his services to the environment planning and the community. You can read more about Angus Gordon here.

Both guests bring a wealth of knowledge to the discussion around the question of “Who owns the beach?” and suggest a way forward in protecting Australians right to the beach through national standards.

This podcast is an Australian Coastal Society podcast, produced and hosted by Gretchen Miller.

If you would like further information about this episode, contact us at

Let’s Talk Coast, was created through the financial support of our donors over the years.

To become a member and find out more about membership benefits, follow this link:     

To make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to be a voice for the coast, follow this link:

This episode was recorded on the lands of the Garigal or Caregal people.

Australian Shorebird Monitoring Program: Critically Endangered Eastern Curlew Chased Out Of Port Hacking - Saturday December 10, 2022 - NSW Dept. Of Environment Responds With Mission Statements Only

The Eastern curlew is listed as critically endangered in Australia, with global populations estimated to have declined by 80% in the last 30 years. As a wading bird that travels across our earth, they rely on intertidal mudflats for food and habitat.

Australia is a signatory of the East Asian – Australasian Flyway. The East Asia/Australasia Flyway extends from Arctic Russia and North America to the southern limits of Australia and New Zealand.  It aims to protect migratory waterbirds, their habitats and the livelihoods of people dependent upon them.

On Saturday December 10, jetskis and people disturbed this group of Eastern curlews at Port Hacking. One of the monitors that works as a volunteer to protect this bird when it visits our shores filmed the following. This bird comes to Careel Bay too - where people are frequently seen taking dogs in a 'no dogs' area for this very reason.

The volunteer tells us ; 

''Yesterday the Port Hacking eastern curlews put up with 6 hours of disturbance in order to get an afternoon feed. This morning after 1 hr and 4 disturbances they decided the energy needed to stay was too great, so flew out to Botany Bay. I had asked these 2 charmers if they wouldn’t mind turning around rather than walk to end of beach to avoid disturbing the roosting curlews. They had already walked almost 2 km having left their kayaks at the other end of the Spit, surely they wouldn't mind giving up the last 100m. Rude response and on they walked.''

Pittwater Online News forwarded this to the Office of James Griffin, NSW Environment Minister for a response - Monday, December 12, 2022.

Late on Friday December 16th a Department of Planning and Environment spokesperson replied with the statement so readily found on the OEH webpages, nothing specific about addressing what is occurring to these critically endangered birds at Port Hacking was broached.

The statement reads:

''Remember to keep your distance. If shorebirds take off or run away as you approach, you are too close.

Eastern Curlews fly thousands of kilometres to get here, typically from Russia and north-eastern China

Every unnecessary flight uses energy and potentially affects their ability to fly home.

There is a saying: Birds in sight – don’t make them take flight!

Migratory shorebirds have travelled a long way so it’s really important they are allowed to roost and feed in peace, to build up their fat reserves before they migrate north.

There are four ways you can help protect our shorebirds -

1.   Pay attention to signs or fences

2.  Leash your dog whenever you’re on the beach, and only walk dogs on designated beaches

3.  Stick to the wet sand and leave the birds space

4.  Respect beach-closure signs and beach-driving rules. Only drive on designated beaches


Within Australia, the Eastern Curlew has a primarily coastal distribution, and in NSW is mainly found in estuaries such as the Hunter River, Port Stephens, Clarence River, Richmond River and the south coast.

The Eastern Curlew breeds in Russia and north-eastern China but its distribution is poorly known. During the non-breeding season a few birds occur in southern Korea and China, but most spend the non-breeding season in north, east and south-east Australia.''

Gilead Stage 2 Development

The proposal for Gilead Stage 2 has been opened for submissions with the closing date of December 19th, 2022. The documents show the application proposes to 'directly impact' 268.72 ha of the assessment area of which 53.50 ha is mapped as native vegetation and threatened species habitat, including the local population of koalas. The Save Sydney's Koalas Facebook page lists ideas for submissions, having been through the reams of documents.

The planning proposal, which has already been approved through a gateway decision by the NSW Department of Planning, seeks to rezone land at Gilead Stage 2 to facilitate around 3,300 dwellings.

The proposal was announced as one of three being 'fast-tracked' by the NSW Department of Planning by Minister for Planning Anthony Roberts on November 2nd, 2022.

Mr Roberts said while planning proposals are normally lodged with councils in the first instance, the State will assess these proposals.

“The Department of Planning and Environment will undertake the assessment of these proposals, which are all located in the Greater Macarthur Growth Area, so councils don’t need to. However, it will be required to work closely with councils and other agencies to resolve any potential issues,” he said.

“Nothing about the assessment process changes including the important need for community consultation.”

The webpage underlines this approach, notifying that any decision will not be made public and follows on for the approach taken by the state government in regard to their being both the proponent partner and decision maker in the proposal for Lizard Rock at Belrose.

The application proposes to permanently protect and manage for conservation, 225.76 ha of lands, 218.93 ha of which, the documents state, will generate ecosystem credits. 

These same BSA sites, the biodiversity report states, will generate 6,232 species credits; 1,348 for Koala, 1,347 Squirrel Glider, 1,181 Cumberland Plain Land Snail, 856 Southern Myotis and 1,500 Pomaderris brunnea species credits i.e. there will be a deficit of 108 Koala credits and significant surpluses for all other species. 

The deficit of Koala credits (108) will be met by retiring 99 Koala species already held by Lendlease (Credit ID holder 650) from the Campbelltown Koala population purchased from the Noorumba Reserve Biobank site (BA239) and the purchase of 9 Koala credits from registered biobank sites outside the BCAA or Biodiversity Stewardship sites or the BCT (subject to an assessment of credit equivalency).

The initial application for Biodiversity Certification was publicly exhibited for 64 days by Campbelltown City Council between 15 December 2020 and 17 February 2021. The Council received 626 submissions during the exhibition period and a further 53 after the close of exhibition. 

The Biodiversity assessment report states it has been updated in light of these submissions. 

The submissions raised a number of concerns in regards to a lack of a strategic approach, the inadequacy of surveys for threatened species, unacceptable impacts to the Campbelltown Koala population (inadequate Koala corridors) and unacceptable impacts to listed endangered ecological communities. 

Those who have campaigned or written feedback for the earlier version have stated the Biodiversity document, its latest edition, amounts to stating that it is alright to destroy over 268 hectares of habitat because you're not going to destroy a portion of that habitat and that koalas living there, even though now listed as Endangered in NSW, can still be killed or displaced if you purchase 'koala credits'.

Other species found at the site were six species of threatened microchiropteran bats, all listed as Vulnerable, the Squirrel Glider was recorded in seven locations (with only the 'higher quality vegetation' being mapped as habitat, isolated individual trees and small patches of vegetation without a mid-storey and greater than 30 m from intact vegetation were not considered suitable habitat), along with hundreds of species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, bird species, mammals (non-flying, and mammals (flying). 

However, at present, only Koala, Squirrel Glider, Southern Myotis and Cumberland Plain Land Snail are species 'credit species' and have been identified as being impacted by the land to be certified. The other species that have been recorded or have the potential to occur within the BCAA which are species credits species (Little Bentwing Bat, Eastern Bentwing Bat, Large-eared Pied Bat and Grey-headed Flying Fox) are only species credit species when breeding habitat is being impacted. No breeding habitat was recorded within the land to be certified so these species do not require further assessment as species credit species in this assessment.

All the other species don't count at all - 'another way to underline why our nation has the highest extinction rate in the world'.

Subject to the Minister’s approval of the request for a red flag variation, the proposal, the documents state, can meet an ‘improve or maintain’ outcome and is eligible for biodiversity certification. 

Once the Minister confers biocertification on the requested land, which has been the stated and published intent from the incumbent government's Minister for Planning, the local Council, as the consent authority for future development applications, is;

''no longer required to assess impacts to ‘biodiversity values’ as these have already been addressed by the Minister and ‘conservation areas’ will be required to be managed in perpetuity for conservation''.

Mark Pearson MLC of the NSW Animal Justice Party has pointed out:

''The NSW Biodiversity Offsets scheme is a sham. As I said in a speech in Parliament last month, this project is used to justify maiming, distressing and killing animals and harming the environment and it's absolutely not acceptable. 

Not only is it unacceptable that individual animals are killed under this scheme, but it is a scheme that does not protect biodiversity.

The Auditor‑General's review found there is an undersupply of in‑demand credits for numerous endangered species. Seven endangered and 10 vulnerable flora species are likely to have a large credit undersupply, as are at least three endangered and 15 vulnerable fauna species, including the swift parrot, eastern pygmy possum and bush stone‑curlew. 

Biodiversity gains made through the scheme will not be sufficient to offset the losses resulting from development and the outcome of irreversible habitat and species loss. The Auditor‑General found that the Department of Planning and Environment has not established a clear strategy to develop the biodiversity credit market or determine whether the scheme's operation and outcomes are consistent with the purposes of the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. 

We are slipping backwards with species and habitat loss. The Government's 2020 NSW Biodiversity Outlook Report estimates that, without effective management, only 50 per cent of species and 59 per cent of ecological communities that are listed as threatened in New South Wales will still exist in 100 years. The NSW State of the Environment 2021 report identifies habitat destruction and native vegetation clearing as presenting the single greatest threat to biodiversity in the State—not introduced wild animals. Demand for offset credits is growing rapidly, predominately driven by major projects. 

The Government needs to curtail development in sensitive areas. Intuitively, clearing land for development and killing animals in one place and then paying for a credit to protect animals elsewhere is not acceptable.''

Nature Positive Plan: Better For The Environment, Better For Business

December 8, 2022

Statement By The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, Minister for the Environment and Water

Australia’s environment laws are broken.

Professor Graeme Samuel’s 2019 review into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act found that “the EPBC Act is outdated and requires fundamental reform… Australians do not trust that the Act is delivering for the environment, for business or for the community”.

Nature is being destroyed. Businesses are waiting too long for decisions. That’s bad for everyone. Things have to change.

Labor is today delivering on our promise by responding to Professor Samuel’s review and announcing our Nature Positive Plan: better for the environment, better for business.

We want an economy that is nature positive – to halt decline and repair nature.

We will build our legislation on three basic principles: clear national standards of environmental protection, improving and speeding up decisions, and building trust and integrity.

Our Nature Positive Plan will be better for the environment by delivering:

  • Stronger laws designed to repair nature, to protect precious plants, animals and places. For the first time, our laws will introduce standards that decisions must meet. Standards describe the environmental outcomes we want to achieve. This will ensure decisions made will protect our threatened species and ecosystems.
  • A new Environment Protection Agency to make development decisions and properly enforce them.

Our Nature Positive Plan will be better for business by delivering:

  • More certainty – saving time and money with faster, clearer decisions about developments including housing and energy. Regional plans will identify the areas we want to protect, areas for fast-tracked development and where development can proceed with caution.
  • Less red tape – easier paperwork and less duplication. Streamlining and consolidating the project assessment process.

Our Nature Positive Plan is a win-win: a win for the environment and a win for business.

I look forward to working with environment, business, community and First Nations groups to deliver it.

Our reforms are seeking to turn the tide in this country – from nature destruction to nature repair.

And they match what we’ve already begun in our first six months in office.

A stronger emissions reduction target, with a clear path to net zero.

A target of zero new extinctions on this continent.

A commitment to protecting thirty percent of Australia’s land and oceans by 2030.

A new nature repair market.

Reducing waste and building an economy focussed on recycling, re-use and repair.

Campaigning on the world stage, to protect our oceans, to support the Pacific, and to reduce plastic waste.

And $1.8 billion in the recent Budget –

  • to protect the Great Barrier Reef
  • to save our native species 
  • to employ 1,000 new Landcare Rangers.
  • to support new Indigenous Protected Areas
  • to fund the Environmental Defenders Office, for the first time in nine years
  •  And to clean up our urban rivers and waterways.  

The legislation will be released as an exposure draft prior to being introduced into the Parliament before the end of 2023.

The Government’s full response to the Samuel Review can be found here: EPBC Act reform - DCCEEW

New Marine Wildlife Group Launched On The Central Coast

A new wildlife group was launched on the Central Coast on Saturday, December 10.

Marine Wildlife Rescue Central Coast (MWRCC) had its official launch at The Entrance Boat Shed at 10am.

The group comprises current and former members of ASTR, ORRCA, Sea Shepherd, Greenpeace, WIRES and Wildlife ARC, as well as vets, academics, and people from all walks of life.

Well known marine wildlife advocate and activist Cathy Gilmore is spearheading the organisation.

“We believe that it is time the Central Coast looked after its own marine wildlife, and not be under the control or directed by groups that aren’t based locally,” Gilmore said.

“We have the local knowledge and are set up to respond and help injured animals more quickly.

“This also means that donations and money fundraised will go directly into helping our local marine creatures, and not get tied up elsewhere in the state.”

The organisation plans to have rehabilitation facilities and rescue kits placed in strategic locations around the region.

MWRCC will also be in touch with Indigenous groups to learn the traditional importance of the local marine environment and its inhabitants.

“We want to work with these groups and share knowledge between us,” Gilmore said.

“This is an opportunity to help save and protect our local marine wildlife, so if you have passion and commitment, then you are more than welcome to join us.”

Marine Wildlife Rescue Central Coast has a Facebook page where you may contact members. Visit:

Help Needed To Save Sea Turtle Nests As Third La Nina Summer Looms

Those who recall Green Turtle Eggs being found at North Steyne in January 2020 will know our area is now part of where turtles may make nests. Crews found 144 of the white, ping pong ball sized eggs, their shells still soft and leathery. Although it was said then that incidents of turtles laying their eggs so far south are extremely rare, more recent studies have shown the shift of what was once north to the south in our oceans and what was once south moving north. 

The NSW Department of Environment has stated on Monday October 17th, Beachgoers spotting and reporting sea turtle tracks and nests could save hundreds of baby turtles as sea turtle nesting season kicks off in November and a third La Nina summer looms.

Holly West from NSW TurtleWatch said that last year, reports and support from members of the public meant 4 nests were relocated to higher ground that would otherwise have been washed away during the summer storms.

"Green and loggerhead sea turtles which nest on NSW beaches are both threatened species, so it's vital we do everything we can to protect every nest and every egg during this critical breeding period," said Ms West.

"From the nests we successfully relocated last year, 376 baby turtles hatched and made their way to the ocean.

"That's almost 400 baby turtles saved by those members of the public who gave us a call.

"With another La Nina summer predicted, sea turtle nests will be in the firing line from increased storm activity.

"Nesting turtle tracks disappear from the beach very quickly, so the earlier we are notified about tracks or the location of a potential nest, the better.

"This allows us to monitor the nest from the get-go and act to save the eggs if the nest is at risk of being inundated by high tides or impacted by other threats, such as predators, erosion or light pollution," she said.

In 2021–22, 11 sea turtle nesting activities were recorded on NSW beaches.

"Each nesting season, in collaboration with NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, we collect data on how many sea turtles are utilising the NSW coastline to nest," said Ms West.

"The more we understand about how, where and when marine turtles nest, the more we will be able to protect them," she said.

Female turtles typically come out of the water between dusk and dawn to lay their eggs so beachgoers should keep an eye out for tracks in the sand if they are on the beach early in the morning.

Sightings of nesting turtles, turtle tracks or nests should be reported to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) on 13000 PARKS or to NSW TurtleWatch on 0468 489 259.

NSW TurtleWatch is developed by Australian Seabird and Turtle Rescue and supported by the NSW Government through the Saving our Species program, the Marine Estate Management Strategy and NPWS.

Photos: the eggs found in our area in 2020. Photos courtesy  and from Northern Beaches Police Area Command Facebook page. Those eggs were carefully placed in sand at an undisclosed location near Coffs Harbour, where they were more likely to hatch.

Watch Out - Shorebirds About

Spring is here so watch your step because beach-nesting and estuary-nesting birds have started setting up home on our shores.
Did you know that Careel Bay and other spots throughout our area are part of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP)?

This flyway, and all of the stopping points along its way, are vital to ensure the survival of these Spring and Summer visitors. This is where they rest and feed on their journeys.  For example, did you know that the bar-tailed godwit flies for 239 hours for 8,108 miles from Alaska to Australia?

Not only that, Shorebirds such as endangered oystercatchers and little terns lay their eggs in shallow scraped-out nests in the sand, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Threatened Species officer Ms Katherine Howard has said.
Even our regular residents such as seagulls are currently nesting to bear young.

What can you do to help them?
Known nest sites may be indicated by fencing or signs. The whole community can help protect shorebirds by keeping out of nesting areas marked by signs or fences and only taking your dog to designated dog offleash area. 

Just remember WE are visitors to these areas. These birds LIVE there. This is their home.

Four simple steps to help keep beach-nesting birds safe:
1. Look out for bird nesting signs or fenced-off nesting areas on the beach, stay well clear of these areas and give the parent birds plenty of space.
2. Walk your dogs in designated dog-friendly areas only and always keep them on a leash over summer.
3. Stay out of nesting areas and follow all local rules.
4. Chicks are mobile and don't necessarily stay within fenced nesting areas. When you're near a nesting area, stick to the wet sand to avoid accidentally stepping on a chick.

Wanted: Photos Of Flies Feeding On Frogs (For Frog Conservation)

Do you have any photos of frogs being bitten by flies? Submit them to our study to help in frog conservation.

By sampling the blood of flies that bite frogs, researchers can determine the (sometimes difficult to spot) frogs in an environment. Common mist frog being fed on by a Sycorax fly. Photo: Jakub Hodáň

UNSW Science and the Australian Museum want your photos of frogs, specifically those being bitten by flies, for a new (and inventive) technique to detect and protect our threatened frog species.

You might not guess it, but biting flies – such as midges and mosquitoes – are excellent tools for science. The blood ‘sampled’ by these parasites contains precious genetic data about the animals they feed on (such as frogs), but first, researchers need to know which parasitic flies are biting which frogs. And this is why they need you to submit your photos.

“Rare frogs can be very hard to find during traditional scientific expeditions,” says PhD student Timothy Cutajar, leading the project. “Species that are rare or cryptic [inconspicuous] can be easily missed, so it turns out the best way to detect some species might be through their parasites.”

The technique is called ‘iDNA’, short for invertebrate-derived DNA, and researchers Mr Cutajar and Dr Jodi Rowley from UNSW Science and the Australian Museum were the first to harness its potential for detecting cryptic or threatened species of frogs.

The team first deployed this technique in 2018 by capturing frog-biting flies in habitats shared with frogs. Not unlike the premise of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, where the DNA of blood-meals past is contained in the bellies of the flies, Mr Cutajar was able to extract the drawn blood (and therefore DNA) and identify the species of amphibian the flies had recently fed on.

These initial trials uncovered the presence of rare frogs that traditional searching methods had missed.

“iDNA has the potential to become a standard frog survey technique,” says Mr Cutajar. “[It could help] in the discovery of new species or even the rediscovery of species thought to be extinct, so I want to continue developing techniques for frog iDNA surveys. However, there is still so much we don’t yet know about how frogs and flies interact.”

In a bid to understand the varieties of parasites that feed on frogs – so Mr Cutajar and colleagues might lure and catch those most informative and prolific species – the team are looking to the public for their frog photos.

“If you’ve photographed frogs in Australia, I’d love for you to closely examine your pictures, looking for any frogs that have flies, midges or mosquitoes sitting on them. If you find flies, midges or mosquitoes in direct contact with frogs in any of your photos, please share them.”

The submitted photos will be analysed for the frog and parasite species they contain, helping inform future iDNA research. Mountain Stream Tree Frog (Litoria barringtonensis) being bitten by Sycorax. Photo: Tim Cutajar/Australian Museum

“We’ll be combing through photographs of frogs submitted through our survey,” says Mr Cutajar, “homing in on the characteristics that make a frog species a likely target for frog-biting flies.

“It’s unlikely that all frogs are equally parasitised. Some frogs have natural insect repellents, while others can swat flies away. The flies themselves can be choosy about the types of sounds they’re attracted to, and probably aren’t evenly abundant everywhere.”

Already the new iDNA technique, championed in herpetology by Mr Cutajar, has shown great promise, and by refining its methodology with data submitted by the public – citizen scientists – our understanding of frog ecology and biodiversity can be broadened yet further.

“The power of collective action can be amazing for science,” says Mr Cutajar, “and with your help, we can kickstart a new era of improved detection, and therefore conservation, of our amazing amphibian diversity.”

Possums In Your Roof?: Do The Right Thing

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

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 or visit Council's bushcare webpage to find out how you can get involved.

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

Friends Of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment Activities

Bush Regeneration - Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment  
This is a wonderful way to become connected to nature and contribute to the health of the environment.  Over the weeks and months you can see positive changes as you give native species a better chance to thrive.  Wildlife appreciate the improvement in their habitat.

Belrose area - Thursday mornings 
Belrose area - Weekend mornings by arrangement
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Gardens And Environment Groups And Organisations In Pittwater

Our laws fail nature. The government’s plan to overhaul them looks good, but crucial detail is yet to come

Brendan WintleThe University of MelbourneMartine MaronThe University of Queensland, and Sarah BekessyRMIT University

The Albanese government has just released its long-awaited response to a scathing independent review of Australia’s environment protection law. The 2020 review ultimately found the laws were flawed, outdated and, without fundamental reform, would continue to see plants and animals go extinct.

The extent to which the government implements the review’s 38 recommendations to strengthen the laws will determine the fate of many species and ecosystems – so, how did it go?

As biodiversity conservation experts, we find the plan to be promising. For example, federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek pledged to establish an independent environmental protection agency to be “a tough cop on the beat”.

But some uncertainty remains, and there is also a lot of important detail still to be worked through.

Australia’s Extinction Crisis

Australia has the world’s worst track record for mammal extinctions. The national threatened species list comprises more than 1,700 species and over 100 threatened ecological communities, and more are added every year.

Extraordinary species such as mountain pygmy possums, northern hairy-nosed wombats and regent honeyeaters are hanging on by a thread. Others, such as the white-footed rabbit-rat and the central hare-wallaby, are already lost forever. Previously abundant animals such as bogong moths, which the mountain pygmy possum relies on for food, have become rare.

Australia’s environment law – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act – is ostensibly wildlife’s best defence against a range of threats to their habitat, such as urban development, mining and land clearing.

But this defence has failed, time and again. In just one example, the extinction threat facing the iconic koala has become worse, not better, since it was “protected” under the EPBC Act.

What The Plan Got Right

We note a few standout positives in the government’s response today. One is the promise to rapidly prepare and implement conservation plans – with strong regulatory standing – for each nationally listed threatened species and ecological community.

There is strong merit in this. We encourage a similar emphasis on developing plans to abate threats such as such as feral cats, foxes, deer, and rabbits, that should also have strong regulatory standing.

We’re also pleased to see confirmation of the formation of the environmental protection agency (EPA). This addresses one of the review’s top criticisms on the lack of resourcing and independent enforcement of the EPBC Act.

The model could be a game-changer: undertaking assessments and making decisions about development proposals at arm’s length from government. The EPA will have its own budget and mandatory tabling of an annual report in parliament.

Brown rodent
Bramble Cay melomys was declared extinct in 2019. Ian Bell, EHP, State of QueenslandCC BY-SA

Another big plus is the government’s pledge to deliver on national environmental standards, overseen by the newly formed EPA. These standards describe the environmental outcomes that must be achieved. For example, the standards could require that decisions result in no further population decline of threatened species.

Crucially, these standards will apply to “regional forest agreements”. These agreements are controversial because they effectively exempt forest logging from scrutiny under the EPBC Act. However, the timeline for imposing the standards on regional forest agreements is uncertain, and currently “subject to further consultation with stakeholders”.

Finally, a regional planning approach will be used to identify environmentally valuable and sensitive areas in which new developments pose too great a risk, as well as places that are more-or-less available for new development. The critical detail of how those zones are determined is yet to be negotiated.

A Major Uncertainty: Offsets

Perhaps the biggest concern we have about the federal government’s approach relates to environmental offsets. Offsets can be imposed by the government as a way to compensate for environmental destruction by improving nature in other places.

Evidence shows offsets have so far been largely ineffective, in part because existing policy is not properly implemented and rules not enforced. They may even facilitate more biodiversity loss by removing ethical roadblocks to destroying ecosystems and habitat for threatened species.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek on Thursday emphasised a move away from simply protecting habitat that already exists in exchange for habitat loss elsewhere (so-called “avoided loss offsets”), and instead focusing on restoration. This is a welcome improvement to how offsets are delivered.

The basics of what biodiversity offsetting involves.

However, the government will accept payments into a fund when offsetting is too difficult: for example, when there’s no like-for-like habitat available. This is worrying. If offsets for a threatened species are hard to find, it’s an important signal that we’re reaching the limit of habitat we can lose.

Imagine if a developer cleared cassowary habitat in a Queensland rainforest, and compensated for that by paying for koala tree planting in another part of Australia. Nice for the koala, but we have guaranteed a further decline for the cassowary.

The government’s plan points to the New South Wales Biodiversity Conservation Trust as an example of how these offset payments could be managed. Yet the auditor-general of NSW recently discredited the way this scheme handles offsets, saying it doesn’t lead to enough biodiversity gains compared to the losses and impacts from development in the state.

Two cassowaries on a road
The government plans to change environmental offsets. Shutterstock

The national system would need to be very different to the NSW one if it’s to support the federal government’s goal of zero extinctions by 2030. In practice, this would mean avoiding the use of offsets to compensate for the destruction of habitats that aren’t replaceable or cannot be readily recreated elsewhere.

National environmental standards for environmental offsets haven’t yet been finalised. The detail included in these will be crucial to the success of the scheme.

Show Us The Money

Much of the federal government’s overhaul is to be welcomed. But we won’t prevent new extinctions unless it’s supported by serious investment to develop and implement plans, and enforce laws. Increased funding to recover endangered species is also urgently needed, to the tune of A$2 billion per year.

This is nowhere near as much as we spend on, for instance, submarines or even caring for our cats and dogs.

But it’s an order of magnitude more than our current spend on targeted threatened species recovery actions.

By and large, the proposed plan looks set to make a positive difference to Australia’s threatened plants and animals. But a lot of detail remains to be worked through. Getting that detail right could mean the difference between a species surviving, or disappearing forever.The Conversation

Brendan Wintle, Professor in Conservation Science, School of Ecosystem and Forest Science, The University of MelbourneMartine Maron, Professor of Environmental Management, The University of Queensland, and Sarah Bekessy, Professor in Sustainability and Urban Planning, Leader, Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Research Group (ICON Science), RMIT University

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

Repairing gullies: the quickest way to improve Great Barrier Reef water quality

James Daley Author provided
Andrew BrooksGriffith University and James DaleyGriffith University

Back-to-back bleaching events have highlighted the critical threat that climate change poses to the Great Barrier Reef. But few people are aware of the network of gullies pumping out about half the sediment that is polluting reef water quality and threatening its World Heritage status.

These gully networks are like miniature Grand Canyons, some with walls up to 20 metres high. They make a spectacular sight but are a disaster for the land, the reef and the rivers that connect them.

In the UNESCO delegation’s latest report on the reef, dramatically scaling up gully repair efforts is the top recommendation.

Along with global warming, degraded water quality is a key threat to the reef. But as the world continues to debate how to combat climate change, the report recognises that fixing gullies will give the reef a fighting chance to survive warming oceans. This is something Australia can do right now.

Over more than a century, land use changes have disturbed fragile soils in grazing country. The unearthed fine sediment from below the surface dissolves like a Berocca tablet when it rains, creating a gully. Left alone, this process will continue for hundreds of years and keep eating into the landscape.

Gullies can expose hectares of soil to severe erosion which feeds sediment directly into waterways. James Daley

Our team at Griffith university have been researching gullies since 2005. Over the last decade we’ve developed the tools to identify and target the highest priority gullies, and helped design ways to fix them.

Through detailed mapping we’ve found we can identify and target just a few percent of the tens of thousands of gullies to achieve a massive, cost-effective water quality improvement.

More Than 400,000 Dump Trucks Of Sediment A Year

As the planet warms, Australia is already experiencing record heat. For our team working in Queensland’s gullies, temperatures can reach over 50℃ in the midday sun.

Field work in these conditions usually feels about as comfortable as working on the surface of Mars. Nonetheless, our team of scientists keep returning because of the staggering implications of the data we’ve been collecting.

Each wet season, the exposed soils in these gullies turn to a yoghurt-like consistency. Their chemistry primes them to readily erode, which they do with every raindrop that falls on them.

The eureka moment that could help save the reef.

In fact, an individual gully can produce thousands of tonnes of fine sediment each year from just a few hectares of land. If you look at the total flow of sediment from all gullies, on average over 400,000 truckloads are dumped across the reef every year, mostly within the inner lagoon.

As sediment and nutrients travel freely down the rivers, they pollute fragile ecosystems, filling water holes, clouding the water and reducing biodiversity. Once they reach the reef lagoon, they smother corals and seagrasses, which struggle to survive.

As the UNESCO report identifies, degraded water quality severely affects the resilience of the reef, limiting its ability to recover from bleaching and cyclones, and to withstand the changes caused by global warming.

The Most Effective Solution For Improving Water Quality

Stabilising gullied landscapes requires an approach akin to mine site rehabilitation. In 2016, we demonstrated that if you reshape (with major earthworks), recap (with rock, soil and mulch) and revegetate the gullies, you can rapidly repair them. Our research has shown that erosion from priority gullies can be reduced by 98% within a space of one to two years.

Most gullies have eroded over the last 160 years due to land use changes and fragile soils. Justin Stout

We’ve now mapped more than 25,000 individual gullies in three hot spot areas in the Normanby, Burdekin and Fitzroy River catchments.

Remarkably, we discovered that only a small proportion of the mapped gullies in each area are contributing a large proportion of the sediment pollution.

For example, in the Burdekin hot spot, we found only about 2% of the gullies contribute 30% of the sediment load to the reef. Targeting these gullies provides the best and quickest way to improve the reef’s water quality.

But the number of gullies repaired to date is a drop in the ocean compared to what still needs to be done.

So far, our method of identifying priority gullies for repair has been implemented across only 1% of the 44-million-hectare reef catchment. The urgent task, as the UNESCO report notes, is to identify other hot spot areas and rapidly roll out the prioritisation mapping to enable targeted remediation to get under way.

Gullies can be remediated back to healthy landscapes in less than two years. James Daley

What Needs To Happen Now

UNESCO highlights the critical need to speed up effective action, recommending:

there is a need to secure a greater reduction of [sediment and nutrient] pollutants in the next three years than has been achieved since 2009.

The good news is the research has already been done. The data demonstrates it is possible to achieve this ambitious goal. The implementation of on-ground gully repair works with economies of scale is the quickest and most cost-effective way to do it.

Since 2008, Australian governments have set sediment reduction targets and invested considerable funds to improve reef water quality. The federal government intends to spend an additional A$580 million over nine years, and a further $270 million has been committed by the Queensland government.

Importantly, rapid progress can be made given the current funds earmarked for reef water quality. There are also proven working relationships already in place between our Griffith team, Traditional Owners , government and other stakeholders.

The challenge ahead is delivery. The next step requires a coordinated program to develop a pipeline of targeted gully projects.

The pieces of the puzzle are now all in place and there is no reason for delay.The Conversation

Andrew Brooks, Principal Research Fellow - Fluvial Geomorphologist - specialising in catchment erosion research, Griffith University and James Daley, Research Fellow, Coastal and Marine Research Centre, Griffith University

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

Should we protect nature for its own sake? For its economic value? Because it makes us happy? Yes

Marabou storks perch on a tree at sunrise in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Sergio Pitamitz /VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Bradley J. CardinalePenn State

Extinction is part of life on Earth. Through much of our planet’s history, species have been forming, evolving and eventually disappearing. Today, however, human activities have dramatically sped up the process. The Earth is losing animals, birds, reptiles and other living things so fast that some scientists believe the planet is entering the sixth mass extinction in its history.

On Dec. 7, 2022, the United Nations will convene governments from around the world in Montreal for a 10-day conference that aims to establish new goals for protecting Earth’s ecosystems and their biodiversity – the variety of life at all levels, from genes to ecosystems. There’s broad agreement that there is a biodiversity crisis, but there are many different views about why protecting it is important.

Some people, cultures and nations believe biodiversity is worth conserving because ecosystems provide many services that support human prosperity, health and well-being. Others assert that all living things have a right to exist, regardless of their usefulness to humans. Today, there’s also growing understanding that nature enriches our lives by providing opportunities for us to connect with each other and the places we care about.

As a conservation biologist, I’ve been part of the effort to value biodiversity for years. Here’s how thinking in this field has evolved, and why I’ve come to believe that there are many equally valid reasons for protecting nature.

Biodiversity describes the amount of genetic diversity within species and the range of species that make up ecosystems.

Defending Every Species

Conservation biology is a scientific field with a mission: protecting and restoring biodiversity around the world. It came of age in the 1980s, as humans’ impact on the Earth was becoming alarmingly clear.

In a 1985 essay, Michael Soulé, one of the field’s founders, described what he saw as the core principles of conservation biology. Soulé argued that biological diversity is inherently good and should be conserved because it has intrinsic value. He also proposed that conservation biologists should act to save biodiversity even if sound science isn’t available to inform decisions.

To critics, Soulé’s principles sounded more like environmental activism than science. What’s more, not everyone agreed then or now that biodiversity is inherently good.

After all, wild animals can destroy crops and endanger human lives. Contact with nature can lead to disease. And some conservation initiatives have displaced people from their land or prevented development that might otherwise improve people’s lives.

Valuing Nature’s Services

Soulé’s essay spurred many researchers to push for a more science-driven approach to conservation. They sought to directly quantify the value of ecosystems and the roles species played in them. Some scholars focused on calculating the value of ecosystems to humans.

They reached a preliminary conclusion that the total economic value of the world’s ecosystems was worth an average US$33 trillion per year in 1997 dollars. At the time, this was nearly twice the global value of the entire world’s financial markets.

This estimate included services such as predators controlling pests that would otherwise ruin crops; pollinators helping to produce fruits and vegetables; wetlands, mangroves and other natural systems buffering coasts against storms and flooding; oceans providing fish for food; and forests providing lumber and other building materials.

Researchers have refined their estimates of what these benefits are worth, but their central conclusion remains the same: Nature has shockingly high economic value that existing financial markets don’t account for.

Many experts say that conventional economic thinking fails to recognize the cost of damaging nature – but calculating values for biodiversity could change that.

A second group began to quantify the nonmonetary value of nature for human health, happiness and well-being. Studies typically had people take part in outdoor activities, such as strolling through a green space, hiking in the woods or canoeing on a lake. Later, they measured the subjects’ physical or emotional health.

This research found that spending time in nature tended to reduce blood pressure, lower hormones related to stress and anxiety, decrease the probability of depression and improve cognitive function and certain immune functions. People exposed to nature fared better than others who took part in similar activities in nonnatural settings, such as walking through a city.

Losing Species Weakens Ecosystems

A third line of research asked a different question: When ecosystems lose species, can they still function and provide services? This work was driven mainly by experiments where researchers directly manipulated the diversity of different types of organisms in settings ranging from laboratory cultures to greenhouses, plots in fields, forests and coastal areas.

By 2010, scientists had published more than 600 experiments, manipulating over 500 groups of organisms in freshwater, marine and land ecosystems. In a 2012 review of these experiments, colleagues and I found unequivocal evidence that when ecosystems lose biodiversity, they become less efficient, less productive and less stable. And they are less able to deliver many of the services that underlie human well-being.

For example, we found strong evidence that loss of genetic diversity reduced crop yields, and loss of tree diversity reduced the amount of wood that forests produced. We also found evidence that oceans with fewer fish species produced less-reliable catches, and that ecosystems with lower plant diversity were more prone to invasive pests and diseases.

Two photos of lawns, one with one type of grass, the other with multiple grasses and clover.
A standard lawn, at left, is a monoculture that supports very little life. A more mixed, diverse version, at right, offers food for pollinators. woodleywonderworks/FlickrCC BY

We also showed that it was possible to develop robust mathematical models that could predict reasonably well how biodiversity loss would affect certain types of valuable services from ecosystems.

Many Motives For Protecting Nature

For years, I believed that this work had established the value of ecosystems and quantified how biodiversity provided ecosystem services. But I’ve come to realize that other arguments for protecting nature are just as valid, and often more convincing for many people.

I have worked with many people who donate money or land to support conservation. But I’ve never heard anyone say they were doing it because of the economic value of biodiversity or its role in sustaining ecosystem services.

Instead, they’ve shared stories about how they grew up fishing with their father, held family gatherings at a cabin or canoed with someone who was important to them. They wanted to pass on those experiences to their children and grandchildren to preserve familial relationships. Researchers increasingly recognize that such relational values – connections to communities and to specific places – are one of the most common reasons why people choose to conserve nature.

I also know many people who hold deep religious beliefs and are rarely swayed by scientific arguments for conservation. But when Pope Francis published his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’: On Care for Our Common Home and said God’s followers had a moral responsibility to care for his creation, my religious relatives, friends and colleagues suddenly wanted to know about biodiversity loss and what they might do about it.

Surveys show that 85% of the world’s population identifies with a major religion. Leaders of every major religion have published declarations similar to Pope Francis’ encyclical, calling on their followers to be better stewards of Earth. Undoubtedly, a large portion of humanity assigns moral value to nature.

Research clearly shows that nature provides humanity with enormous value. But some people simply believe that other species have a right to exist, or that their religion tells them to be good stewards of Earth. As I see it, embracing these diverse perspectives is the best way to get global buy-in for conserving Earth’s ecosystems and living creatures for the good of all.The Conversation

Bradley J. Cardinale, Department Head, Ecosystem Science and Management, Penn State

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

How do floating wind turbines work? 5 companies just won the first US leases for building them off California’s coast

Matthew LacknerUMass Amherst

Northern California has some of the strongest offshore winds in the U.S., with immense potential to produce clean energy. But it also has a problem. Its continental shelf drops off quickly, making building traditional wind turbines directly on the seafloor costly if not impossible.

Once water gets more than about 200 feet deep – roughly the height of an 18-story building – these “monopile” structures are pretty much out of the question.

A solution has emerged that’s being tested in several locations around the world: wind turbines that float.

In California, where drought has put pressure on the hydropower supply, the state is moving forward on a plan to develop the nation’s first floating offshore wind farms. On Dec. 7, 2022, the federal government auctioned off five lease areas about 20 miles off the California coast to companies with plans to develop floating wind farms. The bids were lower than recent leases off the Atlantic coast, where wind farms can be anchored to the seafloor, but still significant, together exceeding US$757 million.

So, how do floating wind farms work?

Three Main Ways To Float A Turbine

A floating wind turbine works just like other wind turbines – wind pushes on the blades, causing the rotor to turn, which drives a generator that creates electricity. But instead of having its tower embedded directly into the ground or the seafloor, a floating wind turbine sits on a platform with mooring lines, such as chains or ropes, that connect to anchors in the seabed below.

These mooring lines hold the turbine in place against the wind and keep it connected to the cable that sends its electricity back to shore.

Most of the stability is provided by the floating platform itself. The trick is to design the platform so the turbine doesn’t tip too far in strong winds or storms.

An illustration of each in an ocean, showing how lines anchor it to the seafloor.
Three of the common types of floating wind turbine platform. Josh Bauer/NREL

There are three main types of platforms:

  • A spar buoy platform is a long hollow cylinder that extends downward from the turbine tower. It floats vertically in deep water, weighted with ballast in the bottom of the cylinder to lower its center of gravity. It’s then anchored in place, but with slack lines that allow it to move with the water to avoid damage. Spar buoys have been used by the oil and gas industry for years for offshore operations.

  • Semisubmersible platforms have large floating hulls that spread out from the tower, also anchored to prevent drifting. Designers have been experimenting with multiple turbines on some of these hulls.

  • Tension leg platforms have smaller platforms with taut lines running straight to the floor below. These are lighter but more vulnerable to earthquakes or tsunamis because they rely more on the mooring lines and anchors for stability.

Each platform must support the weight of the turbine and remain stable while the turbine operates. It can do this in part because the hollow platform, often made of large steel or concrete structures, provides buoyancy to support the turbine. Since some can be fully assembled in port and towed out for installation, they might be far cheaper than fixed-bottom structures, which require specialty vessels for installation on site.

People stand next to a small wind turbine held by a crane. Just the base is three times higher than a human.
The University of Maine has been experimenting with a small floating wind turbine, about one-eighth scale, on a semisubmersible platform with RWE, one of the winning bidders. AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

Floating platforms can support wind turbines that can produce 10 megawatts or more of power – that’s similar in size to other offshore wind turbines and several times larger than the capacity of a typical onshore wind turbine you might see in a field.

Why Do We Need Floating Turbines?

Some of the strongest wind resources are away from shore in locations with hundreds of feet of water below, such as off the U.S. West Coast, the Great Lakes, the Mediterranean Sea and the coast of Japan.

Map showing offshore wind potential
Some of the strongest offshore wind power potential in the U.S. is in areas where the water is too deep for fixed turbines, including off the West Coast. NREL

The U.S. lease areas auctioned off in early December cover about 583 square miles in two regions – one off central California’s Morro Bay and the other near the Oregon state line. The water off California gets deep quickly, so any wind farm that is even a few miles from shore will require floating turbines.

Once built, wind farms in those five areas could provide about 4.6 gigawatts of clean electricity, enough to power 1.5 million homes, according to government estimates. The winning companies suggested they could produce even more power.

But getting actual wind turbines on the water will take time. The winners of the lease auction will undergo a Justice Department anti-trust review and then a long planning, permitting and environmental review process that typically takes several years.

Maps showing the locations off Moro Bay, north of Santa Barbara, and Eureka, near the Oregon border.
The first five federal lease areas for Pacific coast offshore wind energy development. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Globally, several full-scale demonstration projects with floating wind turbines are already operating in Europe and Asia. The Hywind Scotland project became the first commercial-scale offshore floating wind farm in 2017, with five 6-megawatt turbines supported by spar buoys designed by the Norwegian energy company Equinor.

Equinor Wind US had one of the winning bids off Central California. Another winning bidder was RWE Offshore Wind Holdings. RWE operates wind farms in Europe and has three floating wind turbine demonstration projects. The other companies involved – Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, Invenergy and Ocean Winds – have Atlantic Coast leases or existing offshore wind farms.

While floating offshore wind farms are becoming a commercial technology, there are still technical challenges that need to be solved. The platform motion may cause higher forces on the blades and tower, and more complicated and unsteady aerodynamics. Also, as water depths get very deep, the cost of the mooring lines, anchors and electrical cabling may become very high, so cheaper but still reliable technologies will be needed.

But we can expect to see more offshore turbines supported by floating structures in the near future.

This article was updated with the first lease sale.The Conversation

Matthew Lackner, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, UMass Amherst

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

Sea urchins have invaded Tasmania and Victoria, but we can’t work out what to do with them

Urchin barrens. David HarastiAuthor provided
Neil AndrewUniversity of Wollongong

While crown-of-thorns starfish on the Great Barrier Reef have long been ecological villains in the popular imagination, sea urchins have mostly crawled under the national radar – until now.

Long-spined sea urchins (Centrostephanus rodgersii) have invaded Tasmania and Victoria from their historical range in New South Wales. Where it occurs, this species dominates near-shore reefs to create “barrens habitat”. This is where at high densities sea urchins remove all large brown algae (kelp), and few abalone and other important species for fishers remain.

Both climate change and over-fishing of its main predators have been blamed for the urchin’s southward extension.

This is a central issue in the ongoing Senate inquiry into climate-related marine invasive species, which has brought the challenges and contradictions of managing the marine estate into sharp relief. The inquiry received over 40 diverse and often contradictory submissions.

It’s clear there is little national consensus about the nature of the sea urchin problem, its causes, or what to do about it. In Tasmania and Victoria, policy directions are clear and being implemented. But managing barrens within New South Wales seascapes isn’t as clear cut. Although a single solution may not be clear now, there is a path forward.

Long-spined sea urchin close-up
A long-spined sea urchin. David HarastiAuthor provided

Meet The Long-Spined Sea Urchin

Long-spined sea urchins defend themselves with a menacing armoury of long, hollow spines. By day they are found in crevices or aggregated on the reef, and emerge to forage at night. As with many sea urchins, their roe (unfertilised fish eggs and sperm) is edible and the species is harvested in all three southeastern states.

They begin their lives as minute larvae. Ocean currents carry the larvae to reefs where they settle and grow. Understanding the relative importance of processes that limit them as larvae and as grazing urchins on reefs is crucial to discerning what controls their populations.

In Tasmania and Victoria, the larval supply horse has bolted. Over the last half century, the East Australian Current has pushed further south more often as it eddies into the Tasman Sea. This incursion of warmer water into cooler, southern seas has been attributed to climate change.

Urchin larvae can tolerate a wide temperature range and survive when food is limited, making the species a good coloniser.

Still, in 2009 researchers concluded larval supply was not a sufficient explanation for urchin numbers rising in Tasmania. Rather, they argued the population boomed because a predator, the southern rock lobster (Jasus edwardsii) has been overfished.

More recent research published this year has challenged the notion that southern rock lobster predation limits long-spined sea urchin numbers.

Sea urchins in Tasmania and Victoria are currently managed with a patchwork of diver culling, subsidised sea urchin fisheries and marine reserves. Despite local successes, Centrostephanus populations continue to boom and to expand their geographic spread.

Aerial view of coast
Barrens habitat in Disaster Bay, NSW, showing dominance of barrens habitat (the pale areas) with kelp inshore. BHP TechnologiesAuthor provided

Sea Urchins In NSW

Although it waxes and wanes on local scales, the total area of barrens habitat in NSW has been a relatively stable and prominent feature of reefs for more than 60 years.

But it’s not clear whether the extent of barrens habitat in NSW is “natural” or a long-term artefact of overfishing.

For example, a different lobster, the eastern rock lobster (Sagmariasus verreauxi), has been cited as a missing predator, along with the fabulous eastern blue groper (Achoerodus viridis). Certainly, both lobster and groper eat sea urchins and have historically been overfished, but the evidence for them acting as a controlling influence is weak.

Strong opinions notwithstanding, predatory control of sea urchins in NSW remains an unresolved question for now.

Innovative and committed mitigation programs can make a difference locally. Nevertheless, fishing and/or culling sea urchins has not successfully reduced overall populations in NSW where the geographic range is so large.

Sea urchins, for their part, have just got on with being good echinoderms – colonising, eating and reproducing.

Dense crayweed on a shallow fringing reef in NSW. Nokome BentleyAuthor provided

The Stories We Tell Ourselves And Others

If we can’t settle on what’s driving the long-spined sea urchin boom in Victoria, Tasmania and NSW, then it’s no surprise we’re struggling to agree on how to manage them. As in many fields, this is classically a wicked problem.

If you prioritise conservation values, livelihoods, commercial fisheries or, more fundamentally, First Nations communities’ rights and aspirations, you see the problem differently. And so be guided toward different solutions.

For Traditional Owners and abalone divers, sea urchins impinge on a range of economic, cultural and social values. For others, black sea urchins are a natural and important element of the ecosystem.

Along with diverse and incompatible views, legal instruments to manage the marine estate, First Nations rights, and fisheries overlap, further defying simple solutions.

For example, the NSW Fisheries Management Act has traditionally focused on the sustainability of fisheries, while the NSW Marine Estate Management Act has a much broader focus than harvesting marine species.

The urchins may be seen as a symptom rather than a cause of a suite of ecological, institutional and political problems. These larger issues include climate change, marginalisation and lack of voice, conflicting worldviews, and institutional paralysis.

A Way Forward For NSW

The Senate inquiry should prompt new ways to manage the marine estate. We need a form of transparent, flexible and inclusive governance, consistent with fisheries and other legislation.

Structured management experiments to manage the marine estate, including sea urchins, should be implemented in small zones to learn how reefs respond to different management.

A diverse range of people should be brought together to design and implement such experiments. As examples of what may be considered as interventions:

  • the urchin fishery should be co-managed with abalone to optimise yields, maximising profitability rather than environmental sustainability

  • the abalone industry should be enabled and supported to cull sea urchins and otherwise fish in ways that boost productivity

  • First Nations communities should be enabled and supported to manage Sea Country

  • and Marine Sanctuary Zones should be monitored, not fished.

Shifting the centre of gravity of managing the issue to those most affected and with the greatest experience creates an opportunity for collaboration. This means marine estate managers, industry, and First Nations peoples need to be at the forefront. Researchers have important, but secondary roles, in monitoring and evaluation.

Although solutions may not be clear now, they will emerge as shared understanding evolves into common purpose. This is difficult work, but in a quote Sir Peter Medawar ascribes to philosopher Thomas Hobbes, “there can be no contentment but in proceeding”.The Conversation

Neil Andrew, Professor of fisheries and international development, University of Wollongong

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

COP15: three visions for protecting nature on the table at the UN biodiversity conference

Kurit Afshen/Shutterstock
Harriet BulkeleyDurham University

With the dust still settling on the UN climate change summit in Egypt, another round of international talks is beginning in Montreal, Canada. The UN biodiversity conference, otherwise known as COP15, will assemble world leaders to agree on new targets for protecting nature.

The loss of biodiversity – the dizzying variety of life forms from microscopic viruses, bacteria and fungi to towering trees and enormous whales – is accelerating. The last agreement in 2010 yielded the 20 Aichi targets which included halving the rate at which species were being lost and expanding protected habitats on land and in the sea by 2020. Governments failed to meet a single one.

global assessment in 2019 showed that nature was declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history. The forces driving more and more species towards extinction – climate change, habitat destruction and pollution – are all trending in the wrong direction. Nothing less than a transformation of how societies work and the relationship between people and the rest of nature will get us on track.

After two years of delay due to the pandemic and difficulties negotiating a new venue with the country that holds the conference presidency, China, many are relieved that COP15 is happening at all. That relief may prove short-lived as there is much to be done in these two short weeks. The grand objective is the approval of a new global biodiversity framework, essentially a plan for how the world’s nations expect to halt the loss of biodiversity and ensure that, by 2050, society is living in harmony with nature.

Bare ground strewn with branches and tree stumps with tropical forest in the distance.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon broke records in the first half of 2022. Paralaxis/Shutterstock

30% By 2030

One debate which has dominated discussions so far is how much land and sea should be set aside for conservation. The current text aims for 30% by 2030. Some scientists believe this is insufficient, and that preserving half the Earth for nature is necessary. Others are wary of reviving failed ideas which have tried to boost wildlife by expelling people and erecting walls to keep them out.

Negotiators will debate whether a 30x30 target should be met at the national level or globally. The former would mean each country meeting this standard within its own borders. The latter would prioritise Earth’s most important areas of biodiversity (such as tropical rainforests) but oblige countries with large remaining wildernesses (overwhelmingly in developing countries) to shoulder the lion’s share of conservation work. Many poorer countries foresee this stopping their economic development.

There is also disagreement over what level of protection should be given to these areas and how the rights of people living within them should be recognised. These plans would require a doubling of protected areas on land and perhaps as much as a tenfold increase in the oceans. But they could exclude indigenous people and those who make their living from cultivation, forestry and fishing.

Less Emissions, Less Meat, Less Waste

Instead of concentrating on the total area reserved for nature, recent research highlights the importance of addressing the underlying causes of extinctions and habitat loss, such as greenhouse gas emissions, meat consumption and plastic pollution.

Targeting the processes driving biodiversity loss would shift attention away from where nature is being destroyed to the places where these processes are guided and sustained: boardrooms, trading floors, local planning offices and supermarkets.

The framework under negotiation includes several targets that would restrain the destruction, from eliminating policies subsidising the conversion of forest to cow pasture to halving food waste. These have failed to attract the momentum behind flashier goals like the 30x30 target. Changing how economies and societies function is more contentious and asks more from rich countries with more influence over the drivers of biodiversity loss.

Safeguard Nature’s Services

Yet another approach would safeguard the services nature generates, including flood protection, wood fuel, climate regulation and food provision. And it would identify the natural assets (wetlands, forests, coral reefs and mangroves to name a few) that must endure for these services to continue. This would mean protecting nature close to where it is most needed. A staggering 6.1 billion people live within one hour of such assets.

Good COP Or Bad COP?

While everyone gathering in Montreal agrees that a breakthrough is needed, there are different ideas about what that should look like. For many seasoned conservationists, a good outcome will mean more stringent targets for protecting and restoring nature and more expansive protected areas, plus the money and other resources necessary to enforce them.

Businesses, investors, cities, regional governments and the communities they represent want an agreement that mobilises the whole of society. Some companies have asked that all businesses be forced to report the impacts their activities have on nature. Cities and regions have their own pledges and have asked COP15 to formally recognise their role in delivering national plans.

This could bring the protection and restoration of nature into mainstream thinking around how economies develop and societies are organised, and make the case that much of what is important about nature is not to be found on the other side of a fence. This trend is evident in growing enthusiasm around nature-based solutions to climate change.

The recent UN climate summit in Egypt heralded the potential of such solutions, which include restoring peatlands and seagrass beds. These actions tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis together by expanding refuge for wildlife and drawing carbon from the air. Cities, businesses and investors smell an opportunity to meet multiple measures of sustainable development at once.

Some conservationists worry these supposed solutions are greenwashing and allow companies to exploit indigenous people and communities. Other experts argue that, with the right safeguards in place, these fears can be put to rest.

With much at stake, in seeking to straddle different agendas, COP15 risks achieving none.

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Harriet Bulkeley, Professor of Geography, Durham University

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

Loss, decay and bleaching: why sponges may be the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for impacts of marine heatwaves

Author providedCC BY-ND
James BellTe Herenga Waka — Victoria University of WellingtonNick ShearsUniversity of Auckland, and Robert SmithUniversity of Otago

Marine sponges were thought to be more resilient to ocean warming than other organisms. But earlier this year, New Zealand recorded the largest-ever sponge bleaching event off its southern coastline.

While only one species, the cup sponge Cymbastella lamellata, was affected, a prolonged marine heatwave turned millions of the normally dark brown sponges bright white.

A bleached, bone white (left) and unbleached, brown (right) cup sponge Cymbastella lamellata.
A bleached (left) and healthy (right) cup sponge Cymbastella lamellata. Valerio Micaroni and Francesca StranoCC BY-ND

Subsequently, we reported tissue loss, decay and death of other sponge species across the northern coastline of New Zealand, with an estimated impact on hundreds of thousands of specimens. In contrast, we didn’t observe any bleaching or tissue loss in central areas of New Zealand’s coastline, despite extensive surveys.

Our latest research shows the most severe impacts on sponges occurred in areas where the marine heatwave was most intense. The loss of sponges may have major repercussions for the whole ecosystem.

Why Should We Care About Sponges?

Sponges are among the most ancient and abundant animals on rocky reefs across the world. In New Zealand, they occupy up to 70% of the available seafloor, particularly in so-called mesophotic ecosystems at depths of 30-150m.

They serve a number of important ecological functions. They filter large quantities of water, capturing small food particles and moving carbon from the water column to the seafloor where it can be eaten by bottom-dwelling invertebrates. These invertebrates in turn are consumed by organisms further up the food chain, including commercially and culturally important fish species.

Sponges also add three-dimensional complexity to the sea floor, which provides habitat for a range of other species such as crabs, shrimps and starfish.

Sponge reefs, showing different types of sponges.
Typical sponge reefs from Northland, New Zealand. Author providedCC BY-SA

Sponge Bleaching, Tissue Loss And Decay

Like corals, sponges contain symbiotic organisms thought to be critical to their survival. Cymbastella lamellata is unusual in that it hosts dense populations of diatoms, small single-celled photosynthetic plants that give the sponge its brown colour.

These diatoms live within the sponge tissue, exchanging food for protection. When the sponge bleaches, it expels the diatoms, leaving the sponge skeleton exposed.

Tissue loss occurs when sponges are stressed and either have to invest more energy into cell repair or when their food source is depleted and they reabsorb their own tissue to reduce body volume and reallocate resources.

Tissue decay or necrosis on the other hand is generally associated with changes in the microbial communities living within sponges and growth of pathogenic bacteria.

Bleaching, tissue loss and decay in sponges have all previously been associated with heat stress, but didn’t necessarily result in sponge death. In other places where such impacts have been observed, they were much more localised, compared to what we saw in New Zealand.

The Impact Of Marine Heat Waves

Marine heatwaves are defined as unusual periods of warming that last for five consecutive days or longer. Some can last from weeks to several months and extend over hundreds or thousands of kilometres of coastline.

The sponge bleaching and tissue loss or decay in New Zealand matched the duration and intensity of marine heatwaves to the north and south of New Zealand during the summer of 2021/2022. The Hauraki Gulf, where sponge necrosis and decay was reported, was in a continuous marine heatwave for 29 weeks from November 2021 to the end of May 2022, with a maximum intensity of 3.77℃ above normal.

A graph showing the 2021/22 heatwave in the Hauraki Gulf.
Sea surface temperature in the Hauraki Gulf over the past 12 months (thin line). Red shading appears when temperatures are above the marine heatwave threshold. Moana ProjectCC BY-SA

In Fiordland, a prolonged marine heatwave developed in early February 2022 and persisted for more than 16 weeks into May, with a maximum intensity of 4.85℃ above normal temperatures. In contrast, the Wellington and Marlborough Sounds regions experienced only short (weeks) marine heatwaves with a lower intensity and we did not observe any impacts on sponges.

These extreme heat events can result from a combination of changes in the heat exchange between the air and the sea, wind patterns and ocean currents. Their likelihood is also influenced by large-scale climate patterns such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

What The Future May Hold

Most global research on climate change impacts has focused on experimental studies exposing organism to temperatures predicted for 2100, often 2-4℃ higher than current temperatures. But the occurrence of marine heatwaves means organisms are already experiencing these temperatures, sometimes for several weeks or months. By 2100, marine heatwaves will become even more extreme.

For bleached Cymbastella, recent anecdotal reports suggest many sponges have recovered their colour, which is good news. However, observations immediately after the bleaching indicate many sponges were being eaten by fish, possibly because their symbionts may provide chemical defences against predation.

For bleached corals, studies have shown impacts on spawning success for many years after the event, likely because their energy reserves have been depleted.

We don’t yet know if this is the case for sponges. For sponges with decayed tissue the outlook is even less clear, as many probably died.

A brown sponge with holes showing wheer it's being eaten.
This sponge (Cymbastella lamellata) has been partially eaten. Author providedCC BY-SA

Sponges are not the only species to be affected by marine heatwaves New Zealand experienced in 2021/2022. There were reports of seaweed die-offs and changes to normal distribution patterns of tuna and other ecologically and commercially important fish species.

Marine heatwaves should be front of mind when thinking about climate impacts. They are happening now, not in 50 years, and we don’t know enough yet to determine if sponges may be the canary in the coal mine.

This is especially important because New Zealand’s northern coastlines are already experiencing almost continuous marine heatwave conditions, with the ongoing event forecast to extend into the coming summer.The Conversation

James Bell, Professor of Marine Biology, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of WellingtonNick Shears, Associate Professor in Marine Science, University of Auckland, and Robert Smith, Lecturer, University of Otago

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

China-backed dam in Indonesia threatens a rare great ape – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg

James Askew/SOCP handout
Divya NarainThe University of Queensland

In 2017, scientists described a new species of great apes – the Tapanuli orangutan. The species, found in the Batang Toru ecosystem of North Sumatara, Indonesia was listed as critically endangered soon after.

The population of the species has declined by 83% over the past 75 years, largely due to hunting and habitat loss. Just 800 Tapanuli orangutans remain – and their last known habitat is threatened by a slew of infrastructure projects.

Chief among them is the Chinese-funded Batang Toru hydropower dam, which threatens to fragment and submerge a large chunk of the orangutan’s habitat. The project is just one of a staggering 49 hydropower dams China is funding: mostly across Southeast Asia, but also in Africa and Latin America.

In new research, my colleagues and I show the substantial risk to biodiversity posed by the sheer number of Chinese-funded dams. And yet, environmental regulation of these projects has serious flaws.

A river in mountain landscape
China is funding 49 overseas hydropower dams, including on Pakistan’s Indus River, pictured.

Big Dams, Big Risks

Hydropower is expected to be an important part of the global renewable energy transition. But the technology brings environmental risks. Dams disrupt the flow of rivers, altering species’ habitat. And dam reservoirs inundate and fragment habitats on land.

Traditionally, financing of hydropower projects in low-income countries was the preserve of Western-backed multilateral development banks. China has now emerged as the biggest international financier of hydropower under its overseas infrastructure investment program, the Belt and Road Initiative.

Yet little is known about the scale of China’s hydropower financing or the biodiversity risks it brings. Whether adequate safeguards are applied to the projects by Chinese and host country regulators is also poorly understood. Our research attempted to remedy this.

We found China is funding 49 hydropower dams in 18 countries including Myanmar, Laos and Pakistan.

The dams are likely to impede the flow of 14 free-flowing rivers, imperilling the species they harbour. The first dam on a free-flowing river is akin to the proverbial “first cut” of a road into an intact forest ecosystem, causing disproportionate harms to biodiversity.

We also found Chinese-funded dams overlap with the geographic ranges of 12 critically endangered freshwater fish species, including the iconic Mekong Giant Catfish and the world’s largest carp species, the Giant Barb. The dams exacerbate the threats to these species and may push them closer to extinction.

Almost 135 square kilometres of critical habitat on land is also likely to be inundated and fragmented by the dams and their reservoirs.

man looks at giant catfish
Chinese-funded dams overlap with the geographic ranges of the critically endangered Mekong Giant Catfish. Zeb Hogan/EPA

Lax Environmental Rules

Despite the biodiversity risks, we found serious gaps in the environmental rules applied to Chinese-funded dams.

previous analysis found six Chinese state-owned banks – which together contribute most financing for Belt and Road projects – had no safeguard standards to limit biodiversity damage.

Complementing this analysis, our investigation found Chinese regulators also did not require hydropower projects to mitigate environmental damage. Some regulator policies, however, contained non-binding guidelines.

A number of Chinese government policies defer to host country laws on environmental protection. But our investigation found in most countries where the dams are being built, regulation to limit environmental harms was absent or still developing.

This poor governance leaves species and ecosystems in these countries vulnerable to environmental damage from dams.

A Spotlight On Sumatra

The Batang Toru dam aims to bolster North Sumatra’s energy supplies. Its proponents say the dam uses environmentally-friendly technology that requires only a small area to be flooded.

Two multilateral development banks, however, distanced themselves from the project after concerns were raised about potential impact on the Tapanuli orangutan. The Chinese state-owned Bank of China also withdrew its finance offer after international protests. Chinese financier SDIC Power Holdings then stepped in to fund it.

Habitat destruction has confined the few remaining Tapanuli orangutans to a fragmented 1,400 square kilometre tract of rainforest in North Sumatra. Scientists say the Batang Toru dam further threatens this habitat.

Constructing the dam requires digging a tunnel in an area where most Tapanuli orangutans live. Experts also say the project will permanently isolate sub-populations of the species, increasing the risk of extinction.

The case illustrates the potential destruction hydropower projects can cause in the absence of appropriate planning and safeguards.

small house on riverbank at night
The Batang Toru dam aims to bolster North Sumatra’s energy supplies. Pictured: a house on a riverbank near the project. EPA/DEDI SINUHAJI

Need For Holistic Planning

The sheer number of Chinese-funded dams presents significant biodiversity risks. It also presents an opportunity.

China is funding several hydropower projects in single river basins. This puts it in an advantageous position to carry out “basin-scale planning”.

This involves making decisions about dams not based solely on an individual project, but by considering it in the context of other projects within the basin, as well as in the broader context of communities and the environment.

This type of planning also means dams can be configured to have the least impact on critically endangered species, and other irreplaceable and vulnerable biodiversity elements.

Such “system scale” planning is a key recommendation of international initiatives such as the World Commission on Dams and the European Union’s Water Framework Directive.

It also involves determining whether a proposed dam is the best way to meet energy needs, or if alternatives – such as wind or solar – could do so with lower environmental risks.

In the case of the Batang Toru dam, a 2020 report by a leading international consulting firm found the dam would not “materially improve access to nor the regularity of power supply” in North Sumatra, which in fact had a power surplus.

Given the huge damage dams can cause to biodiversity, it is crucial that only those dams that are really needed get built – and any associated damage is minimised.

The many Chinese-funded dams on the horizon must undergo rigorous vetting if serious biodiversity damage is to be averted. The Conversation

Divya Narain, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland

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

Clashing laws need to be fixed if we want to live in bushfire-prone areas

Phillipa McCormackUniversity of Adelaide

It’s almost bushfire season. Yes, even though floods are still racing through parts of eastern Australia. Fire conditions are above average including in inland New South Wales and Queensland.

When we switch back to a neutral or El Niño climate cycle, our fire risk will likely intensify, given the huge vegetation growth during these rainy years.

As we prepare for the next major fire season, it’s vital we take a close look at our laws. Why? Because these laws can clash in ways that make it harder for us to prepare.

Governments have always struggled to balance laws protecting nature with laws protecting us from bushfire.

In recent years, planning laws have been changed to make it easier to fell trees and clear vegetation to keep our homes safe. Some of these came out of the review of Victoria’s catastrophic 2009 Black Saturday fires, where many houses nestled in bush burned. But these changes to the rules about clearing native vegetation can also make it harder for us to preserve habitat – and can give us a false sense of security, encouraging us to settle deeper and deeper into the fire-prone bush.

house in blue mountains
Many people love living in the bush - but it comes with risks. Our bushfire laws are aimed at reducing risk to us - sometimes at the expense of nature. Shutterstock

Why Do Laws Matter For Bushfire Preparation?

My colleagues and I recently mapped out Australia’s legal “anatomy” for fire. By anatomy, we mean all the different parts of the legal framework, including those that affect fire preparation.

Why? To optimise our system of laws to be ready for the ever-more-intense fires expected as the world heats up.

Here’s what a clash looks like. It’s now common to undertake prescribed burns and burn vegetation to reduce fuel loads and reduce the chances of a major bushfire.

But prescribed fires cause smoke. Fire agencies must comply with smoke pollution laws designed to keep vulnerable people safe. These two different risks – bushfire, and smoke-related illness – are managed under two different areas of law. Finding the balance is really hard.

We already know our environmental laws are failing to adequately protect nature.

Bushfires add to this as a serious and growing threat to our distinctive wildlife and ecosystems. The Black Summer megafires of 2019–20 killed huge numbers of animals and pushed many species closer to extinction, including mountain pygmy possums, native bees and rare frogs.

As fire seasons worsen and get longer over coming decades, fire agencies and local governments will be called on to clear and manage fuel loads – essentially, trees, plants and leaf litter – close to communities in the bush.

leaf litter
Leaf litter and fallen trees are fire hazards - and habitat. Shutterstock

You can see the issue. Bushfire fuel is also habitat. Our international and domestic obligations to protect threatened species and habitats will come into increasing conflict with the need to preserve our settlements and farms.

Better, clearer laws would help balance these issues. Last year, the Victorian government announced plans to make bushfire planning provisions clearer and more understandable. Reviews like this should clarify where homes can and can’t be safely built, as well as preventing development in sensitive habitat.

Laws Around Fire Need To Be Considered Separately

Emergency planners often group floods, storms and bushfires under the blanket term “all hazards”. This is done to help emergency services to plan efficient and coordinated responses to all kinds of extreme events.

We believe laws about fire also deserve specific attention, particularly in Australia, where many of our ecosystems have evolved alongside fire. Not all fire is equal and not all fires are emergencies.

In fact, laws governing protected areas in some states actually require parks agencies to use fire as a conservation tool. Using fire carefully is front and centre in the new plan to look after Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Not only that, but some areas need small fires lit in a mosaic pattern. Why? To encourage moorland plants to put out the flowers and seeds the critically endangered orange-bellied parrot relies on.

Or take the growing importance of cultural fire management and traditional land management. Victoria’s cultural fire strategy describes cultural burning as a “responsibility” and an example of “living knowledge”, but not as an emergency.

Some laws, like arson, only apply to fire. There’s no equivalent crime for floods. Improving arson prevention could help cut the estimated A$1.6 billion in damages annually from fires being lit deliberately.

While arson is not as common as it used to be, cutting arson further will reduce the number of fires Australian firefighters have to respond to.

We Have To Make Laws Intersect Better

In the wake of destructive and lethal fires come the reviews and inquiries, which often recommend changes to emergency management laws.

These post-disaster inquiries also often recommend streamlining rules around native vegetation, to let landholders clear more trees and shrubs around their houses. That’s understandable, because these inquiries are intended to find lessons.

But if we look across the whole range of laws governing or touching on fire, we might find new ways to help us adapt.

Over the last century, Australian governments have launched hundreds of inquiries and commissions after major bushfires.

We don’t need to wait for the next fire and inquiry. We can find ways of optimising our web of intersecting laws right now – and prepare ourselves and nature for what is to come.

My co-authors Professors Jan McDonald and David Bowman, Associate Professor Michael Eburn, Dr Stuart Little and Dr Rebecca Harris contributed to the research on which this article is based.The Conversation

Phillipa McCormack, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Adelaide

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

New food technologies could release 80% of the world’s farmland back to nature

Patrick Ziegler / shutterstock
Chris D ThomasUniversity of YorkJack HatfieldUniversity of York, and Katie NobleUniversity of York

Here’s the basic problem for conservation at a global level: food production, biodiversity and carbon storage in ecosystems are competing for the same land. As humans demand more food, so more forests and other natural ecosystems are cleared, and farms intensify and become less hospitable to many wild animals and plants. Therefore global conservation, currently focused on the COP15 summit in Montreal, will fail unless it addresses the underlying issue of food production.

Fortunately, a whole raft of new technologies is being developed that make a system-wide revolution in food production feasible. According to recent research by one of us (Chris), this transformation could meet increased global food demands by a growing human population on less than 20% of the world’s existing farmland. Or in other words, these technologies could release at least 80% of existing farmland from agriculture in about a century.

Around four-fifths of the land used for human food production is allocated to meat and dairy, including both range lands and crops specifically grown to feed livestock. Add up the whole of India, South Africa, France and Spain and you have the amount of land devoted to crops that are then fed to livestock.

Tractors in a large field
Brazil’s enormous soy farms mostly produce food for animals, not humans. lourencolf / shutterstock

Despite growing numbers of vegetarians and vegans in some countries, global meat consumption has increased by more than 50% in the past 20 years and is set to double this century. As things stand, producing all that extra meat will mean either converting even more land into farms, or cramming even more cows, chickens and pigs into existing land. Neither option is good for biodiversity.

Chart of land use per 100g of protein for different foods
Beef and lamb might contain plenty of protein but they use vast amounts of land. OurWorldInData (data: Poore & Nemecek (2018))CC BY-SA

Meat and dairy production is already an unpleasant business. For instance, most chickens are grown in high-density feeding operations, and pork, beef and especially dairy farming is going the same way. Current technologies are cruel, polluting and harmful to biodiversity and the climate – don’t be misled by cartoons of happy cows with daisies protruding from their lips.

Unless food production is tackled head-on, we are left resisting inevitable change, often with no hope of long-term success. We need to tackle the cause of biodiversity change. The principal global approach to climate change is to focus on the cause and minimise greenhouse gas emissions, not to manufacture billions of parasols (though we may need these too). The same is required for biodiversity.

So, How Can We Do This?

Cellular agriculture provides an alternative, and could be one of this century’s most promising technological advancements. Sometimes called “lab-grown food”, the process involves growing animal products from real animal cells, rather than growing actual animals.

If growing meat or milk from animal cells sounds strange or icky to you, let’s put this into perspective. Imagine a brewery or cheese factory: a sterile facility filled with metal vats, producing large volumes of beer or cheese, and using a variety of technologies to mix, ferment, clean and monitor the process. Swap the barley or milk for animal cells and this same facility becomes a sustainable and efficient producer of dairy or meat products.

Animal cruelty would be eliminated and, with no need for cows wandering around in fields, the factory would take up far less space to produce the same amount of meat or milk.

Industrial machinery
The cultivation room at California-based Upside Foods which uses cellular agriculture to produce meat. David Kay / Upside Foods

Other emerging technologies include microbial protein production, where bacteria use energy derived from solar panels to convert carbon dioxide and nitrogen and other nutrients into carbohydrates and proteins. This could generate as much protein as soybeans but in just 7% of the area. These could then be used as protein food additives (a major use of soy) and animal feed (including for pets).

It is even possible to generate sugars and carbohydrates using desalination or through extracting CO₂ from the atmosphere, all without ever passing through a living plant or animal. The resulting sugars are chemically the same as those derived from plants but would be generated in a tiny fraction of the area required by conventional crops.

What To Do With Old Farmland

These new technologies can have a huge impact even if demand keeps growing. Even though Chris’s research is based on the assumption that global meat consumption will double, it nonetheless suggests that at least 80% of farmland could be released to be used for something else.

That land might become nature reserves or be used to store carbon, for example, in forests or the waterlogged soils of peat bogs. It could be used to grow sustainable building materials, or simply to produce more human-edible crops, among other uses.

Gone too will be industrial livestock systems that produce huge volumes of manure, bones, blood, guts, antibiotics and growth hormones. Thereafter, any remaining livestock farming could be carried out in a compassionate manner.

Cows in a forest
Longhorn cattle on a rewilding project in England: if we got most of our protein and carbs through new technologies, this sort of compassionate and wildlife-friendly farming could be scaled up. Chris ThomasAuthor provided

Since there would be less pressure on the land, there would be less need for chemicals and pesticides and crop production could become more wildlife-friendly (global adoption of organic farming is not feasible at present because it is less productive). This transition must be coupled with a full transition towards renewable energy as the new technologies require lots of power.

Converting these technologies into mass-market production systems will of course be tricky. But a failure to do so is likely to lead to ever-increasing farming intensity, escalating numbers of confined animals, and even more lost nature.

Avoiding this fate – and achieving the 80% farmland reduction – will require a lot of political will and a cultural acceptance of these new forms of food. It will require economic and political “carrots” such as investment, subsidies and tax breaks for desirable technologies, and “sticks” such as increased taxation and removal of subsidies for harmful technologies. Unless this happens, biodiversity targets will continue to be missed, COP after COP.

Imagine weekly climate newsletter

Don’t have time to read about climate change as much as you’d like?
Get a weekly roundup in your inbox instead. Every Wednesday, The Conversation’s environment editor writes Imagine, a short email that goes a little deeper into just one climate issue. Join the 10,000+ readers who’ve subscribed so far.The Conversation

Chris D Thomas, Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Anthropocene Biodiversity, University of YorkJack Hatfield, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Leverhulme Centre for Anthropocene Biodiversity, University of York, and Katie Noble, PhD Candidate at the Leverhulme Center for Anthropocene Biodiversity, University of York

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
A Walk Around The Cromer Side Of Narrabeen Lake by Joe Mills
America Bay Track Walk - photos by Joe Mills
An Aquatic June: North Narrabeen - Turimetta - Collaroy photos by Joe Mills 
Angophora Reserve  Angophora Reserve Flowers Grand Old Tree Of Angophora Reserve Falls Back To The Earth - History page
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
Seagull Pair At Turimetta Beach: Spring Is In The Air!
Stapleton Reserve
Stapleton Park Reserve In Spring 2020: An Urban Ark Of Plants Found Nowhere Else
Stony Range Regional Botanical Garden: Some History On How A Reserve Became An Australian Plant Park
The Chiltern Track
The Resolute Beach Loop Track At West Head In Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park by Kevin Murray
Topham Track Ku-Ring-Gai Chase NP,  August 2022 by Joe Mills and 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 -

Bilgola Plateau Probus Christmas Party 

Our Xmas party on 2 Dec at The Glasshouse, Pittwater RSL had 40 attendees.

We next meet on 3 Feb 2023 and welcome interest to join. We have gone from 7 members in Sept when we formed, to 58 and growing.

To find out more, please visit: Bilgola Plateau Probus Club


Pittwater Probus Club Celebrates 40th Anniversary

50 members and partners of Pittwater Mens Probus celebrated the club’s 40th birthday on Tuesday December 13th at Mona Vale Surf Club. Local Member, Rob Stokes proposed the toast to the club prior to the ceremonial cutting of the cake.

The inaugural meeting was attended by 12 members on Tuesday 13th January 1981 at Pittwater RSL Club and was established as a men’s club which it is today. The first President was George R Cockburn. He and his fellow members ran the club very formally with the Minutes of Meeting duly handwritten into the minute book.

For over 20 years the club held its meetings at the Mona Vale Golf Club, but Covid put an end to that. The club now enjoys the beautiful setting of the new Mona Vale Surf Club for its monthly meetings.

The club today is quite different in how it functions compared to those early days but continues to maintain an environment of fun, friendship and fellowship first established back in 1981. It has a dedicated activity program with a recent group trip to Orange visiting all the local landmarks.

The club is actively seeking new members. If interested, please contact Terry Larke on 0412 220 820 or attend a meeting at 10 00 am on the second Tuesday of the month at Mona Vale Surf Club. You will be made welcome.

Geoff Sheppard
President, Pittwater Probus Club

Photos: Michael Mannington OAM, Community Photography

Home Care Package Charges Change From January 1st

A reminder that changes are coming to Home Care Package charges on 1 January 2023. The Australian Government states the changes will bring more transparency to how providers charge and set limits on care and package management prices.

The aim is to reduce excessive charges and improve your ability to compare prices between providers.

If you receive a Home Care Package, the below article outlines what the changes are and how this impacts you.

What is changing?
From 1 January 2023 there will be set limits on what providers can charge you for care and package management.

In addition, providers will no longer be able to charge you:
  • exit charges
  • additional costs for third-party goods or services
  • package management charges in a month (except for the first month of care) where you do not receive services other than care management.
For details about the above changes, see the Home Care Packages Pricing Update fact sheet on the Department of Health and Aged Care website.

How does this affect your Home Care Package?
Most Home Care Package providers already charge less than the new limits for care and package management. If this is the case with your provider, you won’t see changes to these charges.

However, if your provider is charging above the new limits, they will need to reduce their prices from 1 January 2023.

Some providers may need to adjust their pricing models to remove exit charges and additional costs for third-party goods or services. This may mean there are some reasonable increases in service charges. But it ultimately ensures that you only ever pay the published price – with no hidden charges.

What do you need to do?
If your provider needs to lower their care and package management charges, they must let you know. You do not need to do anything to receive these lower charges.

If your provider increases their prices, they must seek your consent before doing so. You have the right to understand all charges and what they mean.

Your provider must clearly explain their price increase, including:
  • what is changing
  • why it needs to change
  • what the new price will include
  • when the new price will start.
Learn more
For more information about these changes and what to do if you have concerns, see the Home Care Packages Pricing Update fact sheet on the Department of Health and Aged Care website.

Seniors Call For Reforms

December 8, 2022
National Seniors’ submission to the Employment White Paper has called on the government to adopt policies that support workforce participation throughout a person’s life, boosting income and savings in later life.  

Workforce shortages are not going to be solved by immigration alone, so we need to simplify the tax and transfer system to boost participation. Critically, this will also increase tax revenue to pay for health, aged care, and other social services.  

Our call to simplify payment rules is consistent with our submission to the Retirement Income Review in February 2020.

In both submissions, we ask the government to recognise work as a key pillar of the retirement income system, with material outcomes for the health and well-being of older Australians.  

Because superannuation balances are directly dependent on employment participation and earnings capacity, we must address the barriers to workforce participation if we are going to make the system fairer.  

With Australia facing one of its worst workforce crises in decades, the government has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform payment rules for all Australians to boost workforce participation and with it, the income and wealth of older Australians.  

Job crisis continues
Almost half a million job vacancies are dragging business and economic growth down and fuelling a cost-of-living crisis. The hardest hit sectors include health care and social assistance, mining, agriculture, hospitality, and tourism.  

Rightly, the Terms of Reference guiding the Employment White Paper singles out the care economy as one in critical danger of failure. Difficulties attracting and retaining staff in aged, disability, health and childcare have grown significantly since the first COVID-19 outbreak. These are unlikely to ease any time soon, even as migration picks up.  

Older Australians on the cusp of relying on aged care services will be understandably nervous about their prospects of getting the services they desperately need.  

Equally, sectors such as agriculture continue to face difficulties getting workers to pick fruit and harvest other crops, which puts pressure on food prices and affect supply and export earnings. 

That is why the white paper process is so critical and why the government must adopt bold policy changes to get Australians back to work.  
Options for change
National Seniors’ submission discussed the costs and benefits of a range of policy options, recommending that action be taken to reform the government payment income test rules as the most practical solution.  

Unfortunately, people receiving Centrelink payments are punished if they work, creating one of the biggest sources of inequality in Australia.  

To fix this we must “let people work.”  

We propose government adopt a simple, elegant policy to help all Australians on low incomes or with limited savings get out of poverty by increasing their workforce participation.  

We can do this by allowing aged pensioners, students, veterans, job seekers, carers, and disability pensions the right to work and pay taxes.  

Those eligible should receive a lower income test taper rate of 32.5 cents in the dollar on their Centrelink payment when they work (rather than 50 cents in the dollar or 60c in the dollar as is the case for some).  

Ideally, this would act as tax withheld with no ongoing reporting of income required, with taxes being balanced by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) at the end of the financial year.  

As modelling conducted by Deloitte has shown, this policy would be cost-neutral if only 8.3 per cent of pensioners worked or worked more, and we would expect similar results for other payment recipients.  

This is not a universal basic income nor a universal pension. It is a universal right to work by providing an incentive for those who live in or are close to poverty, including pensioners.  

As the Prime Minister and others often say, those in need “need a hand up, not a handout.”

Other options
While our preference is to apply the new 32.5 cents in the dollar rate as tax withheld, this could alternatively be offered as a taper rate reduction, with recipients still required to report their earnings, helping to smooth the transition between payments and work.  

A third option is to provide only the 32.5 per cent income test taper rate reduction to workers in the care and agriculture sectors, where there are higher proportions of workers and critical labour force shortages.  

A fourth policy option put forward in the submission is for a dedicated mature age traineeship scheme to boost workers in home care using money redirected from the failed Restart mature age subsidy.  

Good economic sense
Boosting workforce participation among the mature aged alone will reap enormous economic benefits.  

As the Deloitte report "The Grey Army Advances", written by respected economist Chris Richardson found, if we increase the over-55 participation rates by 5 per cent, it would add $48b to Australia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Given we have a tax-to-GDP ratio of around 23 per cent, this represents an additional $11b a year of revenue for the Commonwealth.  

If our participation rate (66.5 per cent) was like New Zealand's (71.7 per cent), the rate of pension poverty would halve, tax receipts would be boosted by tens of billions annually, and the 500,000 job vacancies would be filled.  

As Minister Rishworth said when announcing the latest changes to the Work Bonus, “It is a win for pensioners, businesses, and the government. It demonstrates a clear ability to listen." 

We are glad the government is continuing to listen. We hope our input to this White Paper provides practical evidence-based policies for the May 2023 Budget.  

These policies will help businesses prosper, help the government balance the books and help those in need fight off poverty. 

An Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Voice To Parliament

In COTA NSW’s 2021 research on what older people think about current issues, a resounding 81.7% of respondents believed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be recognised in the Australian constitution. This is backed up by a Griffith University study in which a majority of Australians support a First Nations voice to parliament in some form.

The proposal is to have an elected body of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that would sit outside (or alongside) parliament and advise on policies and laws affecting their people and communities. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would be involved in the law-making process rather than politicians and public servants deciding what is best for them.

There are two different ideas on how this might occur. The government could simply legislate it, without the need for a referendum. However, the current Australian constitution does not acknowledge the occupancy of Australia by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, or their rights.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people therefore support changes to the Australian Constitution which would recognise the country’s original occupants and enshrine their voice in parliament. Griffith’s research showed there is also more support for this option in the general community than the legislative one.

In the light of this, the COTA NSW Board has endorsed the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The Uluru Statement is a call by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for real and practical change through the establishment of a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to undertake the process or treaty-making and truth-telling.

COTA NSW calls on all sides of politics to support an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice to parliament and a referendum to change the Australian constitution. This will enable all of us to move forward in addressing past injustices and promoting a spirit of healing, truth telling and respect with our country’s first inhabitants.

Joan Hughes
President, COTA NSW

Lots of ‘breakthroughs’, still no cure. Do the new dementia drugs bring us any closer?

robina weermeijer/unsplashCC BY-SA
Yen Ying LimMonash University and Emily RosenichMonash University

We often hear about “dementia breakthroughs” in the news – new genes being discovered, new blood tests being developed, new drugs being tested.

However, there remains no effective or accessible cure for dementia. This is of great frustration to people living with dementia, and their carers and loved ones.

Two new “breakthrough” drugs have been in the news. While they may not bring much relief to those living with the disease today, we are learning more about dementia, and getting closer to a treatment.

A Bit About Dementia

Dementia is an umbrella term to describe a group of conditions characterised by a loss of brain function. This includes the ability to remember, plan and make decisions.

In Australia, dementia is the second leading cause of death. For women it’s the leading cause of death. Older age is the greatest risk factor for dementia. But dementia is not an inevitable or normal consequence of ageing.

Up to 70% of all dementia is attributed to Alzheimer’s disease. Other types of dementia include vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and Lewy body disease. Because Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, most “dementia breakthroughs” often refer to “breakthroughs” in Alzheimer’s.

Searching For Treatments

Alzheimer’s disease takes a long time to develop, up to 30 years or more. For a long time, scientists had only a limited understanding of the disease. To develop the right drugs, it’s crucial to have the right tools to be able to understand how the disease progresses.

Over the past 20 years, breakthroughs in brain imaging, brain fluid analysis and, more recently, blood tests, have enabled us to measure key Alzheimer’s proteins – amyloid and tau – in living people. This has allowed scientists to understand how these proteins develop over time.

We have also been able to clarify which risk factors – age, sex, genetics, environment, lifestyle – contribute to the development of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. This provides important insights into who and what to target.

Studies now suggest Alzheimer’s begins with the buildup of amyloid in the brain. As amyloid builds up, tau then begins to develop. Researchers think it’s this tau buildup that leads to brain cell death and cognitive decline. Some scientists refer to amyloid as the “trigger”, as once the trigger has been pulled, the “bullet” (tau) is on its way.

Scan of a brain, like an X-ray
Build-up in the brain of a protein called amyloid is the likely trigger for Alzheimer’s. Shutterstock

Stopping the buildup of amyloid, or removing it, became a key strategy in attempts to develop drugs for Alzheimer’s.

Two New Drugs

Two drugs that have received a lot of attention in recent weeks are aducanumab (marketed as Aduhelm) and lecanemab. Both drugs showed substantial reduction in amyloid in the brain. But whether this reduction in amyloid resulted in a meaningful benefit in memory and thinking is less clear.

In two aducanumab trials, patients did not show any meaningful benefit. But six months later, the drug maker Biogen released and subsequently published new data reporting participants on the highest dose had 22% slower cognitive decline compared to participants on a placebo.

The Food and Drug Administration in the United States granted accelerated approval for aducanumab as it thought the drug would improve or slow Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Recently, drug companies Eisai and Biogen announced the results of a lecanemab trial. Around 1,800 participants with early Alzhemier’s were given the drug or a placebo over 18 months. They found a reduction in brain amyloid and tau levels in those taking the drug when compared to participants taking a placebo.

Importantly, lecanemab resulted in a 27% slower decline in memory and thinking ability. This was also accompanied by greater quality of life, as reported by participants and their caregivers.

This translates to roughly a six-month benefit in memory and thinking ability. This is not much. In addition, questions have been raised about whether the drug may be less effective for people with higher risk of developing Alzhemier’s, including those with certain geneswomen, and culturally and linguistically diverse populations.

Woman looking at camera.
Women and culturally diverse people are more at-risk of dementia. Shutterstock

There are also substantial side effects that accompany both drugs. Of most concern are brain swelling and small brain bleeds as detected on brain scans. These were observed in 21-40% of participants. The risk of these side effects will need to be an important discussion between patients, their families and their doctors.

Another consideration is the cost. The price of lecanemab has not yet been announced, but aducanumab costs US$28,200 (A$42,000) per patient per year. Additional costs for brain scanning will also be required to monitor side effects. This makes it inaccessible to most people to purchase privately.

It also has consequences for the availability of the drug to be considered under Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). Around 150,000 people with mild Alzhemier’s would currently be eligible for aducanumab if it were available. If all of these people received the drug, PBS expenditure would increase by 50%.

Companies that develop drugs must provide evidence of their effectiveness to the government health authorities in each country in which they intend to make it available. The governing body in Australia is the Therapeutic Goods Administration. This process has not yet been completed for either drug in Australia.

So Why All The Breakthroughs, And Still No Cure?

Since Alois Alzheimer first described an “unusual disease of the cerebral cortex” in 1906, we have learned a lot about the disease and its progression.

But we still have a long way to go. Because Alzheimer’s symptoms take decades to develop, studying and tracking brain and cognitive changes from early in the disease has been difficult. Beyond amyloid and tau, a range of other biological, genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors can also contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s unlikely any single one of these factors alone can fully explain why someone develops the disease. It’s likely the disease manifests when several of these risk factors coalesce. For example, someone with a genetic predisposition may be more likely to develop the disease in the face of poor cardiovascular health.

Disentangling the contribution of these risk factors can be challenging. This is why large numbers of people are often required to participate in research.

Given the prevalence of the disease in the community, every advance is seen as newsworthy. And from a scientific point of view, they are.

However these findings, or “breakthroughs,” have not been enough to offer relief to people living with Alzheimer’s or their families, for whom life gets harder every day. Their hopes are dashed when reported “breakthroughs” still haven’t translated into a cure or an effective treatment.

We now have multiple drugs that show some effect in slowing memory deterioration, but the effects are small. Outcomes of more drug trials will be announced in the coming years.

While these advances may not come fast enough to help people living with the disease now, they’re an important incursion in the war against this devastating disease. They show we’re getting closer.

If you are interested in learning how to reduce your dementia risk by changing health behaviours, please join us at the BetterBrains Trial. We are actively recruiting Australians aged 40-70 with a family history of dementia.The Conversation

Yen Ying Lim, Associate Professor, Monash University and Emily Rosenich, Postdoctoral Research Fellow (Neuropsychology), Monash University

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

Merry Christmas - Hope You All Have Great Summer Break!

We're going on our Christmas - New Years break after this Issue comes out - so we'd like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, enjoy your last week and a bit of school and have a brilliant Summer with some good times and lasting memories. 

Please remember to take it easy on yourselves and look after yourselves and out for and after each other.

We're back January 15th!

the Ed. 

Congratulations William Cassell BHS: Equal First In Music: HSC 2022 Results

December 15, 2022

Music 1: William Cassell, Barrenjoey High School (equal first)

Will was School captain at BHS in 2022 and read the Prayers at the Anzac Day Commemorative Service at Avalon Beach RSL Cenotaph this year, along with fellow School Captain Hannah Pepper.

William started playing the flute at an early age and told the SMH his teacher was one of the biggest factors in helping him get one of the top scores in the subject.

“I definitely had a good teacher, she was very passionate, she completely changed the way I thought about music,” 

“She was an absolute inspiration, I have been playing since I was eight years old, it was my first passion.” Will said

Will was presented with his certificate from NESA by NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell.

Will has also been awarded a Tuckwell Scholarship for 2023.

In July 2022 the Tuckwell Scholarship Program announced its tenth annual award of 25 Scholarships, to students who will commence their undergraduate studies at ANU in February 2023.

“We are delighted to welcome to the Tuckwell community another 25 truly exceptional young people from across Australia” said founder Dr Louise Tuckwell AO. “The panel this year has been impressed by their academic and personal achievements, as well as their commitment to their diverse communities.”

“The Tuckwell Scholarship is a unique and life-changing opportunity for exceptional young people to get together, share their ideas and inspire each other” said founder Dr Graham Tuckwell AO. 

“This year we have again received an enormous number of high quality applications, and I am confident that these talented young people will not only embody the Tuckwell attributes, they will also inspire others to strive and achieve.”

The Tuckwell Scholarship Program at the ANU is the most transformational undergraduate scholarship program in Australia. With a total scholarship package valued at up to $140,000, it offers funding to students for five years of full-time study; allowing them to take full advantage of their time at university, including the many academic, social, cultural, sporting and leadership opportunities that come with life on campus.

State's Top HSC Students Celebrated

By NSW Dept. of Education

126 students who have obtained first place in a 2022 HSC course have been acknowledged  for their extraordinary academic achievement. In a NSW first, students who have achieved despite adversity have also been recognised.

Premier Dominic Perrottet congratulated the students and said finishing first in one of the 114 world-class HSC courses examined this year is cause for celebration.

“These young people have shown what can be achieved when you combine ability and passion with commitment – qualities which will prove invaluable throughout their careers and lives,” Mr Perrottet said.

“Congratulations to all the exceptional students who have achieved First in Course for the 2022 HSC. You should be proud of what you have accomplished.”

Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell said 135 certificates will be presented to 126 students, with nine students topping more than one course.

“These students have triumphed in their final senior years of school and deserve to be celebrated,” Ms Mitchell said.

“Today we also thank the schools, the teachers and school communities who supported these students throughout their education journey, as well as their parents and carers.

“It is also so important that we celebrate students who have achieved outstanding outcomes in the face of adversity, which is why this year, we’ve introduced a new award to recognise the resilience of schools impacted by flooding across the state.”

This year, 14 Commendation Awards will be issued in recognition of school communities who went above and beyond to set-up learning spaces and provide the necessary resources to ensure students could continue learning despite challenges due to flooding.

To view the First in Course merit list, visit:

All Round Achievers, Top Achievers and Distinguished Achievers will be published on the NESA website at midday today.

All 75,000 students who sat at least one HSC exam in 2022 will receive their results by SMS, email and online from 6am today.

RPAYC’s Louis Tilly Wins WASZP 2022 WA State Championship

December 13, 2022
In an indicative warm-up to the National titles on the Swan River in January, Louis took out the 8 race WA States from Laser Radial World champion, Tristan Brown. This great event was run from the Royal Freshwater Bat Yacht Club. Victory in Perth caps off a run of successes with Louis so far this season winning in Queensland, NSW and now WA.

The win on count-back was delivered on a stunning Perth day with the strong seabeeze propelling the sailfoilers around Freshwater and Claremont Bays at breathtaking speeds. The top two boats were in close battle (including a substantial collision) for all three races on the last day.

Collecting the Bazel Twine Memorial Trophy, Louis thanked the organisers, volunteers, follow competitors and his home club.

Jervis Tilly also representing RPAYC, secured 3rd overall in the regatta and 1st in the hotly contested Super Master division.The smaller sail (6.8m) division was taken out by up and coming local Perth sailor, Jamie Bougher.

In the WASZP class, RPAYC can now claim highest Australian ranking WASZP sailor (Louis) and 11th fastest recorded WASZP speed globally with Jervis topping out at 24.3 kts crossing the line at the end of race 8 in WA.

This coming weekend many RPAYC WASZPs will be at Sail Sydney in their last competitive event prior to the Nationals which will be run from the Perth Dinghy Sailing Club from 22 to 27 January 2023. Currently, six boats plan to represent RPAYC at the Nationals.

The WASZP has been selected as Australian Sailing’s supported Sailfoiler. It caters for sailors of all ages from Opti graduates to more mature types.

Safer Drivers Courses At Narrabeen - Dee Why

To secure a spot at the Narrabeen or Dee Why Awesome SDC visit our website:

Awesome Driving School is a provider of the TfNSW Safer Drivers Course. Our 5 hour course = 20 hours in your logbook!

Narrabeen Safer Drivers Course

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Dee Why Safer Drivers Course

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The Rions Christmas Special 2 at Dee Why RSL

Announcing the 2nd edition of our Christmas Special show! It's happening on December 17th at Dee Why RSL (18+) and tickets are on sale now! Our last one sold out so make sure you get in quick. It's gonna be next level with special guests Molly Millington, The Good Love, Liquid Time and Chloe Dadd.


School Leavers Support

Explore the School Leavers Information Kit (SLIK) as your guide to education, training and work options in 2022;
As you prepare to finish your final year of school, the next phase of your journey will be full of interesting and exciting opportunities. You will discover new passions and develop new skills and knowledge.

We know that this transition can sometimes be challenging and the COVID-19 pandemic has presented some uncertainty. With changes to the education and workforce landscape, you might be wondering if your planned decisions are still a good option or what new alternatives are available and how to pursue them.

There are lots of options for education, training and work in 2022 to help you further your career. This information kit has been designed to help you understand what those options might be and assist you to choose the right one for you. Including:
  • Download or explore the SLIK here to help guide Your Career.
  • School Leavers Information Kit (PDF 5.2MB).
  • School Leavers Information Kit (DOCX 0.9MB).
  • The SLIK has also been translated into additional languages.
  • Download our information booklets if you are rural, regional and remote, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, or living with disability.
  • Support for Regional, Rural and Remote School Leavers (PDF 2MB).
  • Support for Regional, Rural and Remote School Leavers (DOCX 0.9MB).
  • Support for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander School Leavers (PDF 2MB).
  • Support for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander School Leavers (DOCX 1.1MB).
  • Support for School Leavers with Disability (PDF 2MB).
  • Support for School Leavers with Disability (DOCX 0.9MB).
  • Download the Parents and Guardian’s Guide for School Leavers, which summarises the resources and information available to help you explore all the education, training, and work options available to your young person.

School Leavers Information Service

Are you aged between 15 and 24 and looking for career guidance?

Call 1800 CAREER (1800 227 337).

SMS 'SLIS2022' to 0429 009 435.

Our information officers will help you:
  • navigate the School Leavers Information Kit (SLIK),
  • access and use the Your Career website and tools; and
  • find relevant support services if needed.
You may also be referred to a qualified career practitioner for a 45-minute personalised career guidance session. Our career practitioners will provide information, advice and assistance relating to a wide range of matters, such as career planning and management, training and studying, and looking for work.

You can call to book your session on 1800 CAREER (1800 227 337) Monday to Friday, from 9am to 7pm (AEST). Sessions with a career practitioner can be booked from Monday to Friday, 9am to 7pm.

This is a free service, however minimal call/text costs may apply.

Call 1800 CAREER (1800 227 337) or SMS SLIS2022 to 0429 009 435 to start a conversation about how the tools in Your Career can help you or to book a free session with a career practitioner.

All downloads and more available at:

Word Of The Week: Hogmanay

Word of the Week returns in 2022 simply to throw some disruption in amongst the 'yeah-nah' mix. It will persist in 2023 - apparently you're enjoying this other 'mix' - good to hear, thank you.

New Years – Hogmanay

Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with the celebration of the New Year(Gregorian calendar) in the Scottish manner. However, it is normally only the start of a celebration that lasts through the night until the morning of New Year's Day (1 January) or, in some cases, 2 January—a Scottish Bank Holiday. The etymology of the word is obscure. The three main theories derive it either from a French, Norse or a Goidelic (Insular Celtic) root. The word is first recorded in 1604 in the Elgin Records as hagmonay (delatit to haue been singand hagmonayis on Satirday) and again in 1692 in an entry of the Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence, "It is ordinary among some plebeians in the South of Scotland to go about from door to door upon New-years Eve, crying Hagmane".

Possible French etymologies
It may have been introduced to Middle Scots through the Auld Alliance. The most commonly cited explanation is a derivation from the Northern French dialect word hoguinané, or variants such as hoginane, hoginono and hoguinettes, those being derived from 16th century Old French aguillanneuf meaning either a gift given at New Year, a children's cry for such a gift, or New Year's Eve itself. This explanation is supported by a children's tradition, observed up to the 1960s in some parts of Scotland at least, of visiting houses in their locality on New Year's Eve and requesting and receiving small treats such as sweets or fruit. The second element would appear to be l'an neuf (the New Year), with some sources suggesting a druidical origin of the practice overall. Compare those to Norman hoguinané and the obsolete customs in Jersey of cryingma hodgîngnole, and in Guernsey of asking for an oguinane, for a New Year gift (see also La Guiannee). In Québec, "la guignolée" was a door-to-door collection for the poor.

Possible Goidelic etymologies
Fraser and Kelley report a Manx new-year song that begins with the line To-night is New Year's Night, Hogunnaa but did not record the full text in Manx. Other sources parse this as hog-un-naa and give the modern Manx form as Hob dy naa. Manx dictionaries though give Hop-tu-Naa, generally glossing it as "Hallowe'en", same as many of the more Manx-specific folklore collections.  In this context it is also recorded that in the south of Scotland, for example Roxburghshire, there is no <m>, the word thus being Hunganay, which could suggest the <m> is intrusive. However, in spite of these recorded Manx forms, no satisfactory etymology has been proposed for Hop-tu-Naa within Goidelic. Another theory occasionally encountered is a derivation from the phrase thog mi an èigh/eugh I raised the cry, which, in pronunciation, resembles Hogmanay, as part of the rhymes traditionally recited at New Year but it is unclear if this is simply a case of folk etymology. Overall, Gaelic consistently refers to the New Year's Eve as Oidhche na Bliadhn(a) Ùir(e) "The Night of the New Year" and Oidhche Challainn"The Night of the Calends".

Possible Norse etymologies
Some authors reject both the French and Goidelic theories, and instead suggest that the ultimate source both for the Norman French, Scots, and Goidelic variants of this word have a common Norse root. It is suggested that the full forms
Hoginanaye-Trollalay/Hogman aye, Troll a lay (with a Manx cognate Hop-tu-Naa, Trolla-laa)
Hogmanay, Trollolay, give us of your white bread and none of your gray
invoke the hill-men (Icelandic haugmenn, cf Anglo-Saxon hoghmen) or "elves" and banishes the trolls into the sea (Norse á læ "into the sea"). Repp furthermore makes a link between Trollalay/Trolla-laa and the rhyme recorded in Percy's Relics Trolle on away, trolle on awaye. Synge heave and howe rombelowe trolle on away, which he reads as a straightforward invocation of troll-banning.

There are many customs, both national and local, associated with Hogmanay. The most widespread national custom is the practice of first-footing, which starts immediately after midnight. This involves being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbour and often involves the giving of symbolic gifts such as salt (less common today), coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a rich fruit cake) intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Food and drink (as the gifts) are then given to the guests. This may go on throughout the early hours of the morning and well into the next day (although modern days see people visiting houses well into the middle of January). The first-foot is supposed to set the luck for the rest of the year. Traditionally, tall dark men are preferred as the first-foot.
Auld Lang Syne"

The Hogmanay custom of singing "Auld Lang Syne" has become common in many countries. "Auld Lang Syne" is a traditional poem reinterpreted by Robert Burns, which was later set to music. It is now common to sing this in a circle of linked arms that are crossed over one another as the clock strikes midnight for New Year's Day, though it is only intended that participants link arms at the beginning of the final verse, co-ordinating with the lines of the song that contain the lyrics to do so. Typically, it is only in Scotland this practice is carried out correctly.

John Masey Wright and John Rogers' c. 1841 illustration of Auld Lang Syne.  Illustration to Robert Burns' poem Auld Lang Syne by J.M. Wright and Edward Scriven. Hogmanay. (2013, December 27). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Auld Lang Syne

“Auld Lang Syne" is a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song (Roud # 6294). It is well known in many countries, especially in the English-speaking world, its traditional use being to celebrate the start of the New Year at the stroke of midnight. The song's Scots title may be translated into English literally as "old long since", or more idiomatically, "long long ago", "days gone by" or "old times". Consequently "Forauld lang syne", as it appears in the first line of the chorus, might be loosely translated as "for (the sake of) old times". The phrase "Auld Lang Syne" is also used in similar poems by Robert Ayton (1570–1638), Allan Ramsay (1686–1757), and James Watson (1711) as well as older folk songs predating Burns. Matthew Fitt uses the phrase "In the days of auld lang syne" as the equivalent of "Once upon a time..." in his retelling of fairy tales in the Scots language.

Burns’ original Scots verse 
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne* ?
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
and surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.
We twa hae paidl’d i' the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie's a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.

English translation
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine ;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.
We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine† ;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give me a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.
Auld Lang Syne. (2013, December 27). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Photo: Auld Lang Syne, Central Park - circa 1865 - 1898; Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views. / United States. / States / New York / New York City / Stereoscopic views of sculpture in Central Park, New York City.

Tantrums to tinsel: why I love the curious and festive tradition of the Santa photo

The author and her family with Santa in 1980. Author provided
Cherine FahdUniversity of Technology Sydney

In April 1995, my uncle secured a lucrative job in Saudi Arabia. He and my aunt left their home in suburban Sydney and relocated to a western compound (a residential gated community for expats) in Jeddah. My aunt shares stories of life under Saudi’s strict laws and how she craved her western freedoms. One such freedom was the celebration of Christmas.

Hailing mostly from Australia, the UK and America, the compound residents organised their Christmases by smuggling in decorations and creating homemade Santa suits. They even staged the photographic rituals with mums and dads disguised as the shopping centre Santa Claus.

At home in Saudi Arabia. My uncle catches his daughter as she leaps off Santa’s lap, 1996. Image courtesy of the Sharbine and Pryor familiesAuthor provided

My aunt’s eagerness to recreate this photographic ritual with her children stems from her own childhood posing with Santa. My siblings and I were also photographed every year on Santa’s lap and we continue the ritual with our own kids.

My aunt is looking at Santa instead of the camera. 1966. Image courtesy of H. PryorAuthor provided

As a photographer, I have spent years studying my curious desire to participate in this photographic custom. While I do not celebrate Christmas on religious grounds and bemoan the increasing consumerism of the season, I participate with overzealous enthusiasm in the Santa Claus photo.

This is evident in the careful way I have cultivated the collection of my children’s Santa photographs between 2009-2018, and kept guard of my family’s collection from the 70s and 80s that portrays me alongside my siblings and, on one rare occasion, with my parents.

I use myself and my family as a case study. Analysing details like my mother’s obsession with dressing my sister and I in identical outfits, and then the ways I consciously made my children dress themselves.

Year after year my mother dressed my sister and I in matching outfits - an indicator of togetherness and the ideal family. Author provided

The Santa photo feeds my photographic penchant for overly staged family portraits that signal to the camera “we are posing together for a photograph”.

Perfect Kodak Moments

In Photography A Middle–Brow Art, the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu famously observed in his 1965 study of amateur photography, that the family represents itself in “ideal moments of celebration” in order to secure its honourable social standing.

The Santa photos certainly fit this schema, tied to the so-called “Kodak moments” where everyone says “cheese”.

Instagram, which today operates as a public family album, reveals a searchable hashtag archive. Across #santaphoto#santaphotos#santapictures and #vintagesantaphoto you’ll find thousands of images of children sitting nicely on Santa’s lap.

Like most family photographs they serve a nostalgic function to take us into our pasts (with rose coloured glasses) and make us laugh at ourselves, at how we used to look, our hair styles, fashions, poses and reactions.

Today there are even photo sessions for pets, and “sensitive Santa photo sessions” for children with special needs.

COVID-era sees young Leo posing 1.5 metres apart from Santa. Image courtesy of the Morosin family.Author provided

With the rise of COVID-19, we see action packed beach Santa photos proving popular. In the shopping centre, the 1.5 metre social distancing rule is captured for posterity.

But Santa photos capture more than just the idealised moments of family life.

Hilarious ‘Santa Fails’

If the perfect family photograph is where the children are well dressed and everyone is posing and smiling happily, the “Santa fails” resist the ideal.

Santa fails show children reeling from Santa, throwing tantrums, back arching, crying and demanding to leave. Search #santafail on Instagram to see the truth of the matter: we happily and freely deposit our children onto the lap of a total stranger.

Scared of Santa. My sister in 1977 and my brother in 1989 both in tears. Author provided

The artist Julie Rrap recently shared a story with me about her father who was once employed as a shopping centre Santa. He often reported coming home with a saturated lap from children having wet themselves while seated.

The comic relief that comes with such stories and the Santa fails are over time another ritual enjoyed among family members. But my attraction to the Santa photo goes deeper than comic relief of fearing Santa.

A Work Of Art

As a migrant family in 70s and 80s Australia, we interpreted the Santa photo as a fun and unpretentious custom that assimilated us into the middle-class values of suburban Australia.

Participating in this ritual made us feel and appear more Australian, if only to ourselves.

I’m also interested in the Santa photos as a photographic typology. As a photographer, I have done what Bourdieu describes and “elevated the ordinary photo into a work of art”.

Through my training I have linked the seriality of Santa photographs to Rineke Dijkstra’s photographic portraits of Olivier and Almerisa. Photographing the same people over many years, Dijkstra captures the subtle changes in their appearance, mood and fashion style, as well as their social and political status.

Marking time. Frame by frame I witness what I can’t see before my very eyes, my children growing and changing. Author provided

I am also reminded of the playful fictional photographs of Christian Boltanski where the title of the work – 10 photographic portraits of Christian Boltanski 1946-1964, 1972 – leads the viewer to think they are looking at portraits of a boy growing up, when in fact they are reconstructions.

Like these artworks, Santa photos mark time, revealing what is imperceptible in everyday life. Through the repetition of a performance, a scene and an image we confront ourselves and the people we love changing.

Children and animals are notoriously the hardest subjects to photograph. The training a photographer receives with Santa photography is a baptism of fire. Moving subjects, crying babies, a toddler’s inability to sit still, scared children that won’t smile and toddlers engaged in escape attempts all combine with the parent’s consumer expectations that the photographer should get the right shot.

Remember, the next time you take your children, pets or yourself to have a Santa photo, keep in mind that the “right shot” and the best Santa photos are often not the ones where they’re smiling. The Conversation

Cherine Fahd, Associate Professor of Visual Communication in the School of Design, University of Technology Sydney

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

The first photograph of the entire globe: 50 years on, Blue Marble still inspires

Chari LarssonGriffith University

December 7 marks the 50-year anniversary of the Blue Marble photograph. The crew of NASA’s Apollo 17 spacecraft – the last manned mission to the Moon – took a photograph of Earth and changed the way we visualised our planet forever.

Taken with a Hasselblad film camera, it was the first photograph taken of the whole round Earth and is believed to be the most reproduced image of all time. Up until this point, our view of ourselves had been disconnected and fragmented: there was no way to visualise the planet in its entirety.

The Apollo 17 crew were on their way to the moon when the photograph was captured at 29,000 kilometres (18,000 miles) from the Earth. It quickly became a symbol of harmony and unity.

The previous Apollo missions had taken photographs of the earth in part shadow. Earthrise shows a partial Earth, rising up from the moon’s surface.

In the foreground, the moon's surface; behind blackness and a semi-circle of Earth.
Earthrise captured Earth in part shadow. NASACC BY-NC-SA

In Blue Marble, the Earth appears in the centre of the frame, floating in space. It is possible to clearly see the African continent, as well as the Antarctica south polar ice cap.

Photographs like Blue Marble are quite hard to capture. To see the Earth as a full globe floating in space, lighting needs to be calculated carefully. The sun needs to be directly behind you. Astronaut Scott Kelly observes that this can be difficult to plan for when orbiting at high speeds.

Produced against a broader cultural and political context of the “space race” between the United States and the Soviet Union, the photograph revealed an unexpectedly neutral view of Earth with no borders.

Disruption To Mapping Conventions

According to geographer Denis Cosgrove, the Blue Marble disrupted Western conventions for mapping and cartography. By removing the graticule – the grid of meridians and parallels humans place over the globe – the image represented an earth freed from mapping practices that had been in place for hundreds of years.

An ornate rendering of Earth.
We have been placing grids over our maps for hundreds of years, as in this world map from 1689. Wikimedia Commons

The photograph also gave Africa a central position in the representation of the world, where eurocentric mapping practice had tended to reduce Africa’s scale.

The image quickly became a symbol of harmony and unity. Instead of offering proof of America’s supremacy, the photograph fostered a sense of global interconnectedness.

Since the Enlightenment, mapping and map making had emphasised man’s superiority over the Earth. Working against this hierarchy, Blue Marble evoked a sense of humility. Earth appeared extremely fragile and in need of protection. In his book Earthrise, Robert Poole wrote:

Although no one found the words to say so at the time, the ‘Blue marble’ was a photographic manifesto for global justice.

Blue Marble’s Afterlives

Gaia book cover
The photograph has appeared across popular culture.

It is impossible to examine Blue Marble and separate it from the urgency of today’s climate crisis.

It quickly became a symbol of the early environmental movement, and was adopted by activist groups such as Friends of the Earth and annual events such as Earth Day.

The photograph appeared on the cover of James Lovelock’s book Gaia (1979), postage stamps, and an early opening sequence of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006).

The ways we have viewed and visualised Earth have changed over the decades.

Commencing in the 1990s, NASA created digitally manipulated whole-Earth images titled Blue Marble: Next Generation, in honour of the original Apollo 17 mission.

The 2002 Blue Marble showing Australia. NASA image by Robert Simmon and Reto StöckliCC BY-NC-SA

These are composite images composed of data stitched together from thousands of images taken at different times by satellites.

Space-based imaging technology has continued to advance in its capacity to render astonishing detail. Art historians such as Elizabeth A. Kessler have linked these new generation of images picturing the cosmos with the philosophical concept of the sublime.

The Blue Marble can inspire a similar sense of awe to images like Thomas Moran’s Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. U.S. Department of the Interior Museum

The photographs create a sense of vastness and awe that can leave the spectator overwhelmed, akin to 19th century Romantic paintings such as Thomas Moran’s The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1872).

In 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope revealed mountains of gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula. Known as the Pillars of Creation, the image captures gas and dust in the process of creating new stars.

This photograph of Eagle Nebula, named Pillars of Creation, was taken by the Hubble. NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Earlier this year, NASA released the first images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope.

Building on the Hubble’s discoveries, the Webb is designed to visualise infrared wavelengths at a unprecedented level of clarity.

Galaxies in space.
Stephan’s Quintet photographed by the James Webb Telescope. NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScICC BY-NC-SA

These advances in technology might help explain the photograph’s enduring charm from the vantage point of 2022. The first photograph of our planet was remarkably lo-fi.

Blue Marble is the last full Earth photograph taken by an actual human using analogue film: developed in a darkroom when the crew returned to Earth. The Conversation

Chari Larsson, Senior Lecturer of art history, Griffith University

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

In Australia and South Africa, construction has started on the biggest radio observatory in Earth’s history

Artist’s impression of some of the SKA-Low antenna stations. DISR
Cathryn TrottCurtin University

Construction of the world’s biggest radio astronomy facility, the SKA Observatory, begins today. The observatory is a global project 30 years in the making.

With two huge two telescopes, one in Australia and the other in South Africa, the project will see further into the history of the Universe than ever before.

Astronomers like me will use the telescopes to trace hydrogen over cosmic time and make precise measurements of gravity in extreme environments. What’s more, we hope to uncover the existence of complex molecules in planet-forming clouds around distant stars, which could be the early signs of life elsewhere in the Universe.

I have been involved in the SKA and its precursor telescopes for the past ten years, and as the chief operations scientist of the Australian telescope since July. I am helping to build the team of scientists, engineers and technicians who will construct and operate the telescope, along with undertaking science to map primordial hydrogen in the infant universe.

What Is The SKA Observatory?

The SKA Observatory is an intergovernmental organisation with dozens of countries involved. The observatory is much more than the two physical telescopes, with headquarters in the UK and collaborators around the world harnessing advanced computers and software to tailor the telescope signals to the precise science being undertaken.

The telescope in South Africa (called SKA-Mid) will use 197 radio dishes to observe middle-frequency radio waves from 350 MHz to more than 15 GHz. It will study the extreme environments of neutron stars, organic molecules around newly forming planets, and the structure of the Universe on the largest scales.

The Australian telescope (SKA-Low), in Western Australia, will observe lower frequencies with 512 stations of radio antennas spread out over a 74-kilometre span of outback.

The site is located within Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara, the CSIRO Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory. This name, which means “sharing sky and stars”, was given to the observatory by the Wajarri Yamaji, the traditional owners and native title holders of the observatory site.

Tuning In To The Universe

After decades of planning, developing precursor telescopes and testing, today we are holding a ceremony to mark the start of on-site construction. We expect both telescopes will be fully operational late this decade.

Each of the 512 stations of SKA-Low is made up of 256 wide-band dipole antennas, spread over a diameter of 35 metres. The signals from these Christmas-tree-shaped antennas in each station are electronically combined to point to different parts of the sky, forming a single view.

An artist’s impression of a station of radio antennas. Each station has 256 antennas, and the SKA-Low telescope will have 512 stations. DISR

These antennas are designed to tune in to low radio frequencies of 50 to 350 MHz. At these frequencies, the radio waves are very long – comparable to the height of a person – which means more familiar-looking dishes are an inefficient way to catch them. Instead the dipole antennas operate much like TV antennas, with the radio waves from the Universe exciting electrons within their metal arms.

Collectively, the 131,072 dipoles in the completed array will provide the deepest and widest view of the Universe to date.

Peering Into The Cosmic Dawn

They will allow us to see out and back to the very beginning of the Universe, when the first stars and galaxies formed.

This key period, more than 13 billion years in our past, is termed the “cosmic dawn”: when stars and galaxies began to form, lighting up the cosmos for the first time.

The cosmic dawn marks the end of the cosmic dark ages, a period after the Big Bang when the Universe had cooled down through expansion. All that remained was the ubiquitous background glow of the early Universe light, and a cosmos filled with dark matter and neutral atoms of hydrogen and helium.

The light from the first stars transformed the Universe, tearing apart the electrons and protons in neutral hydrogen atoms. The Universe went from dark and neutral to bright and ionised.

The SKA Observatory will map this fog of neutral hydrogen at low radio frequencies, which will allow scientists to explore the births and deaths of the earliest stars and galaxies. Exploration of this key period is the final missing piece in our understanding of the life story of the Universe.

Unimagined Mysteries

Closer to home, the low-frequency telescope will time the revolutions of pulsars. These rapidly spinning neutron stars, which fire out sweeping beams of radiation like lighthouses, are the Universe’s ultra-precise clocks.

Changes to the ticking of these clocks can indicate the passage of gravitational waves through the Universe, allowing us to map these deformations of spacetime with radio waves.

It will also help us to understand the Sun, our own star, and the space environment that we on Earth live within.

These are the things we expect to find with the SKA Observatory. But the unexpected discoveries will most likely be the most exciting. With an observatory of this size and power, we are bound to uncover as-yet-unimagined mysteries of the Universe.The Conversation

Cathryn Trott, Research Fellow in Radio Astronomy, SKA-Low Chief Operations Scientist, Curtin University

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

The folk philosophy of Bob Dylan: riffs, grifters, history – and a terrific playlist

Bob Dylan performing with George Harrison in 1971. AP
David McCooeyDeakin University

Bob Dylan, sing-songwriter and Nobel laureate, has spent a career confounding expectations. What, then, should one expect of his new book, The Philosophy of Modern Song? Firstly, “modern song” should read “American modern song”, since almost all of the 66 songs discussed by Dylan are American. And by “modern”, we are talking mid-century, mostly from the 1940s to the 1960s. Stylistically and generically, the songs cover the Great American Songbook, folk, rock’n’roll, country, and so on.

The Philosophy of Modern Song – Bob Dylan (Simon & Schuster, 2022)

Folk Music: A Bob Dylan Biography in Seven Songs – Greil Marcus (Yale University Press, 2022)

In other words, they are the kinds of Americana that can be found on Dylan’s own records. “Philosophy” is the kind of word that can mean anything in publishing contexts, and it should warn the reader not to expect anything so programmatic as, for instance, a history of modern song.

Dylan’s choice of songs forms a mood more than a method. The book is populated by outlaws, grifters, cowboys, gangsters, con artists, and gamblers. There are also references to hucksters like the Colonel Tom Parker (Elvis Presley’s manager) and the 19th-century showman PT Barnum. And to rubes (or those easily duped). So, reader, be aware: this book is concerned with “modern song” on its own terms.

Each song is a springboard for two different kinds of riffing. Firstly, there are eccentric fictions that relate tangentially, if at all, to the particular song (though many reconfigure lyrical elements of the song in question). Written in the second person, these pieces have all the allure of someone narrating a dream, which is to say (for me), not much.

Full of Dylanesque imagery, these dream pieces lack the strangeness (and music, of course) of Dylan’s mid-60s period, but they have that period’s semi-prophetic loquaciousness, mixing the everyday with the apocalyptic.

For instance, the chapter on Everybody Cryin’ Mercy by the jazz and blues artist Mose Allison has you

Thumbing a ride on the Ferris Wheel, shooting ducks and winning kewpie dolls, while all of mankind cries mercy – every race, creed, and color – rich and poor from all quarters, all over creation.

There are some startling moments in these pieces, but cumulatively they have the air of AI-generated prose.

More interesting, are the essays that follow the dream pieces. Like those pieces, the essays are often tangentially related to the song in question. Sure, we learn a little about Townes Van Zandt (his family wanted him to be a lawyer) or the link between Rosemary Clooney, Armenian folk song, and Alvin and the Chipmunks, but these essays are mostly an occasion for Dylan to muse (philosophise) on everything from the movies, polygamy, and lemmings, to language, history, and war. Or, as the dust jacket of the (very nicely designed and lavishly illustrated) book grandly puts it, “the human condition”.

A Gender Imbalance

Like the dream pieces, the essays are associative and riffing in nature, but they are more interested in imparting information.

The essay on Nina Simone’s Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood begins with an account of the problems that the first sentence of the novel L’Étranger (by fellow Nobel laureate, Albert Camus) has given translators, then moves onto a potted history of Esperanto, followed by some notable examples of misunderstanding, before briefly landing on Simone’s recording of the song, which in turn becomes an opportunity to talk about the relationship between art and interpretation. On this last subject, it is hardly surprising that the “mercurial” Dylan should assert that

Art can be appreciated or interpreted but there is seldom anything to understand.

Talking of Simone, she is only one of three female artists covered here. Coupled with Dylan’s thoughts, presumably baiting, on polygamy and feminism, as well as the often-misogynistic representations of women in the dream pieces (climaxing on the Eagles’ Witchy Women), one can only wonder if Dylan doesn’t have a “woman problem”.

But, as always with Dylan, it is hard to know how seriously to take any of this. Is he riffing on the misogyny of his source material or just engaging in it himself? This question brings to mind the arguments surrounding much stand-up comedy (that other source of the word “riff”.)

But all of this makes The Philosophy of Modern Song sound more solemn than it is. The book is filled with genuine, and informed, enthusiasm for many of the songs discussed, such as the Fugs’ CIA Man and the Osborne Brothers’ Ruby, Are You Mad?, the latter of which leads to the unexpected, but not entirely ridiculous, assertion that bluegrass is “the other side of heavy metal”.

Dylan likes these sort of apothegms: “There are more songs about shoes than there are about hats, pants, and dresses combined”; “There is nothing scarier than someone earnest in their delusion”.

A Lot Of Fun

The best parts of the book are when you are in on the joke, or when Dylan is just flat-out funny. Anyone who knows anything about the Grateful Dead would have to laugh at the deadpan assertion that they are “essentially a dance band”. (But since Dylan’s recorded an album with them, perhaps he knows best.) Dylan also does a good satirical side-order in grumpy-old-man-isms. For instance, on food he writes that

There isn’t an item on the menu that doesn’t have half a dozen adjectives in front of it, all chosen to hit you in your sociopolitical-humanitarian-snobby-foodie consumer spot. Enjoy your free-range, cumin-infused, cayenne-dusted heirloom reduction. Sometimes it’s just better to have a BLT and be done with it.

That observation was from the essay on Your Cheatin’ Heart by Hank Williams. There are lots of instances of gerunds (“-ing’ words) missing their terminal g’s in The Philosophy of Modern Song, and not just when it comes to song titles. Elvis (Presley, not Costello) is described as "backwoods-born but city-livin’, truck-drivin’, hip-shakin’ with a feral whiff of danger”. The fact that the complex adjectives get their hyphens makes it clear that Dylan is havin’ fun with his gerunds.

And this book is mostly about fun (though things get serious when Dylan talks about the plight of Native Americans and war). When I ignored the high-falutin’ talk on the blurb and press release, I got a lot of fun (rather than philosophy) from this book.

If nothing else, notwithstanding the gender bias, the book makes up a terrific playlist. I can’t imagine any reader who wouldn’t discover some unknown gems. Two of my favourite discoveries were the book’s most recent songs (from 2001 and 1986): Doesn’t Hurt Anymore by John Trudell, and Old Violin by Johnny Paycheck, just two of the numerous Johns and Johnnies who populate this work.

Much of the milieu covered in The Philosophy of Modern Song converges with the American music that Greil Marcus wrote about in his groundbreaking book, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock’n’Roll Music (1975).

Being a critic, Marcus is more disciplined than Dylan, but, like him, his technique is based on riffing, on finding unexpected connections amid arcane knowledge.

Marcus has written a number of books about Dylan, including a book on the Basement Tapes that Dylan made with the Band, the second edition of which was called The Old Weird America. The America dealt with in Marcus’s latest book on Dylan, Folk Music: A Bob Dylan Biography in Seven Songs, might be less old, but it certainly remains weird.

Dylan performing in 2012. David Vincent/AP

A Nation’s Shared Vernacular Music

Like The Philosophy of Modern Song, the title of Marcus’s latest book is a little inaccurate, since it is not really a biography of Dylan, except inasmuch as a biography of America is a biography of its national songwriter.

Just as Marcus did in The History of Rock’n’Roll in Ten Songs (2014), and Dylan does in The Philosophy of Modern Song, the songs in Folk Music are launching pads for wide-ranging meditations – in this case about Dylan and American history and culture.

Indeed, Marcus generally seems more comfortable when talking about cultural matters rather than specifically musicological ones. If there are any unifying themes to Folk Music, they are race and history. (It is emblematic that the frontispiece to the book is a 1963 photograph of the African American writer James Baldwin and Dylan.)

Given these themes, it is not surprising that four of the seven songs that make up Folk Music come from the 1960s. The 60s was not just the time Dylan became the spokesperson for the folk-music movement (and later his whole generation), but it was also the period when the American civil rights movement became notably active in the face of long-standing oppression and violence.

The two movements, of course, intersected in various ways, not least of all in the “protest song”, of which two of the most important – Blowin’ in the Wind (1962) and The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964) – are discussed by Marcus. (The missing g’s seem less quaint in this context.)

Marcus tends to a hyperbolic style, producing a slightly febrile mood, appropriate to the events being related. He also uncovers, or produces, hidden connections between apparently disparate things.

His chapter on The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (1964) links that topical song (which gives a more-or-less factual account of a white man who killed a black woman and received a six-month jail sentence for assault) with Laurie Anderson’s unlikely art-pop hit, O Superman (1981). These songs have nothing to do with each other, stylistically or in terms of lyrical content, but Marcus brings the two into the same orbit to show how songs can

come loose from their authors … how songs not only mark history, or even make it, but become part of its fabric.

This strange dis/connection of song and history is shown in a particularly disturbing way in the chapter on Desolation Row (1965). One of Dylan’s most celebrated songs, Desolation Row begins with an especially arresting opening line: “They’re selling postcards of the hanging”.

Marcus recounts how when this song was released

few people knew that in the first decades of the 20th century, there had been a craze of postcards of lynchings of black Americans by crowds of white Americans … postcards sent through the US mail, traded among collectors, sold in souvenir shops and at country fairs.

Marcus is not making the case that Desolation Row is about this appalling historical phenomenon, per se, but (in the shortest chapter in the book) he imagines how echoes of that phenomenon might have made their way to the young Dylan.

Marcus ends Folk Music with a chapter on Murder Most Foul, Dylan’s 17-minute ballad on the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, from his most recent album, Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020). The subject of this song not only returns the milieu to the crucible that was the 60s, but again thematises the strange and complex relationship between history and song. Attending to the way that songs can be in and of history is a way of thinking about that unstable category, the “folk song”.

Marcus’s Folk Songs doesn’t just deal with Dylan’s folk period; he shows – in a digressive, indirect way – the value of thinking about Dylan in terms of history, and the shared vernacular music of a nation. It is not surprising, then, that Marcus is so sanguine about the accusations of plagiarism that have dogged Dylan since almost the beginning of his career.

This is because Marcus sees Dylan, like the abstract figure of the folk singer, as constantly rewriting the national songbook, giving the old songs “new lives to live”. This is, after all, what he is up to in The Philosophy of Modern Song, which is as much a book of remixes as it is a work of music criticism.The Conversation

David McCooey, Professor of Writing and Literature, Deakin University

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

‘I would like to go to university’: flexi school students share their goals in Australia-first survey

Nathan Cowley/Pexels
Marnee ShayThe University of QueenslandJodie MillerThe University of Queensland, and Martin MillsQueensland University of Technology

Flexi schools cater to young people who have been pushed out of mainstream schools. Some students may have been expelled or struggled to fit in. Some may have been bullied or have learning needs the mainstream system could not meet.

Flexi schools give students a second (and sometimes a third, fourth or fifth) chance to stay or become engaged with schooling.

Demand for flexi schools has been increasing, but we still have little information about the quality of schooling young people receive at these schools, or their long-term trajectories after attending one.

Our new research shows students value the support they get from their flexi school but want the curriculum to challenge them more, and better support their aspirations.

What Are Flexi Schools?

Flexi schools come in multiple forms. Some sit alongside mainstream government high schools. Some are run by community groups, church organisations or are backed by philanthropy.

There is limited recent data on how many flexi schools there are in Australia. A 2014 report estimated 70,000 young Australians were engaged in flexi schools. This number is expected to be higher in 2022. This report was published almost a decade ago now and the sector was predicted to grow because of the demand.

Flexi schools tend to be smaller than mainstream schools, often with fewer than 200 students. They are centred on the young person, their needs, strengths and interests. There is an emphasis on community, relationships and wellbeing. Schools usually don’t require students to wear a uniform and it is common for a student to call their teacher by their first name.

We surveyed almost 500 flexi school students around the country in May to June this year. This is the most comprehensive picture of young people’s experiences in flexi schools in Australia to date.

Flexi School Students Are Diverse

Our research showed Australian flexi schools educate a diverse group of young people. The average age of a student is 15 years old, with ages ranging from ten to 20 years. Our respondents came from 43 different cultural backgrounds. One in three identified as Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander.

Graphic, '1 in 3 voices were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander'
Author provided.

In such a diverse school setting, 77% of young people said they felt their identity was valued. More than 80% felt their flexi school was a welcoming place. As one respondent said:

If I am experiencing issues, teachers support me, don’t judge and are extremely kind and considerate.

Flexi School Students Have High Aspirations

Many flexi school students have already been labelled as “disengaged” by the sheer fact mainstream schooling hasn’t worked for or accommodated them. But this does not mean they are disengaged from their education or their lives going forward.

In our survey we asked young people to tell us about their career and life goals. Young people told us they had a huge range of career goals from owning a small business to doing a trade or becoming a park ranger, youth worker, primary teacher, author or worker in the mining industry.

Our respondents told us they have have strong aspirations for their futures. As one student told us:

[I want] to grow my [business] into a popular […] local gardening landscaping service supporting houses and gardens that need repairing.

Others told us they want to become “totally independent” and talked about pursuing happiness and community connections:

[I want to] find some work I purely enjoy and just live a normal life. Preferably doing some trade work or contributing to the community.

Young people also specifically spoke about doing further study and going to TAFE or university, to do a wide range of courses from computer science to education and medicine:

I aspire to be a paramedic or doctor when the time comes, I would like to go to university to study medicine.

Flexi Students Want To Be Challenged

It is often assumed young people in flexi schools are not interested in doing intellectually challenging work. Data from our survey shows this is not the case.

Graphic, percentage of young people who report teachers provide challenging learning experiences.
Author supplied.

Less than half (47.5%) of the young people we surveyed said they experienced learning that was challenging. They told us they wanted “harder work, more future guidance” and “more learning at my age level”:

I learn best when I am given a challenge and have help to understand the challenge when I don’t understand what to do.

When we asked young people what they would like to learn at their flexi school they said more STEM-related subjects (including maths, science, coding and engineering), history and geography, social studies and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures. As one student wrote:

Access to learn more about Indigenous culture and access to learn another language !!! (like Auslan for example)

Our respondents were also keen to learn more about life skills, wellbeing, and vocational education.

There is a lot policy makers, educational leaders and practitioners in flexi schools can learn from this finding. Flexi schools are not just about keeping young people “in school”. They also need to provide a high-quality curriculum and challenging, diverse learning experiences.

Graphic, how much Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is taught at flexi schools.
Author supplied.

The Bigger Picture

In an ideal world, there would be no need for flexi schools because mainstream schools would cater for every young person in society. This is not the current reality and in the meantime, flexi schools play a critical role supporting young people who would otherwise be disengaged from mainstream schools.

Flexi schools need to respond to young people who have diverse needs. The focus tends to be on their relationships and wellbeing. But young people have told us they want a challenging curriculum as well.

As a matter of social justice, young people need a curriculum that adequately equips them for life and further study or training. This is an issue flexi school providers and policy makers must consider as a priority.The Conversation

Marnee Shay, Senior Research Fellow, School of Education, The University of QueenslandJodie Miller, Senior Lecturer in Mathematics Education, The University of Queensland, and Martin Mills, Chair professor, Queensland University of Technology

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

DNA from elusive human relatives the Denisovans has left a curious mark on modern people in New Guinea

Derek R. Audette/Shutterstock
Irene Gallego RomeroThe University of Melbourne and Davide VespasianiThe University of Melbourne

An encounter with a mysterious and extinct human relative – the Denisovans – has left a mark on the immune traits of modern Papuans, in particular those living on New Guinea Island.

This is a new discovery we describe in a study published in PLoS Genetics today. It further suggests that our modern human diversity didn’t just evolve – some parts of it we got from other, extinct human groups.

DNA From Our Evolutionary Cousins

Humans are the only living species of the Homo genus. But until 50,000 years ago, our ancestors coexisted – and sometimes interacted – with multiple other Homo groups across the globe. Most of them we know only by sparse archaeological remains, which offer tantalising glimpses of our evolutionary cousins.

But for two groups there is something else: DNA. Thanks to technological advances, scientists have retrieved DNA from fossils and sequenced it. As a result, we now have complete genome sequences of the best-known archaic hominins, the Neanderthals, and a far more elusive group, Denisovans.

Although many Neanderthal fossils have been unearthed all over Europe since they were first identified in the 1860s, the number of known Denisovan fossils fits in the palm of a hand – literally!

The genome sequence we have comes from the smallest bone of a pinky finger. It belonged to the 60,000-year-old remains of a teenage girl from a cave in Siberia, the largest known Denisovan fossil until recently.

The outline of a skeleton finger on a dark surface with a small, orange bone sitting atop one knuckle
A museum replica of the Denisovan finger bone used to extract ancient DNA. Thilo Parg/Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA

Traces Of Ancestors

These genome sequences have transformed the way we think about our extinct relatives. For one, they quickly demonstrated that as humans expanded outside Africa, we had sex – and children – with these other populations.

Traces of their genomes linger in individuals alive today, transmitted across hundreds of generations.

In the case of Neanderthals, these traces are in all individuals of non-African ancestry today. In the case of Denisovans, we find small traces of their genome in people from all over Asia – especially in Papua New Guinea, and in the island nations of Southeast Asia, where individuals may owe up to 4–5% of their genome to these ancestors.

But identifying these fragments of DNA in our genomes is only the beginning.

The DNA Makes A Difference

The real challenge is to find the biological consequences of this DNA for the people who carry it – which, it bears remembering, is the vast majority of humans. Our specific research question was to pinpoint the molecular processes that might be affected by its presence.

Studies of Neanderthal DNA have shown that genetic variants inherited from them can alter the levels at which some human genes are expressed, for example. We also know Neanderthals have contributed to our immune systems (including differences in how people respond to infection with COVID-19), and to variation in skin and hair colour.

But it has never been clear whether Denisovan DNA has left similar trends in modern humans.

In 2019, a study revealed the genomic coordinates where Denisovan DNA might be found within the genome of Papuan individuals – that is, the indigenous people of New Guinea Island – alive today.

This led us to begin looking into these regions, to understand the cellular and biological processes that might be affected by Denisovan DNA. We took a hybrid approach to this question, making computational predictions first, and following up with laboratory-based experiments to validate our findings.

In addition, we took advantage of the known Neanderthal DNA within these people to highlight any Denisovan-specific contribution. This gave us a more integrated understanding of how encounters with these relatives left potential biological and evolutionary consequences in modern humans.

A Unique Denisovan Contribution

We noticed that in Papuans, Denisovan and Neanderthal genetic variants both occasionally occur within parts of the genome responsible for modulating the expression levels of nearby genes.

However, only Denisovan variants are consistently predicted to occur and affect elements controlling the expression levels of immune-related genes.

So, these different sources of DNA might contribute to the genetic and phenotypic diversity within Papuans in different ways.

To validate our predictions, we designed an experiment comparing five Denisovan sequences against their modern human counterpart, and tested their ability to actually affect gene expression levels inside a particular kind of immune cell known as a lymphocyte.

In two of the five cases, the Denisovan variants did have a measurably different impact on the gene expression levels than their modern human counterpart. And they impact genes known to be important players in the response to infectious microbes, including viruses.

The fact that Denisovans, but not Neanderthals, seem to have contributed to the immune systems of present-day Papuans, tells us something about these ancient people, too.

Although little is known about how widely through Asia Denisovans lived, it suggests their immune system changed to adapt to the infectious diseases of their environment.

When humans moved in 60,000 years ago, these bits of DNA likely contributed to our success in settling this part of the world.

While our study is the first to elucidate the contribution of Denisovan DNA within modern human genetic diversity, there are still exciting questions to address. In particular, it is not clear whether the overall contributions of Denisovan and Neanderthal genetic variants consistently differ from each other.

It is also important to note we tested genetic variants in immune cells under resting conditions. This means the same or other genetic variants might have different effects out in the environment – this will be an important question for studies in the future.The Conversation

Irene Gallego Romero, Senior Lecturer in Human Genetics, The University of Melbourne and Davide Vespasiani, Post-doctoral researcher, The University of Melbourne

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

Looking back from beyond the Moon: how views from space have changed the way we see Earth

A new view of Earth and its place. NASA
Alice GormanFlinders University

A photograph taken by NASA’s Orion spacecraft has given us a new perspective on our home planet.

The snap was taken during the Artemis I mission, which sent an uncrewed vehicle on a journey around the Moon and back in preparation for astronauts’ planned lunar return in 2025.

We get pictures of Earth every day from satellites and the International Space Station. But there’s something different about seeing ourselves from the other side of the Moon.

How does this image compare to other iconic views of Earth from the outside?


In December 1968, three astronauts were orbiting the Moon to test systems in preparation for the Apollo 11 landing. When they saw Earth rise over the lunar horizon, they knew this was something special. The crew scrambled to find colour film in time to capture it.

Excerpt from the Apollo 8 flight transcript, at the moment the crew observed the Earth rise. NASA

Photographer Galen Rowell called the resulting image “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken”.

Six years earlier, biologist Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring drew public attention to how human industries were harming terrestrial ecosystems. The book ignited the environmental movement and laid the ground for the reception of Earthrise.

Earthrise. NASA

The economist Barbara Ward, author of Spaceship Earth and one of the founders of sustainable development, said:

Above all, we are the generation to see through the eyes of the astronauts the astonishing ‘earthrise’ of our small and beautiful planet above the barren horizons of the moon. Indeed, we in this generation would be some kind of psychological monstrosity if this were not an age of intense, passionate, committed debate and search.

She saw Earthrise as part of the underpinning of a “moral community” that would enable a more equitable distribution of the planet’s wealth.

Blue Marble

The last Apollo mission took place in 1972. On their way to the Moon, the astronauts snapped the whole Earth illuminated by the Sun, giving it the appearance of a glass marble. It is one of the most reproduced photographs in history.

The Blue Marble. NASA

Like Earthrise, this image became an emblem of the environmental movement. It showed a planet requiring stewardship at the global scale.

The Blue Marble is often used to illustrate the Gaia hypothesis, developed by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis in the 1960s and ’70s. The hypothesis proposes that Earth is a complex self-regulating system which acts to maintain a state of equilibrium. While the theory is not widely accepted today, it provided a catalyst for a holistic approach to Earth’s environment as a biosphere in delicate balance.

The impression of a single, whole Earth, however, conceals the fact that not all nations or communities are equally responsible for upsetting the balance and creating environmental disequilibrium.

Pale Blue Dot

Our farthest view of Earth comes from the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1990. At the request of visionary astronomer Carl Sagan, it turned its camera back on Earth for one last time at a distance of 6 billion kilometres.

Pale Blue Dot, updated by Kevin M. Gill using modern image-processing techniques, 2020. NASA

If Blue Marble evoked a fragile Earth, Pale Blue Dot emphasised Earth’s insignificance in the cosmos.

Sagan added a human dimension to his interpretation of the image:

Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you’ve ever heard of, every human being that ever was, lived out their lives.

Rather than focusing on Earth’s environment, invisible from this distance, Sagan made a point about the futility of human hatred, violence and war when seen in the context of the cosmos.

Tin Can, Grey Rock, Blue Marble

Now, on the cusp of a return to the Moon 50 years after Blue Marble was taken, the Orion image offers us something different.

Scholars have noted the absence of the photographer in Earthrise, Blue Marble and Pale Blue Dot. This gives the impression of an objective gaze, leaving out the social and political context that enables such a photograph to be taken.

Here, we know what is taking the picture – and who. The NASA logo is right in the centre. It’s a symbol as clear as the US flag planted on the lunar surface by the Apollo 11 mission.

A photo showing a white spacecraft in the foreground, with the Moon and Earth in the background.
A new view of Earth and its place. NASA

The largest object in the image is a piece of human technology, symbolising mastery over the natural world. The spacecraft is framed as a celestial body with greater visual status than the Moon and Earth in the distance. The message: geopolitical power is no longer centred on Earth but on the ability to leave it.

Elon Musk sent an identical message in photographs of his red Tesla sportscar, launched into solar orbit in 2018, with Earth as the background.

But there’s a new vision of the environment in the Orion image too. It’s more than the whole Earth: it shows us the entire Earth–Moon system as a single entity, where both have similar weighting.

This expansion of the human sphere of influence represents another shift in cosmic consciousness, where we cease thinking of Earth as isolated and alone.

It also expands the sphere of environmental ethics. As traffic between Earth and the Moon increases, human activities will have impacts on the lunar and cislunar environment. We’re responsible for more than just Earth now.

Our Place In The Cosmos

Images from outside have been powerful commentaries on the state of Earth.

But if a picture were able to bring about a fundamental change in managing Earth’s environment and the life dependent on it, it would have happened by now. The Orion image does show how a change of perspective can reframe thinking about human relationships with space.

It’s about acknowledging that Earth isn’t a sealed spaceship, but is in dynamic interchange with the cosmos.The Conversation

Alice Gorman, Associate Professor in Archaeology and Space Studies, Flinders University

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

Rutland Roman villa: how we found one of the most significant mosaics discovered in the UK

Archaeology students and ULAS staff from University of Leicester carefully clean the fully exposed Trojan War mosaic. © ULASAuthor provided
John S ThomasUniversity of Leicester

The discovery of a previously unknown Roman villa in rural Rutland during the 2020 lockdown was one of the archaeological stories of the year.

Villas are emblematic features of the Roman countryside, and many are known across Britain. But this new discovery is unique. It has what could be considered the most significant Roman mosaic discovery in the past century at its heart.

The mosaic was originally partly exposed by the landowners, who were investigating in the field after discovering pottery and tile fragments. A year later I led a team of archaeologists and students from the University of Leicester in fully exposing the mosaic floor.

This summer we returned as part of a joint excavation with Historic England.

The villa was protected as a scheduled monument by Historic England in 2021 (meaning it’s preserved for future generations to study when new techniques are developed that may assist further research), so these were to be the last excavations at the villa for the foreseeable future. We had plenty of questions.

What Did The Team Discover?

The mosaic forms the floor of a triclinium (dining room) at the northern end of what appears to be a main villa building from the third or fourth century AD.

Here, residents would have wined and dined guests, providing luxurious entertainment while showing off their wealth, affinity with Roman lifestyles – and perhaps in this case – their understanding of classical Greek literature.

An aerial view of the excavation shows the outline of the former buildings in a parched, brown field.
The excavation of the dining room (triclinium) on the left and an adjacent building seen from the air. © Historic EnglandAuthor provided

The mosaic tells a grim tale of revenge from towards the end of the Trojan war, famously described in Homer’s Iliad.

Over three panels it depicts the duel between the Greek hero Achilles and Prince Hector of Troy and the unsavoury outcome of Achilles’s victory.

The mosaic is an incredible find. It is the only representation of the Trojan war from Roman Britain, and tells the story in an unusual “comic strip” style.

Dr Jane Masséglia, from the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, tells the story behind the mosaic.

The value of this new villa lies not only with the mosaic, however, but in its completeness and the fantastic preservation of the archaeology. A geophysical survey of the field revealed an entire complex of buildings.

New Discoveries

One of the ancillary buildings appears to have initially been a timber barn but was converted to stone sometime in the third or fourth century AD.

At this time, while the eastern end continued to be used for agricultural and small-scale industrial activity, the western end was converted for residential use. The remains of several partition walls and successive layers of floor suggest it was repeatedly renovated.

An aerial photograph shows the boundaries of the excavation area amid expansive rural fields.
An aerial overview of the villa field showing all of the excavation areas examined in the summer of 2022, with the aisled building in the foreground. © Historic EnglandAuthor provided

This reflects evidence from other excavated Roman villas, and provides a good indication of the lifespan and continuing development of this type of building.

On the southern side, the team also found remains of a bath suite. A series of three rooms – hot (caldarium), medium (tepidarium), and cold (frigidarium) incorporated underfloor heating and a water tank which may have been used for collecting rainwater.

Further excavation also took place around the dining room that held the mosaic. Evidence was found for an earlier boundary ditch, provisionally dated to the second or third century AD, built during an earlier iteration of the villa. The ditch lay beneath the mosaic and had caused slumping of the floor over time. Perhaps this led to the room eventually going out of use.

Investigation of the corridors on either side of the triclinium found a collapsed patterned mosaic on the western side and a preserved mosaic in the eastern corridor, which showed a complex kaleidoscope design.

A man in the foreground and woman to the back of the shot bend down with buckets to excavate parts of the mosaic.
Figures emerge from the past as a scene from the Trojan War mosaic is uncovered. © Historic England

The key discovery was that the dining room was a later addition to the building. Examination of the wall relationships indicated a major refurbishment in the third or fourth century to incorporate the triclinium and Trojan war mosaic.

For now, it’s unclear why this major work took place. It may be that the villa had reached sufficient wealth to afford such a luxury installation. Alternatively, the owners may have desired to reaffirm their connections to Roman culture and its classical background.

Whatever the reason, it seems that the grand mosaic only featured fleetingly in the life of the villa. A fireplace installed in one corner of the room and large areas of scorching across the mosaic indicate that the space was repurposed for more workaday activities, before the building finally fell into disrepair.

Now that the excavations are complete, the trenches have been back-filled and the field will return to pasture. Attention will now focus on the detail of the artefacts and environmental information gathered to try to piece the story of this fantastic archaeological site back together.

Archaeology students observe Dr. David Neal, expert on mosaics, as he draws a scaled plan of the Trojan War mosaic.
Archaeology students observe Dr David Neal, expert on mosaics, as he draws a scaled plan of the Trojan War mosaic. © Historic EnglandAuthor provided

We know that Roman villas like this were at the centre of large farming estates. While the buildings may have now been put to rest, we hope to widen the search into the surrounding landscape to understand the bigger picture of what was happening in this part of the Roman countryside.

This will allow us to develop the links we have created with the local archaeological community so we can involve them in discovering further ties to their local heritage.The Conversation

John S Thomas, Deputy Director of Archaeological Services, University of Leicester

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

I’m going to a classical music concert for the first time. What should I know?

Timothy McKenryAustralian Catholic University

Classical music is surprisingly controversial.

For some, it’s a pinnacle of cultural achievement. For others it perpetuates class inequality and upholds “white middle class social domination”.

To controversy, we can add contradiction! We love to hear the instruments and idioms of classical music in film and television (think of the theme from The Crown or the music from the Harry Potter films), but experience has shown classical music is most effective at repelling loiterers from public spaces.

Engaging with the controversy and contradiction of this music requires more than streaming a minute or two of Mozart. Research shows we make better judgements about music when hearing and seeing it, and classical music was designed to be experienced live.

So are you considering giving classical music a go? Here are some tips for first-time concert goers.

Where Should I Start?

Concerts range from intimate performances by solo players to major works for choir and orchestra featuring hundreds of musicians.

Terms like “chamber” (small ensembles like string quartets), “choral” (choirs large and small), “orchestral” (ranging from larger string ensembles to giant collections of strings, winds, brass and percussion) and “opera” (companies of musicians that include orchestral players, solo singers and sometimes a chorus) describe different groups of musicians.

Each has its own repertoire and a dizzying array of terms (such as ariaconcertosinfoniaoratorio and cantata) help describe the pieces these ensembles perform.

The more you get to know classical music, the more you’ll understand and appreciate the terminology.

One of the most common types of classical music you’ll come across is a symphony. A symphony is a substantial orchestral work with different sections or “movements”, each with a different character and tempo. Though the term “symphony” became popular in the 18th century, composers are still writing symphonies today. Symphonies differ in purpose and duration. They can be as short as ten minutes and as long as two hours.

Sammartini’s Symphony in F from 1740, for example, has three movements and lasts about ten minutes. Its movements have simple, direct structures that aren’t too far removed from pop songs in terms of complexity and scope.

Mahler’s third symphony from 1896, on the other hand, has six movements and lasts for 90 minutes. Its breadth and complexity are astounding.

I would suggest a first timer selects an orchestral concert with multiple pieces on the program. You will get to enjoy the spectacle of many musicians and many different instruments. You’re also likely to be exposed to the work of composers from different times and places.

If money is a concern, many orchestras put on free concerts.

What Should I Expect?

Classical music is pretty diverse. Just as rock ’n’ roll traverses anything from Buddy Holly to Thundermother, what we colloquially know as “classical music” spans many cultures and many centuries.

Terms like “Baroque” (composed between 1600 and 1750), “Classical” (this time with a capital C, composed between 1730 and 1820), “Romantic” (around 1820 to 1900) and “Modern” (1890 to 1950) help us keep track of when the music was written.

These eras also operate with regional descriptors such as French, German, Italian or Russian.

Overlay this with subtleties of style and the distinct personalities of individual composers and you get a sense of the vast breadth of classical music.

But it is also important to know classical music isn’t only a celebration of dead Europeans. It is a living tradition whose boundaries aren’t fixed.

Classical music readily interacts with other types of music and crosses cultural boundaries to generate new styles and new sounds. Consider the Australian work Kalkadungu by William Barton and Matthew Hindson, a work “designed to explore the transition of traditional song-lines between the past, present and future”.

Though sometimes far removed from contemporary culture, every piece of classical music has something to say about the human experience. So, what to expect in the program? Expect to be surprised.

What Should I Wear?

Wear what makes you comfortable. While it’s not unusual for people to dress up for a concert, it isn’t compulsory, and ordinary casual clothes are fine. In the same way people dress up for the Melbourne Cup, some people wear black tie to the opera. Don’t let it faze you.

When Should I Clap?

While you might be moved to clap right after hearing an incredible feat of musicianship, modern audiences generally don’t clap whenever there is a pause in the music, such as between movements of a symphony.

This reflects the idea that a symphony is a “complete” musical statement – including the pauses between sections.

If you’re uncertain when to clap, wait until others do.

What Else Should I Keep In Mind?

Going to classical music should be about enjoying the concert! Here are some final tips on how to enjoy yourself.

Enjoy the spectacle. There’s much to see at classical concerts. The interactions between the conductor and the orchestra can be particularly interesting. Watch as the conductor, with a flick of the baton, unleashes awesome sonic power.

Appreciate the skill of the musicians. Classical performers are the elite in their field. It takes decades of training to do what they do.

Learn something about the composer and the work. Some classical composers are saints (Hildegard of Bingen) and some may have been psychopaths (Gesualdo). Knowing who the composer is and what they were trying to achieve in their music will add to your appreciation.

Keep in mind that your musical taste expands as you expose yourself to new and unfamiliar sounds. The more you listen, the more you are likely to enjoy.

Oh, and sometimes, if the audience is adequately enthusiastic, there’ll be a short additional piece at the end. Encore! The Conversation

Timothy McKenry, Professor of Music, Australian Catholic University

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

Summer Reading 2022-2023: We Of The Never Never

We of the Never Never is an autobiographical novel by Jeannie Gunn first published in 1908. Although published as a novel, it is an account of the author's experiences in 1902 at Elsey Station near Mataranka, Northern Territory in which she changed the names of people to obscure their identities. She published the book under the name Mrs Aeneas Gunn, using her husband's first and last name. Over the years, newspapers and magazine articles chronicled the fortunes of the Elsey characters. Jeannie outlived all but Bett-Bett.

Jeannie Gunn was the first white woman to settle in the Mataranka area. Her husband Aeneas was a partner in the Elsey cattle station on the Roper River, some 483 km (300 miles) south of Darwin. On 2 January 1902 the couple sailed from Melbourne for Port Darwin so that he could take up a job as the station's new manager. In Palmerston, Gunn was discouraged from accompanying her husband to the station on the basis that as a woman she would be "out of place" on a station such as the Elsey. However, she travelled south and her book describes the journey, settling in, and the difficulties of life in the bush. Jennie Gunn lived on the cattle station for about a year before her husband, Aeneas, died of malarial dysentery on March 16th 1903. Jeannie returned to Melbourne shortly afterwards and never returned to the Northern Territory.

The book is regarded as being significant as a precursor of the 1930s landscape writers. Already in 1908 Australia was a significantly urbanised country and the book was seen to provide symbols of things that made Australia different from anywhere else, underwriting an Australian legend of life and achievement in the outback, where "men and a few women still lived heroic lives in rhythm with the gallop of a horse" in "forbidding faraway places".

Four of the stockmen from Elsey Station in 1933 who were characterised in "We of the Never Never"

Characters from Aeneas Gunn's book 'We of the Never Never', 1933 

Caption: Do you know the men in the above photograph? Probably not, yet thousands of boys and girls throughout Queensland during the past week have had the quartet intimately in their thoughts. They are the originals of characters in 'We of the Never Never', Mrs. Aeneas Gunn's classic tale of early Australian days, which was a textbook for the State scholarship examinations. They worked together on Elsy Station and had the first reunion since those days in 1933 when 'Truth's' photograph was taken. From left to right they are: Irish Mac, The Dandy, Mine Host and The Quiet Stockman. The first-named has since died. The other three are residents of South Australia. (Description supplied with photograph). Photo courtesy State Library of Queensland.

Fire And Rescue NSW Adopts Nation Naming Of Trucks Across NSW: Local Tribes Descendants State These May Need Adjusting

December 16, 2022
More than 40 Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) stations now display traditional indigenous nation names on their trucks, alongside existing geographical names, in the first tranche of a state-wide rollout.

The nation naming conventions, officially announced in a ceremony today at the Emergency Services Academy in Sydney’s west, not only recognise original custodianship but further embed Aboriginal languages and insights in mainstream consciousness.

The approach has successfully been undertaken by FRNSW in the state’s New England region and north-west for several years and will now be embraced state-wide.

The first 43 FRNSW stations to adopt nation names as part of the agency-wide rollout include Campbelltown, City of Sydney, Mount Druitt, Redfern and Ropes Crossing.

Each indigenous name has been identified and confirmed with the assistance of community elders, Aboriginal land councils and other cultural representatives.

However, as many of these are disputed, and there have been challenges to some of the Land Councils, who quickly applied for and were granted lands outside of their traditional areas when the legislation was first enacted in 1985, the nations named on trucks in some areas may need adjusting. 

For example, in 2002 descendants of the Guringai tribe issued a letter to the Darkingjung Land Council;

 " Notification to Cease and desist Misrepresentation of Prehistory Occupation by Aboriginal Peoples In the Area Bounded by Port Jackson in the South, Lake Macquarie in the North and Mangrove Creek in the West - Guringai ( Wannungine/Wannerawa speaking people ) Land "

These coastal Aboriginal tribes were and are known as the Eora people and consist of the Sydney tribes (Kurring-gai / Carigal / Dhurang / Durrouk) the larger coastal Guringai (Walkeloa clan) tribes and the Lake Macquarie tribes ( Koompahtoo / Bah Tah Tah / Awakabal ). It is thought that they came to the coast as long as 20,000 years ago. Scientists have proven that the Aboriginal people have been in Australia as long as 65,000 years and newer research is considering back dating that to 110,000 years.

The tribes were based on family groups and consisted of up to 30 people, there were at least 18 family tribes living along the coast and inland and at peak periods it is estimated about 540 individuals existed, the coastal families were located at: Kincumber, Patonga - Pearl Beach, Brisbane Water - Woy Woy - Gosford, Somersby Falls, Erina - Terrigal - Wamberal - Avoca, Ourimbah - Narrara, Jilliby, Tacoma, Tuggerah, Munmora - Norah Head, Cooranbong - Morriset, Mangrove Mountain - Kulnura and Wollombi.

Descendants of Bungaree still live in the Pittwater area. Bungaree was born around the Brisbane Water area in 1775 and was a young lad when Phillip and his party landed in 1789, he met Bass and Flinders when they visited Broken Bay on a survey expedition in 1799. His son Bowen would camp at Barrenjoey headland with his family.

So far they have been denied as being descendants of local indigenous peoples, and a ''seat at the table'' by both the Darkinjung Aboriginal Land Council, which, since its creation under the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (NSW ALR Act) has been located on the Central Coast of New South Wales, and the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, which holds lands in our area.

An extract from that states;

Background to the New South Wales Land Rights Act
''In June 1983 the Wran Labor Government enacted the LRA, which subsequently allowed Aboriginal land councils to claim empty Crown land not needed for essential public purposes. This Act had its initiative in the early South Australian lands trust; in 1974 the New South Wales Coalition government had sponsored the establishment of a Lands Trust. The Trust’s main activity was the purchasing of residential properties. In time it became the landlord to around 20 per cent of the State’s Indigenous population. Much of this property later ended up as valuable assets for land councils and Aboriginal housing groups. The advent of the Wran Labor Government in 1976 was hailed as a necessary first step towards the granting of inalienable land rights to Indigenous people. After much delay and despite heated debate and opposition from some Indigenous groups, the parliament of New South Wales passed the LRA. It gave certain groups freehold title over current Aboriginal reserves but had no process for claiming former Aboriginal reserves. The only non-reserve land that could be claimed was Crown land that had no future use and was not being used. There was no recognition of traditional ownership (Bennett 1999: 104; Wilkie 1985).

Our traditional custodians were ill-prepared for what followed. Aboriginal Land Councils were established very quickly and began a land grab. This was often without any involvement or consent from local Aboriginal people who were direct descendants of the traditional people of the lands in question. Guringah people generally were still recovering from wearing the brunt of nearly 180 years of physical and psychological trauma (dating from the establishment of Sydney town adjacent to our lands in 1788 through to the 1967 referendum which removed discriminatory clauses from the Australian constitution). These traumas included firstly dispossession of our land, enforced segregation and discrimination, and then assimilation and the denial of our culture. Guringah people were not fully conversant with the new opportunities that the Act bestowed upon them, nor savvy enough about the workings of the new legal system. There was a lag in the granting of these opportunities and in local resolution as to how to respond to them. Another group of Indigenous people however stepped into the vacuum and took advantage of this significant historical event. We Guringah custodians could not believe other Aboriginal people could act against us to both deny our existence and then steal our traditional lands from under us. But they did and history will show that the medium to allow this was the LRA.''

''The Office of the Registrar of the Land Rights Act conservatively values these lands at $770 million. The administrator of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council believes the figure could be closer to $3 billion. These local Aboriginal land councils could collectively be a larger landowner than Lend Lease or Mirvac. Recent enquiries have revealed that a serious lack of necessary infrastructure has left the door open to corruption. One report makes the claim that land councils have been drawn into questionable dealings by lucrative offers from real-estate developers (Jopson and Ryle 2004: 30).''

''The 2001 census revealed that 135 319 people living in New South Wales identified as Aboriginal (ABS 2002). Almost half of this group was living in financial stress. Most of them were existing on incomes classified as being below the poverty line. Almost one in five was unemployed and one-third lived in sub-standard housing. Of the 135 319 Aboriginal people in the State, only 20 459 or 15 per cent are members of Aboriginal land councils (Jopson and Ryle 2004a: 30). As previously mentioned, the logical deduction is that the great majority of Aboriginal people in the State are not receiving any flow-on benefits from the 1983 Act. Despite their chronic poverty, they have not received any benefit from the 79 000 hectares of land granted to Aboriginal people or the sale of prime coastal property by Aboriginal land councils.

Land lies at the heart of Indigenous cultural heritage. If the land is being managed (and sold) by a small minority of Aboriginal people who have no historical connections with that land—be they spiritual, cultural, intellectual, ceremonial or economic—then surely the claim can be made that the New South Wales Aboriginal land councils are little more than real estate speculators. They are by their own actions usurpers.''

Fire and Rescue NSW has stated locally-designed indigenous artworks will also be emblazoned on the vehicles, unlocking stories and providing a strong sense of belonging and identity.

Minister for Emergency Services and Resilience Stephanie Cooke said the initiative will help broaden the understanding of the more than 30 Aboriginal languages in NSW.

“By introducing nation names on our fire truck fleet, we recognise our history, helping connect with First Nation Australians, and celebrating their heritage across NSW,” Ms Cooke said.

FRNSW Commissioner Paul Baxter said this is another step forward in reforms taking place across the agency to help recognise, support and advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“Through systematic, and structural changes, FRNSW is committed to strengthening our partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Recognising the traditional owners of the land on which we work is just one step we can take to better reflecting the communities we serve,” Commissioner Baxter said.

The move aligns with FRNSW’s core belief that diversity drives service quality, innovation and future readiness, as set out in the agency’s blueprint for organisational change, known as the ‘Plus Plan.’

FRNSW’s existing Indigenous Fire and Rescue Employment Strategy (IFARES) program actively targets Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and has resulted in the recruitment of 90 Aboriginal Australian firefighters since its inception.

Station Name -  Aboriginal Nation
Aberdeen -  Wonnarua / Wanaruah
Abermain - Wonnarua
Albion Park - Wadi Wadi
Albury Central - Wiradjuri
Albury Civic -  Wiradjuri
Alexandria -  Eora
Alstonville - Bundjalung
Armidale - Anaiwan
Arncliffe - Eora
Ashfield - Eora
Avalon - Eora
Balgownie - Dharawal
Ballina - Bundjalung
Balmain - Eora
Balranald - Paakantji / Ngyiampaa / Mutthi Mutthi
Bangalow - Bundjalung
Bankstown - Darug
Banora Point - Bundjalung
Barham -  Ngarrindjeri / Yorta Yorta
Barraba Barrapa -  Barrapa
Bateau Bay - Awabakal
Batemans Bay - Bhnduu
Bathurst - Wiradjuri
Batlow - Wiradjuri
Baulkham Hills - Darug
Beecroft - Eora
Bega - Djirringanj
Bellbird - Kulin
Bellingen - Gumbaynggirr
Belmont - Awabakal
Berkeley Vale - Kuring-gai
Berowra - Darug / Guringai
Berrigan - Wiradjuri
Berry - Dhurga / Dharumba
Bingara - Gomeroi
Blackheath - Gundagurra
Blacktown - Darug
Blayney - Wiradjuri
Boggabri - Gamilaraay
Bombala - Eora
Bondi - Eora
Bonnyrigg Heights - Darug
Boorowa - Wiradjuri
Botany - Darug / Eora
Bourke - Nyampaa Ngemba / Wankamarra
Bowral - Tharawal
Bowraville - Gumbaynggirr
Braidwood - Yuin
Branxton - Awabakal
Brewarrina - Nyampaa
Broken Hill - Wiljaali
Broken Hill South - Wiljaali
Brunswick Heads - Gubbi Gubbi
Budgewoi - Darkinjung / Awaba
Bulli - Dharawal
Bundanoon - Dharawal
Bundeena - Dharawal
Burwood - Eora
Busby - Darug
Byron Bay - Bundjalung
Cabramatta - Darug
Camden -  Dharawal
Campbelltown - Dharawal
Campsie - Darug
Canowindra - Wiradjuri
Cardiff - Awabakal
Carrington -Awabakal
Casino - Bundjalung
Castle Hill - Darug
Cessnock - Awaba / Wonnarua
Charlestown - Awabakal
Chester Hill - Darug
City of Sydney - Eora
Cobar - Ngiyanu
Coffs Harbour - Gumbaynggirr
Coledale - Dharawal
Concord - Darug
Condobolin - Wiradjuri
Coolah - Gamilaraay
Coolamon - Wiradjuri
Cooma - Ngarigo 
Coonabarabran - Wailwan
Coonamble - Gamilaraay
Cootamundra - Wiradjuri
Coraki - Bundjalung
Corowa - Waveroo
Corrimal - Dharawal
Cowra - Wiradjuri
Cranebrook - Darug
Cronulla - Dharawal
Crookwell - Wiradjuri
Crows Nest - Eora
Culcairn - Wirradjuri
Dapto - Dharawal / Wodi Wodi
Darlinghurst - Eora
Dee Why - Eora
Delroy - Wiradjuri
Deniliquin - Wamba Wamba / Baraba Baraba
Denman - Wonnarua / Wanaruah
Dorrigo - Gumbaynggirr
Doyalson - Darkinjung / Awaba
Drummoyne - Eora
Dubbo - Wiradjuri
Dunedoo - Wiradjuri
Dungog - Awabakal
East Maitland - Wonnarua
Eastwood - Darug
Eden - Yuin
Engadine - Dharawal
Evans Head - Bundjalung
Finley - Yorta Yorta
Forbes - Wiradjuri
Forestville - Eora
Forster - Worimi
Gilgandra - Wiradjuri
Gladesville - Darug
Glebe - Eora
Glen Innes - Gumbaynggirr
Glenbrook - Wurundjeri / Woi Wurrung
Gloucester - Guringai
Goonellabah - Bundjalung
Gordon - Kuring-gai / Gurringgai
Gosford - Darkinjung / Awaba
Goulburn - Burra Burra / Cookmal / Dharawal / Dharrook / Gundungarra / Lachlan / Mulwaree / Ngunnawal /  Pajong / Parramarragoo / Tarlo / Wollondilly / Wiradjuri
Grafton - Gumbaynggirr
Grenfell - Nyampaa
Griffith - Wiradjuri
Guildford - Darug / Eora
Gulgong - Wiradjuri
Gundagai - Wiradjuri
Gunnedah - Kamilaroi
Guyra - Anaiwan / Banbai
Hamlyn Terrace - Darkinjung / Awaba
Harden - Wiradjuri
Hay - Wiradjuri
Helensburgh - Dharawal / Wodi Wodi
Henty - Wiradjuri
Hillston - Wiradjuri
Holbrook - Wiradjuri
Holmesville - Awabakal
Horningsea Park - Darug
Hornsby - Darug
Huntingwood - Darug
Hurstville - Eora
Ingleburn - Darug / Eora
Inverell - Kamilaroi
Jerilderie - Wiradjuri
Jindabyne - Walgalu / Ngunnawal / Bidhawal
Junee - Wiradjuri
Kandos - Wiradjuri
Kariong - Darkinjung / Awaba
Katoomba - Gundagurra
Kearsley - Awaba / Wonnarua
Kellyville - Darug
Kelso - Wiradjuri
Kempsey - Dunghutti
Kiama - Dharawal / Wodi Wodi
Kincumber - Guringai
Kingscliff - Bundjalung
Kogarah - Eora
Kurri Kurri - Wonnarua
Kyogle - Bundjalung
Lake Cargelligo - Wiradjuri
Lakemba - Eora
Lambton - Awabakal
Lane Cove - Eora
Laurieton - Biripi
Lawson - Gundagurra
Leeton - Wiradjuri
Leichhardt - Eora
Leura - Darug
Lidcombe - Darug
Lightning Ridge - Nyampaa
Lismore - Bundjalung
Lithgow - Wiradjuri
Lithgow West - Wiradjuri
Liverpool - Darug / Dharawal
Lockhart - Wiradjuri
Macksville - Gumbaynggirr
Maclean - Bundjalung
Macquarie Fields - Dharawal
Maitland - Wonnarua
Manilla - Kamilaroi
Manly - Eora
Maroubra - Darug / Eora
Marrickville - Eora
Mascot - Eora
Matraville - Darug / Eora
Mayfield West - Awabakal
Menai - Dharawal / Gweagal
Merewether - Awabakal
Merimbula - Yuin
Merriwa - Wonnarua / Wanaruah
Merrylands - Darug / Eora
Minmi - Awabakal
Miranda - Dharawal / Gweagal
Mittagong - Gundagurra
Moama - Yorta Yorta
Molong - Wiradjuri
Mona Vale - Eora
Moree - Kamilaroi
Morisset - Awabakal
Morpeth - Wonnarua
Mortdale - Eora
Moruya - Brinja Djuwin / Walbunja
Mosman - Eora
Moss Vale - Dharawal
Mount Druitt - Darug
Mount Victoria - Wiradjuri
Mudgee - Wiradjuri
Mullumbimby - Bundjalung
Mulwala - Yorta Yorta
Murrurundi - Wanaruah / Wonnarua
Murwillumbah - Bundjalung
Muswellbrook - Wanaruah / Wonnarua
Nambucca Heads - Gumbaynggirr
Narellan - Dharawal
Narooma - Yuin
Narrabeen - Eora
Narrabri - Kamilaroi
Narrandera - Wiradjuri
Narromine - Wiradjuri
Neutral Bay - Eora
Newcastle - Awabakal
Newtown - Eora
North Albury - Wiradjuri
Nowra - Dhurga / Dharumba
Nyngan - Wiradjuri
Oberon - Wiradjuri
Orange - Wiradjuri
Parkes - Wiradjuri
Parramatta - Darug
Paxton - Awaba / Wonnarua
Peak Hill - Wiradjuri
Penrith - TBC
Perisher Valley - Wiradjuri / Wolgalu / Ngunnawal / Monaro Ngarigo
Picton - Dharawal
Port Macquarie - Biripi
Portland - Wiradjuri
Pyrmont - Eora
Queanbeyan - Ngunnawal / Ngambri
Quirindi - Kamilaroi
Randwick - Eora
Raymond Terrace - Wonnarua / Wanaruah
Redfern - Eora
Regentville - Darug
Revesby - Eora
Rhodes - Eora
Richmond - Darug
Riverstone - Darug
Riverwood - Eora
Ropes Crossing - Darug
Rosemeadow - Dharawal
Rutherford - Wonnarua
Rydalmere - Darug
Ryde - Darug
Salamander Bay - Wonnarua / Wanaruah
Saratoga - Darkinjung
Sawtell - Gumbaynggirr
Scarborough - Dharawal / Wodi Wodi
Schofields - Darug
Scone - Wonnarua / Wanaruah
Seven Hills - Darug
Shellharbour - Dharawal / Wodi Wodi
Shoalhaven - Dharawal / Wodi Wodi
Silverwater - Darug / Eora
Singleton - Wonnarua / Wanaruah
Smithfield - Gundagurra
South Grafton - Gumbaynggirr
South West Rocks - Dunghutti
Springwood - Darug
St Andrews - Dharawal
St Marys - Darug
Stockton - Wonnarua / Wanaruah
Sutherland - Dharawal
Swansea - Awabakal
Tamworth - Kamilaroi
Taree - Biripi
Tarro - Wonnarua
Tea Gardens - Wonnarua / Wanaruah
Temora - Wiradjuri
Tenterfield - Ngarabal
Teralba - Awabakal
Terrigal - Guringai
The Entrance - Guringai
The Rocks - Eora
Thirroul - Dharawal / Wodi Wodi
Thredbo - Ngarigo / Walgalu / Ngunnawal
Tingira Heights - Awabakal
Tocumwal - Yorta Yorta
Toronto - Awabakal
Toukley - Guringai
Trangie - Wiradjuri
Tumburumba - Wiradjuri
Tumut - Wiradjuri
Turvey Park - Wiradjuri
Tweed Heads - Bundjalung / Yugambeh
Ulladulla - Murramurrang 
Umina - Guringai
Unanderra - Dharawal
Uralla - Anaiwan
Urunga - Nganyaywana
Wagga Wagga - Wiradjuri
Walcha - Dunghutti / Anaiwan
Walgett - Gamilaraay
Wallerawang - Wirradjuri
Wallsend - Awabakal
Wangi Wangi - Awabakal
Warialda - Kamilaroi
Warragamba - Gundagurra
Warrawong - Dharawal / Wodi Wodi
Warren - Weilwan
Wauchope - Biripi
Wee Waa - Kamilaroi
Wellington - Wiradjuri
Wentworth Falls - Gundagurra
Wentworth - Barkindji
Wentworthville - Darug
Werris Creek - Kamilaroi
West Tamworth - Kamilaroi
West Wyalong - Wiradjuri
Weston - Wonnarua
Willoughby - Darug
Windsor - Darug
Wingham - Biripi
Wollongong - Dharawal / Wodi Wodi
Woolgoolga - Gumbaynggirr
Woollahra - Eora
Wyoming - Kuring-gai
Wyong - Darkinjung / Awaba
Yamba - Yaegl
Yass - Ngunnawal / Ngambri
Yenda - Wirradjuri
Yennora - Gandangara
Young - Wiradjuri

The Bureau Of Meteorology And The NEA Collaborate On Weather, Climate Research In The Maritime Continent

December 6, 2022
The National Environment Agency (NEA) and The Bureau of Meteorology (the Bureau) have signed a Strategic Relationship Arrangement (SRA) to embark on a multi-year collaboration programme on weather and climate research in the Maritime Continent[1] with a focus on the impact in Singapore and the wider Southeast Asian and Indo-Pacific regions.

Under the SRA, the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) under NEA and the Bureau will undertake research in areas such as very-short-range weather forecasting for the next 1-2 hours (known as nowcasting) using advanced weather radar data, seasonal prediction and the analysis of regional climate projections data. These research initiatives will contribute to improved prediction of heavy rainfall in Singapore, improved guidance on emerging seasonal climate trends in the region e.g., the El Niño–Southern Oscillation[2] (ENSO), as well as an enhanced understanding of future regional climate change through the sharing and development of novel climate data analysis tools. The outcomes of the joint research will help MSS, and the Bureau deliver enhanced forecast and warning services for decision-making, as well as to guide climate change adaptation plans.

Mr Luke Goh, CEO of NEA, said, “NEA is glad to work with Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, and other world-class partners to better understand the unique tropical weather phenomena in our region. This partnership with the Bureau announced today will improve our understanding and prediction of tropical weather and climate for Southeast Asia and enhance Singapore’s weather and climate services.”

Dr Andrew Johnson, the Bureau's CEO and Director of Meteorology, said, "The Bureau has a close working relationship with MSS, and we are looking to further strengthening our collaboration by strategically uplifting forecasting capabilities and weather knowledge across the tropics, as well as work focusing on tropical processes and improved radar nowcasting. This collaboration will benefit Singapore and Australia as well as our global partners, as we improve capabilities. Further opportunities will also be explored as this partnership grows and supports the four key objectives which underpin the Bureau's decadal Research and Development Plan."

The new bilateral SRA builds on existing collaborations, including the multilateral Unified Model Partnership, of which MSS and the Bureau are already core members, which plans and develops capabilities of one of the world’s leading weather and climate modelling systems. This adoption of a common modelling system for research, forecasting operations and regional climate projections provides a firm basis for advancing the collaboration between MSS and the Bureau.

[1] The Maritime Continent refers to the tropical region between the Indian and Pacific Oceans including the archipelagos of Indonesia, Borneo, the Philippines, and the surrounding seas.

[2] ENSO is a recurring climate phenomenon involving the interaction between the atmosphere and ocean in the tropical Pacific Ocean and can affect weather patterns globally.

While On The Weather: Long-Range Forecast Overview

December to February rainfall is likely (greater than 60% chance) to be above median in eastern parts of the eastern states. Below median rainfall is likely for parts of Western Australia.

December to February maximum temperatures are likely (greater than 60% chance) to be warmer than median for most of Tasmania, and most of northern and western Australia. Below median temperatures are likely for south-eastern parts of Queensland, central and eastern New South Wales and most of Victoria.

December to February minimum temperatures are likely to very likely (greater than 60% to greater than 80% chance) to be warmer than median for most of Australia. Below median temperatures are likely for parts of north-east New South Wales.

This wet outlook over northern and eastern Australia is consistent with several climate drivers, including La Niña, a rapidly decaying negative Indian Ocean Dipole event, a positive phase of the Southern Annular Mode, and record warm waters around Australia.

Transport Of Air Masses In Connection With 'El Niño' Decoded

The El Niño phenomenon influences the weather in distant regions, as far away as the USA, India or the Mediterranean region. But how exactly these so-called teleconnections actually work has not yet been clarified completely. Atmospheric researchers at the University of Vienna have now succeeded in demonstrating that variations of the transport of air mass, heat, moisture and energy from the tropical Pacific are responsible for many of these climate anomalies. And: El Niño also warms up the Atlantic, according to the study recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is one of the most important modes of climate variability worldwide, with large impacts on the weather conditions in many regions, and thus on agriculture and economy. It is related to changes in the sea surface temperatures in the Tropical Pacific Ocean. Periods with higher temperatures cause the so-called El Niño phenomenon. This phenomenon causes pronounced weather anomalies in many regions around the world, for example, droughts in the Amazon basin. These far-ranging impacts are called teleconnections.

Breakthrough regarding the role of air mass transport
Despite of a lot of research that has been done on ENSO, the mechanisms behind the observed teleconnections are still not well understood. Researchers at the University of Vienna now made a breakthrough in our understanding of the role of air mass transport in these teleconnections. They found that variations of the transport of air mass, heat, moisture and energy from the Tropical Pacific are causally responsible for many of the observed climate anomalies.

Katharina Baier, first author of the study and Early Career Researcher at the Department of Meteorology and Geophysics of the University of Vienna, explains: "The main benefit of our study is the different perspective on teleconnections, as we look at how the heat and moisture from the Pacific Ocean is transported via the atmosphere. We can thus establish a direct connection between the Pacific and remote regions. For instance, we can show that anomalously dry air is transported towards the Amazon Basin during El Niño, causing droughts there. In contrast, anomalously moist air is transported toward the southeastern U.S., which favours increased precipitation."

El Niño is also warming the Atlantic ocean
Andreas Stohl from the University of Vienna, who has led the study which is now published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, points out: "Our results contribute to the understanding of weather phenomena worldwide, for instance also in Australia, Africa, or the Mediterranean. In addition, we can show that anomalously large amounts of heat are transported from the Tropical Pacific towards the Atlantic Ocean during El Niño, which then responds by warming." Stohl is also head of the Department of Meteorology and Geophysics as well as the Research Network "VINAR."

Methodologically, the research team at the University of Vienna relied on atmospheric dispersion models, the so-called Lagrangian models. While conventional models record meteorological parameters such as humidity or temperature at certain positions, Lagrangian models follow the individual particles and capture how the meteorological parameters change along their way. These models can also be used to analyze the dispersion of particles such as soot, microplastics, or greenhouse gases.

K. Baier, M. Duetsch, M. Mayer, L. Bakels, L. Haimberger, A. Stohl. The role of atmospheric transport for El Niño‐Southern Oscillation teleconnections. Geophysical Research Letters, 2022; DOI: 10.1029/2022GL100906

The Past is Present: reflecting on 150 years of Chinese art at the National Gallery of Victoria

Scotty So, Wearing a mask at the end of the Spanish flu, no. 1 2020 inkjet print 76.3 × 50.8 cm (image) 86.5 × 61.0 cm (sheet). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2021 © Scotty So
Alison CarrollThe University of Melbourne

Earlier this month, Penny Wong detailed the last 50 years of Labor government engagement with China in her Whitlam Oration, tracing how the relationship’s varying warmth and chill have been politicised.

China – The Past is Present, the new exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), is a wonderful context for this speech.

The exhibition is about the depth and complexity of Chinese culture – visual and wider – as collected by one major art institution here in Euro-centric Melbourne. It is a long history, in collecting terms, undertaken by curators who have spent years working in the area.

In recent decades Mae Anna Pang notably collected historic Chinese paintings and calligraphy. Now curator Wayne Crothers has very creatively and beautifully (it is an overtly beautiful show) brought these traditions into the present.

Crothers’ years living in East Asia have given the ideas and interpretations he brings both a seriousness of intent and lightness of touch not often apparent.

But other individuals are part of this as well. The people who have found, taken, paid for or been given Chinese works of art over the last 150 years and then passed them on.

Long Australian Connections

In her oration, Wong said “when Australians look out to the world, we see ourselves reflected in it”.

The first Chinese object was acquired by the year-old gallery in 1862, the same year the well known and most glamorous of Australians in China was born: G.E. Morrison, son of the first principal of Geelong College. As the Times of London’s correspondent in Peking (now Beijing) from 1897 to 1912, he became internationally known as “Chinese Morrison”.

Morrison’s bequest of mostly court accoutrements, including courtly textiles and ceramics, came to the NGV in 1921.

Guanyin Qing dynasty, Kangxi period 1662-1722 porcelain (Dehua ware) 18.5 × 13.3 × 11.1 cm National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Gift of H. W. Kent, 1938. Photo: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Serious collectors like H.W. Kent followed. Kent was a businessman in China and Japan, and in 1938 he became the gallery’s first curator of the Asian collection. He built the extensive holdings especially of Song and Tang dynasty works we see in the permanent hang today.

James Mollison, following Gough Whitlam’s ventures, was sent to China in 1976 as a young gallery director of the yet-to-be-built National Gallery of Australia.

Chinese, Scholar’s rock, 17th century limestone, wood (Hongmu) 63.5 x 41.9 x 25.4 cm (overall). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, NGV Supporters of Asian Art, 2012

He recalled to me negotiating the intended acquisition of over 100 Mao-era posters. In 1985, Mollison also acquired an extensive woodcut collection originally brought together by legendary journalist and editor, and founder of Australian Art Monthly, Peter Townsend.

Mollison further described a visiting Chinese diplomat to National Gallery of Australia saying:

eventually we will have to borrow from you, nothing like either of these collections exists in China.

Chinese, Chair 18th century lacquer on wood 110.5x67.0x51.5 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1964

Today collectors and givers to our institutions range from the high profile Judith Neilson of White Rabbit Gallery with its huge collection of contemporary Chinese work, to Rachel Faggetter, whose donation of Maoist era works to the NGV are well included in this show, and Jason Yeap who has been generous for years in this area.

An Exhibition Of Delight

In The Past is Present, Crothers has created tableaux – like little stage sets – each around an idea important in Chinese culture.

There are a group of works of restrained monochrome spatial sophistication next to an assemblage of bright, smiling, Maoist era odes to workers’ paradises.

Installation view of China – The past is present, on display at NGV International , Melbourne from 15 October 2022 – 20 February 2023. Photo: Tom Ross

Next to this are deep red richly incised containers and portrait busts, next to the tutti-frutti colours of karaoke pop.

The entry tableau says it all: the strange twisted rocks, carved by eons of nature’s winds and water, so valued in traditional China, next to a polyurethane chair carved, it seems, by a blowtorch.

Installation view of China – The past is present, on display at NGV International , Melbourne from 15 October 2022 – 20 February 2023. Photo: Tom Ross

The whole clever display has a moment of dark red tranquillity at its centre, with a wall of 18th century muted painted landscapes facing a 2010 video by Yang Yongliang of Hong Kong-like traffic dwarfed by similar mountains.

Everywhere the contemporary is given depth by the historical, and the historical gives context to the work made now, but it isn’t didactic. You come away thinking it is an exhibition of delight.

Installation view of China – The past is present, on display at NGV International , Melbourne from 15 October 2022 – 20 February 2023. Photo: Tom Ross

Looking To The Future

The works on display here, and in collections around Australia, gathered over decades, have become part of our national fortune. Important in themselves, they also represent our history of engagement.

Part of the overt long-term reality around us and seen in the exhibition is the work of artists of Chinese background, who live in Australia. There are the well known fanciful sculptures of Guan Wei and exquisite porcelain busts of Ah Xian, sitting alongside work by emerging artists like the witty photography of Scotty So and ethereal paintings of Louise Zhang.

Installation view of China – The past is present, on display at NGV International , Melbourne from 15 October 2022 – 20 February 2023. Photo: Tom Ross

How are we faring in our cultural relations with China? Are we asking the current day “Chinese Morrisons” and Peter Townsends for their help to maintain ongoing cultural relationships? To be curious about Chinese culture and keen to engage in a long-term, creative, meaningful way? Are we celebrating Guan Wei and his compatriots?

I would hope so, and maybe Penny Wong’s advocacy is key here, but let us see.

Both in this exhibition and beyond, Chinese art in Australia is about people and connections. Long held, strong working and personal relationships evident even in a formal setting like this. It belies the superficial hostility we witness across the twittering classes.

China – The past is present is at the National Gallery of Victoria until February 20 2023.

Correction: this article originally said James Mollison acquired over 1,000 Mao-era posters for the National Gallery of Australia, this has been amended to over 100 posters.The Conversation

Alison Carroll, Senior Research Fellow, Victorian College of the Arts, The University of Melbourne

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

Indonesia’s new criminal code isn’t just about sex outside marriage. It endangers press and religious freedom

Tim LindseyThe University of Melbourne

Indonesia’s controversial new criminal code was passed into law on Tuesday, replacing a clunky old code dating back to at least 1918. Lawmakers have tried for decades to replace it. In fact, the last time legislators tried in 2019, it triggered the largest public protests in Indonesia since the 1998 fall of former president Soeharto.

This time, politicians rushed it through at short notice, despite widespread criticism and limited opportunities for public consultation. In the end, the code passed with the support of all but two small parties.

Many of its provisions are dangerously vague and wide in their scope – “rubber provisions”, as Indonesians say – that empower the state at the expense of citizens.

The provisions that have attracted the most criticism are those that impose conservative moral values about sexuality, and those that restrict rights to freedom of expression.

A Probationary Period For Death Sentences

One positive change in the new code is the introduction of a probationary period for death sentences. A death row inmate who demonstrates good behaviour during this period and exhibits remorse can now have his or her sentence changed from death to a term of imprisonment.

This signals a welcome step away from the “no mercy” approach adopted under President Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi). If this provision had been in place in the past, it might have allowed Australian drug offenders Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan to escape the firing squad.

However, this reform is a lonely one. Too many of the changes introduced by the new code are highly regressive, removing or restricting freedoms previously won.

Extramarital Sex And Other ‘Morality’ Provisions

Two provisions have already attracted attention internationally. One punishes extramarital sex with up to a year in prison, and the other says couples who live together without being legally married also face jail. There are fears unmarried foreign couples visiting Bali, Indonesia’s holiday island, might be targeted.

However, these two offences are delik aduan, that is, complaint offences. This means they cannot apply unless a close member of the family – a husband or wife, a parent or child – report the matter to the police. That makes it unlikely the new provisions would ever be deployed against an unmarried foreign tourist couple (although it’s possible they could be used against a foreigner with an Indonesian partner if the Indonesian’s family reports them).

There is more concern about the impact of these provisions on Indonesians, especially young couples. They allow families to use the police and the courts to enforce their views about sexuality and choice of partner.

It is also feared the new law will be used to target gay and lesbian people, who cannot marry under Indonesian law. Homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia (except in the province of Aceh) but opponents of the new code say it criminalises gay and lesbian people by stealth.

Gay and lesbian people are also likely to be targeted under another provision prohibiting “indecent acts”. This is only very vaguely defined and would probably catch public acts of affection between people of the same gender.

The new code also contains provisions that impose jail terms for the dissemination of information about contraception – even explaining how to obtain it. There are exceptions for government family planning activities, but this provision clearly limits women’s freedom to choose.

Other provisions impose a four-year sentence on any woman who has an abortion, and longer terms for those who perform it (although there are exceptions for rape victims and medical emergencies).

Restrictions On Freedom Of Expression

The new code contains provisions that criminalise insulting public officials, including the president and members of the government. There is no defence of truth. In other words, an offence is committed if the official is insulted, even if the allegations are true.

The chilling effect this would have on open debate and press freedom are obvious. In fact, equivalent provisions were struck out of the previous code by the Constitutional Court as unconstitutional. This is a flagrant attempt to reinstate those provisions, empowering the government to crack down on its opponents.

Other provisions ban the spreading of teachings that contradict the state ideology, Pancasila. This could also be deployed against government critics.

Human rights activists are also concerned about press freedom implications of two other provisions. The first prohibits the broadcasting and distribution of fake news (which is undefined) resulting in disturbance or unrest in the community and imposes a sentence of up to two years.

The second is even more dangerous for journalists. It states any person who broadcasts or distributes news that is unverified or exaggerated or incomplete (terms that are also not defined) will also face jail.

Other very controversial provisions deal with blasphemy. The code introduces increased restrictions on religion and religious life that will strengthen and expand the bases on which minority religious groups can be persecuted. This will aggravate a growing problem in post-Soeharto Indonesia.

Constitutional Court Challenge

This deeply flawed new criminal code is likely to meet with stiff opposition from lawyers and activists, including protests, even though the new code bans “unannounced demonstrations”. And it’s inevitable it will end up in the Constitutional Court, which has certainly been willing to strike out legislation that contradicts the Constitution in the past.

However, activists are now worried the recent dismissal of a Constitutional Court judge by the national legislature may have changed this.

Lawmakers claimed Justice Aswanto, who had originally been nominated by them, had acted contrary to the legislature’s interests by doing his job and striking down unconstitutional laws. Without a clear legal basis, they had him “recalled” and President Jokowi swore in a replacement.

Some predict this will make the remaining judges much more cautious when the code comes before them.

A Long Campaign

Most Indonesia-watchers agree democratic regression has increased over the last decade. The new code certainly fits that pattern. But it may also be linked to the hugely important presidential and legislative elections scheduled for February 2024.

President Jokowi is in his second term and cannot run again, so the elections will likely result in a major recalibration of power and wealth in Indonesia that will last for five or even ten years (if the new president wins a second term).

Politicians are already jostling for position and some have begun campaigning. The identity politics of religion and morality have played a central role Indonesia’s bitterly fought electoral contests in recent years, and the new code reflects this.

It allows the politicians who backed it to claim a “law and order” success where others had failed for years, and to assert conservative morality “family values” they think will resonate with their voters. This is particularly important for nationalist politicians seeking to bolster their religious credentials.

And, of course, the new code also delivers the government potent new legal weapons it can deploy against its critics.The Conversation

Tim Lindsey, Malcolm Smith Professor of Asian Law and Director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society, The University of Melbourne

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

Build-to-rent is seen as affordable, but it’s unlikely to help those most in need

Johari AmarBond University and Lynne ArmitageBond University

Australians desperately need more affordable homes, particularly homes for rent. The prospect of home ownership is rapidly receding for many people, especially younger generations (as the chart below shows). More people than ever are being forced into a tight rental market.

Making things worse, many traditional providers of residential rentals, the “mum and dad” investors, are selling their investments to take the capital gains.

Adding to the demand for housing, households are getting smaller. The estimated shortfall of homes needed to house new households will be nearly 165,000 by 2032. An extra 20,000 dwellings a year need to be built to avoid that housing deficit.

So what can be done to provide more housing that households can afford? One emerging idea is build-to-rent developments.

Build-to-rent generally involves developing residential accommodation with a view to it being a long-term investment offering long-term homes for renters rather than home buyers. These developments are usually units and townhouses, owned by an institutional investor.

Our research project is investigating the opportunities to improve housing affordability in Australia. We have found broad agreement among leading players in the build-to-rent sector that these developments are affordable when the rent generated is right for both the households and developers. But there’s a catch: our interviewees considered the rents affordable only because they are set at a reasonable cost for their target group, middle-to-upper-income households.

So this “reasonable cost” is a market perspective. And most current build-to-rent developments are a premium product in city-centre locations. As one person in state government explained:

“It’s a market process and they do their due diligence and they work out that there’s sufficient people who can pay what they need to pay and people who are perhaps willing to pay a premium for a better product and some greater security of tenure, because they know that it’s going to be continued to be offered as a rental. The landlord’s not going to go, ‘I want to move in’, or sell it.”

So Where Does This Leave Low-Income Renters?

Build-to-rent is well established overseas but relatively new to Australia. Unsurprisingly, there is still no single definition of exactly what it means, especially as an affordable housing option.

For example, a recent study analysing 685 media articles and housing industry reports suggested build-to-rent may not be what it seems. It might be just another way for investors to make financial gains while masquerading as a solution to the critical shortage of affordable and social housing (available at below-market rents).

It’s not yet clear whether built-to-rent will be an effective solution for people who most need affordable housing. They include low-income and vulnerable households, and those with special needs.

With this in mind, we interviewed 26 leading practitioners (CEOs, chairs of boards, national directors and state government departmental directors) across the field of affordable housing and build-to-rent in Australia to collect their views on what it is.

We found the market perspective is at odds with the needs of lower-income households. It’s quite different to the welfare approach to housing, which focuses on the needs of those with lower incomes. Many households in the bottom 40% of incomes are suffering housing stress as a result of spending more than 30% of their income on housing (known as the 30:40 affordability indicator).

To make inroads into the housing affordability crisis, built-to-rent developments will need to provide homes to all, including those falling under the 30:40 indicator, not only to the relatively wealthy.

Can Build-To-Rent Help Solve The Affordable Housing Crisis?

Participants agreed build-to-rent developments can ease the affordability crisis. To support lower-income households, however, they said incentives, via tax concessions and inclusionary zoning, will be needed.

Tax concessions provide incentives to develop affordable housing by, for example, offering land tax credits. Inclusionary zoning either mandates or creates incentives so a set proportion of a development is affordable housing. The incentives typically include changes to development controls and planning standards and processes to reduce costs and obstacles to build-to-rent developments.

How, then, can we ensure built-to-rent delivers housing that’s affordable for all households? Our analysis points towards two main conclusions.

First, a legal or statutory definition of “affordability” in relation to build-to-rent should be established. This will allow better framing of the sector’s role in a national housing strategy. As a CEO with 40 years of experience in policy development and the provision of social and affordable housing told us:

“[Build-to-rent] settings are acutely hampered by the fact that we don’t have a national housing strategy, therefore, nobody’s really bothered to resolve the difficult issues about the definition […] that will put housing costs basis into a frame that says, is it reasonable, is it suitable, is it affordable and, once you paid for it, can you afford a reasonably decent standard of living?”

A national housing strategy should allow development of tiers of build-to-rent housing. Each tier would match the level of risk and return within a given section of the spectrum of housing types and tenures. So, these tiers represent both levels of rent and a range of housing types – high-rise, low-rise, townhouses etc.

The aim is to deliver diverse housing options with a focus on affordability and universal housing (designed to meet residents’ changing needs over their lifetime).

A senior economist overseeing nation-wide research into housing and mixed-use development said:

“So we could potentially look at a grade A BtR [build-to-rent], grade B, grade C BtR asset classes and in different locations. We need to be working more towards different kinds of BtR asset classes, like they have in the USA, UK and Canada.”

This approach will help make build-to-rent developments more predictable, replicable and scalable to match varying levels of affordability. And that will help create the confidence and enthusiasm the sector needs to produce better affordable housing outcomes.The Conversation

Johari Amar, Lecturer in Property, Bond University and Lynne Armitage, Associate Professor of Urban Development, Bond University

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

Winners Of The NSW Crown Land Awards: Ku-Ring-Gai Council Wins Award For Excellence For Transforming St Ives Showground: New Cultural - Environmental Education Centre Planned For 2023

Minister for Lands and Water Kevin Anderson has congratulated the winners of the prestigious NSW Government Community Achievement Awards for their outstanding work maintaining and improving Crown reserves.

“These awards recognise the volunteers and organisations whose wonderful work ensures that local residents and visitors can enjoy top-quality facilities for recreation and community activities,” Mr Anderson said.

“The winners are among thousands of Crown land managers, mostly locals who donate their own time and do an amazing job improving and maintaining some of the 34,000 Crown reserves across NSW.”

The Department of Planning and Environment – Crown Lands sponsored three categories of the Community Achievement Awards for Regional NSW and the ACT.

Jone Pavelic won the Individual Excellence in Crown Land Management Award as chair of the Temora Showground Land Manager, overseeing a multi-use facility that is central to community life. Jone leads by example as the front-line point of contact taking all bookings for the showground and its caravan park.

The volunteer board members who manage Oberon Showground won the Crown Land Management Excellence Award for improving facilities. They installed sensor security lights throughout the grounds, new water taps in the camping area and set up a Facebook page to keep the community up to date on activities.

Ku-ring-gai Council won the Council Crown Land Management Excellence Award for transforming the St Ives Showground site with upgrades supported by the NSW Government worth millions of dollars. The council opened St Ives Showground Regional Playground in 2020 and Treetops Adventure Park in 2021.

Crown reserves are critical for supporting recreation, culture and the economies of local communities across the state and provide land for everything from showgrounds, racecourses and surf lifesaving clubs to parks, sporting venues and public halls.

Mayor Jeff Pettett received the award on behalf of Ku-ring-gai Council at the presentation.

Ku-ring-gai Council was recognised for its Plan of Management for the St Ives Showground, which was conducted following extensive consultation with the Ku-ring-gai community and key stakeholders. The Plan of Management initiatives included opening the St Ives Showground Regional Playground in December 2020 and the Treetops Adventure Park in November 2021. Council also implemented upgrades and improvements using the Covid-19 stimulus package.

The strategic vision of the St Ives Showground is for it to be a foundation for building strong connections between agriculture, entertainment, recreation, the environment and education whilst respecting the natural environment and beauty.

Mayor Jeff Pettett said he was pleased to see St Ives Showground continue to grow and become a much-valued regional recreation and major events destination for Ku-ring-gai and the wider Sydney.

“St Ives Showground is a busy hub of recreational activities, including walking, picnics, equestrian events, cycling, dog training club and off-leash areas, model plane flying club, radio controlled car club car and as well as, sports training and competitions, markets, playgrounds, environmental education, Community Shed and the annual Agricultural and Horticultural Show, all within a bushland setting”

“There is also more to look forward to with Council currently in the detailed design stage for a new Environmental and Cultural Centre to open onsite in 2023”.

The new Cultural and Environmental Education Centre aims to be an exciting space for increasing environmental awareness throughout the Ku-ring-gai community. Located at the St Ives Showground, the building and surrounds will facilitate community workshops, seminars, functions and events for all ages. It will also connect with the range of programs currently on offer at the neighbouring Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Garden.

Artists drawing of the new Cultural and Environmental Education Centre courtyard. Image: Ku-ring-gai Council 

Bioinspiration & Dynamic Proteins Among 2023 Discovery Projects

Five Exciton Science Associate Investigators were among the successful applicants for the Australian Research Council’s 2023 Discovery Projects.

RMIT University’s Daniel Gomez is part of a project aiming to fabricate 2D soft plasmonic photocatalysts with leaf-like structures and functions for solar-to chemical energy conversions.

The researchers hope to increase our understanding of plasmon-enhanced photocatalysis mechanisms, and construct artificial leaves to perform the solar-to-chemical conversions, which can provide significant benefits, such as creating a new generation of soft energy devices and advancing Australian expertise in photochemistry, self-assembly, and functional nanomaterials.

Andrew Christofferson, also at RMIT University, and his collaborators will address critical issues in studying proteins outside their native environments by developing new solvents that will increase their stability and solubility.

The project expects to create new knowledge in our understanding of solvent chemical properties through a novel approach using high throughput robotics, synchrotron analysis of protein structures and Molecular Dynamics simulations.

The expected outcome is a set of design rules for creating new solvents. This should benefit many research and industrial applications, including determining protein structure for the development of new drugs and biocatalysts, and cryopreservation of protein-based pharmaceuticals.

Lars Goerigk of the University of Melbourne and Monash University’s Chris Ritchie will be part of a team examining proteins, which perform almost every task that enables the amazing complexity of cellular and whole organism physiology.

These molecular machines perform this incredible array of tasks due to their ability to dynamically change shape. For the vast majority of these machines, we can only view a snapshot of the possible shapes they can adopt and can’t monitor how they change from one shape to another, which is critical for their functioning.

This project aims to develop and apply a completely new method to visualise dynamic changes in protein shape which is not possible with current techniques. This will allow us to provide a new description and understanding of the function of proteins, which is fundamental to all biology.

The University of Melbourne’s Ann Roberts and her colleagues will seek to discover the nano-structural properties of beetles that enable effective management of solar and thermal radiation in different environments.

A further aim is to reveal how these composite biological materials combine thermal control with desirable mechanical properties, such as strength and flexibility. Passive control of radiative energy is critical for both animal survival and for the design of many manufactured materials, particularly in a warming world.

This interdisciplinary project will provide new knowledge of the different ways that biological materials mediate radiative energy exchange with the environment. This knowledge is essential for the design of bioinspired, energy-efficient, multi-functional materials.

Read more about the first round of 2023 ARC Discovery Projects below.

More Than $221 Million ARC Discovery Projects Announced For 2023

The Australian Research Council (ARC) Chief Executive Officer, Ms Judi Zielke PSM, has announced funding of more than $221 million for 478 new projects through the ARC Discovery Projects scheme. 

Ms Zielke said that the Discovery Projects scheme supports individual researchers or research teams to innovate and build the 'new' knowledge essential for a knowledge-based economy. 

“Funding these cutting-edge research projects will expand the knowledge base and research capacity in Australia.” Ms Zielke said. 

“Projects will deliver significant outcomes in fields such as advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity, environmental change, health, and water.” 

“The ARC funds world-class excellence across a wide range of scientific fields. This includes projects to better understand the history of the Torres Strait through sport, improving techniques for primary school learning, and fundamental ‘blue-sky’ research that will expand the horizon of our knowledge of the universe.” 

Discovery Projects, a flagship scheme for fundamental research and the largest scheme under the ARC National Competitive Grants Program, provides funding of between $30,000 and $500,000 each year for up to 5 consecutive years. Among other things, funding can be used to support research associates or assistants and technicians, access to research and infrastructure facilities, technical workshop services, essential field research, equipment and consumables, and the publication and dissemination of findings. 

Among the successful Discovery Projects to commence in 2023 are: 

University of Southern Queensland ($399,000): Carbon fibre thermoplastics as next-generation carbon fibre composites. Carbon Fibre Composites (CFCs) are extremely strong and lightweight materials used in manufacturing, particularly in the aerospace industry. This project, using malleable polymer resin, will develop new CFCs enabling rapid production, reduced manufacturing costs, and the potential for materials to be reprocessed and recycled. This will help Australia’s advanced manufacturing capability as new applications are identified in broader industries like automotive, wind energy, marine, oil and gas, and hydrogen storage. 

University of Technology Sydney ($482,000): Deep Learning Attacks and Active Defences. This project will develop sophisticated cybersecurity techniques to provide active protection measures against attacks on artificial intelligence (AI) systems that process data, including making the detection of threats quicker, more reliable, and more affordable. The security and privacy tools developed are expected to be adopted by a wide variety of organisations using AI software, especially in critical sectors such as banking/securities, trade/customs, telecommunications, government decision-making and power grid control, plus transport and autonomous vehicles. 

University of Newcastle ($660,000): Towards 2050 - managing recovery of Australia's coral reefs. This project will provide information on how historical temperatures and bleaching severity impact reef recovery. With increasing ocean temperatures this information will support coral reef managers in Australia and internationally to make decisions to mitigate long term impacts of coral bleaching. 

University of Western Australia ($565,000): Brain-skull interface - discovering the missing piece of head biomechanics. Every year in Australia over 22,000 people suffer a traumatic brain injury and over 12,000 neurosurgical operations are performed. This research will help create software that will design safety devices to prevent traumatic brain injury as well as surgical simulations to improve surgery accuracy and safety by integrating our knowledge of brain biomechanics with advanced computer modelling techniques. 

University of Tasmania ($475,000): Eruption dynamics and tsunami potential from submarine volcanoes. Using recently acquired ship-based geophysics and seafloor samples, this project will uncover the dynamics of large scale catastrophic volcanic eruptions. Partnerships with international experts will unlock the expertise needed to model eruption and tsunami dynamics and increase our knowledge of the volcanic hazards in our region to inform tsunami risk and mitigation policies. 

University of Adelaide ($530,000): Integrated nonmetal-metal single-atom catalysis for selective synthesis. New cutting-edge technology will be integrated at low cost into waste recycling and wastewater treatment plants. New green catalysts will be developed that can remove persistent organic pollutants in water without producing large amounts of toxic and hazardous wastes.  

University of Queensland ($391,000): Torres Strait Islander History - Sport, Culture, and Identity. This project will examine the history of the Torres Strait through its local, national, and international sporting past and provide a body of literature and resources for national communities, schools, and scholars to better understand the uniqueness of Torres Strait Islander history, cultures, and identities. 

University of Canberra ($344,000): Spatial intervention: An enduring model to build mathematics achievement. This project will develop innovative teaching and learning techniques to engage primary-school children with mathematics. Developing students’ critical spatial reasoning skills will support successful outcomes in school-level mathematics for all students, including those from marginalised groups and regional in areas.  

Swinburne University of Technology ($375,000): Unveiling the dead and dusty Universe with the James Webb Space Telescope. Researchers from Swinburne will join researchers from leading institutes in the USA, Europe, and Israel to discover the first mature galaxies formed after the Big Bang by revealing galaxies previously obscured by dust. 

For further information about the excellent basic and applied research funded by the ARC through the Discovery Projects scheme, please visit Discovery Projects.

Built To Last: The Perovskite Solar Cells Tough Enough To Match Mighty Silicon

Researchers at Oxford University and Exciton Science have demonstrated a new way to create stable perovskite solar cells, with fewer defects and the potential to finally rival silicon's durability.

By removing the solvent dimethyl-sulfoxide and introducing dimethylammonium chloride as a crystallisation agent, the researchers were able to better control the intermediate phases of the perovskite crystallisation process, leading to thin films of greater quality, with reduced defects and enhanced stability.

Large groups of up to 138 sample devices were then subjected to a rigorous accelerated ageing and testing process at high temperatures and in real-world conditions.

Formamidinium-caesium perovskite solar cells created using the new synthesis process significantly outperformed the control group and demonstrated resistance to thermal, humidity and light degradation.

This is a strong step forward to matching commercial silicon's stability and makes perovskite-silicon tandem devices a much more realistic candidate for becoming the dominant next-generation solar cell.

Led by Professor Henry Snaith (Oxford University) and Professor Udo Bach (Monash University), the work has been published in the journal Nature Materials and is available here.

Oxford University PhD student Philippe Holzhey, a Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher and joint first author on the work, said: "It's really important that people start shifting to realise there is no value in performance if it's not a stable performance.

"If the device lasts for a day or a week or something, there's not so much value in it. It has to last for years."

During testing, the best device operated above the T80 threshold for over 1,400 hours under simulated sunlight at 65°C. T80 is the time it takes for a solar cell to reduce to 80% of its initial efficiency, a common benchmark within the research field.

Beyond 1,600 hours, the control device fabricated using the conventional dimethyl-sulfoxide approach stopped functioning, while devices fabricated with the new, improved design retained 70% of their original efficiency, under accelerated aging conditions.

The same degradation study was performed on a group of devices at the very high temperature of 85°C, with the new cells again outperforming the control group.

Extrapolating from the data, the researchers calculated that the new cells age by a factor of 1.7 for each 10°C increase in the temperature they are exposed to, which is close to the 2-fold increase expected of commercial silicon devices.

Dr David McMeekin, the corresponding and joint first author on the paper, was an Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP) Postdoctoral Fellow at Monash University and is now a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at Oxford University.

He said: "I think what separates us from other studies is that we've done a lot of accelerated aging. We've aged the cells at 65°C and 85°C under the whole light spectrum."

The number of devices used in the study is also significant, with many other perovskite research projects limited to just one or two prototypes.

"Most studies only show one curve without any standard deviation or any kind of statistical approach to determine if this design is more stable than the other," David added.

The researchers hope their work will encourage a greater focus on the intermediate phase of perovskite crystallisation as an important factor in achieving greater stability and commercial viability.

This work was supported by the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Background: About Perovskites

Artificially synthesised in laboratory conditions, semiconductor thin films made up of perovskite compounds are far cheaper to make than silicon solar cells, with greater flexibility and a tunable band gap.

They emerged unexpectedly in the last decade and have reached impressive power-conversion efficiencies of over 25%.

However, too much focus has been placed on creating the most efficient perovskite solar cell, rather than resolving the fundamental problems inhibiting the material from being used in widespread commercial applications.

Compared to silicon, perovskites can degrade rapidly in real world conditions, with exposure to heat and moisture causing damage and negatively impacting device performance.

Solving these stability issues is the key challenge for perovskites in their quest to take on, or "boost" silicon via a tandem architecture and take their place in the commercial photovoltaics landscape.

David P. McMeekin, Philippe Holzhey, Sebastian O. Fürer, Steven P. Harvey, Laura T. Schelhas, James M. Ball, Suhas Mahesh, Seongrok Seo, Nicholas Hawkins, Jianfeng Lu, Michael B. Johnston, Joseph J. Berry, Udo Bach, Henry J. Snaith. Intermediate-phase engineering via dimethylammonium cation additive for stable perovskite solar cells. Nature Materials, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41563-022-01399-8

Countries Bet On Forests And Soils To Reach Net-Zero

New research by the University of East Anglia highlights the risks of countries relying on nature-based solutions to achieve net-zero.

National climate strategies set out how countries plan to reduce emissions, for example by phasing out fossil-fuel use, to get to net-zero in 2050. The study found, once the bulk of emissions have been reduced, countries plan to 'cancel out' the left-over difficult to decarbonise emissions, such as those from agriculture, by using forests and soils to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

However, this may prove risky because forests and soils are also threatened by a range of impacts, such as fire, disease, changes in farming practices or deforestation. These mean forests and soils could lose their stored carbon back to the atmosphere.

There is also a risk of being over optimistic about the amount of carbon forests and soils can remove to reach net zero, especially if combined with delays to reducing emissions from coal, oil, and gas.

The findings, published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, show that most of the strategies submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) do not quantify the amount of carbon 'removals' needed in 2050.

With progress on reducing emissions stalling at COP27, the researchers call for the reporting requirements on long-term national climate plans to be urgently strengthened.

"The deployment of carbon dioxide removal is essential to reach global and national net-zero emissions targets, but little attention has been paid to its practical deployment by countries," said the study's lead author Harry Smith, a Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholar in the School of Environmental Sciences and Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA.

"Nature-based removals, such as using forests and soils, remain vital to address challenges in biodiversity and climate adaptation, but may be risky if used as the only way to remove carbon. Countries should also explore engineered carbon removal methods. To meet the challenge of net-zero, we need both."

The study analysed how Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) methods -- which remove CO2 from the atmosphere and permanently store it in forests, soils, the oceans, or underground geological formations -- are integrated into climate strategies.

It groups the methods into 'nature-based CDR', for example storing carbon in forests, soils, or coastal habitats, and 'engineered-CDR', storing carbon deep underground through biomass energy with carbon capture and storage or direct air carbon capture and storage.

Despite being central to net-zero ambitions, the research finds CDR is rarely made explicit in policy plans. Some countries such as France look to engineered removals as a possible long-term solution. Others, such as Australia and Latvia, look to the potential of international cooperation and the creation of carbon markets to transfer removals between countries.

Meanwhile the UK is investing in research and development for engineered-CDR and has a near-term 2030 target for the amount of carbon removed by these methods.

Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015, more than 124 countries have agreed to a net-zero emissions target, defined as a balance of emission sources and anthropogenic removals.

Unlike many studies, which focus on short-term pledges to 2030 published by countries, otherwise known as 'Nationally Determined Contributions' or 'NDCs', this study focuses on long-term national climate strategies.

Officially called 'long-term low emission development strategies' or 'LT-LEDS', these often represent modelled scenarios or pathways to 2050 or beyond, providing for greater engagement with CDR than NDCs.

"Long-term national climate strategies are an important tool to think through carbon dioxide removal at the national level and we advocate that they should be made compulsory under the UNFCCC, as opposed to their current optional status," said Mr Smith.

The study examined 41 LT-LEDS submitted to the UNFCCC before the start of 2022, capturing those published in and around COP26 -- and totalling 3,885 pages -- to determine how countries quantify and discuss CDR. The analysed strategies are mostly from the Global North and cover 58% of global 2019 greenhouse gas emissions and around 74% of global GDP.

The findings show that enhancing forest and soil carbon sinks are the most advocated strategies but are only explicitly quantified in 12. Remaining difficult to decarbonise emissions by 2050 are only quantified in 20 strategies and most of them use forests to achieve national net-zero targets.

Strategies that quantify both the remaining difficult to decarbonise emissions and carbon dioxide removal identify national constraints, such as wildfire risks to forests and limited geological CO2 storage capacity. Strategies also highlight the need for international cooperation.

Co-author Dr Naomi Vaughan, Associate Professor in Climate Change at UEA, said: "With more countries submitting long-term national climate strategies during COP27, the UNFCCC should urgently strengthen its reporting requirements.

"Carbon dioxide removal is an important part, together with reducing emissions, of how countries will reach net zero. National level analysis is needed to determine how countries plan on incentivising different CDR methods.

"This combines with an urgent need to scale-up efforts to reduce emissions and develop CDR methods to meet the scales needed to reach Paris Agreement temperature targets."

Harry B. Smith, Naomi E. Vaughan, Johanna Forster. Long-term national climate strategies bet on forests and soils to reach net-zero. Communications Earth & Environment, 2022; 3 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s43247-022-00636-x

New Battery Technology Has Potential To Significantly Reduce Energy Storage Costs

An international team of researchers are hoping that a new, low-cost battery which holds four times the energy capacity of lithium-ion batteries and is far cheaper to produce will significantly reduce the cost of transitioning to a decarbonised economy.

Led by Dr Shenlong Zhao from the University of Sydney's School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, the battery has been made using sodium-sulphur -- a type of molten salt that can be processed from sea water -- costing much less to produce than lithium-ion.

Although sodium-sulphur (Na-S) batteries have existed for more than half a century, they have been an inferior alternative and their widespread use has been limited by low energy capacity and short life cycles.

Using a simple pyrolysis process and carbon-based electrodes to improve the reactivity of sulphur and the reversibility of reactions between sulphur and sodium, the researchers' battery has shaken off its formerly sluggish reputation, exhibiting super-high capacity and ultra-long life at room temperature.

The researchers say the Na-S battery is also a more energy dense and less toxic alternative to lithium-ion batteries, which, while used extensively in electronic devices and for energy storage, are expensive to manufacture and recycle.

Dr Zhao's Na-S battery has been specifically designed to provide a high-performing solution for large renewable energy storage systems, such as electrical grids, while significantly reducing operational costs.

According to the Clean Energy Council, in 2021 32.5 percent of Australia's electricity came from clean energy sources and the industry is accelerating. Household energy storage is also growing. According to a recent report a record 33,000 batteries were installed in 2021.

"Our sodium battery has the potential to dramatically reduce costs while providing four times as much storage capacity. This is a significant breakthrough for renewable energy development which, although it reduces costs in the long term, has had several financial barriers to entry," said lead researcher Dr Zhao.

"When the sun isn't shining and the breeze isn't blowing, we need high-quality storage solutions that don't cost the Earth and are easily accessible on a local or regional level.

"We hope that by providing a technology that reduces costs we can sooner reach a clean energy horizon. It probably goes without saying but the faster we can decarbonise -- the better chances we have of capping warming.

"Storage solutions that are manufactured using plentiful resources like sodium -- which can be processed from sea water -- also have the potential to guarantee greater energy security more broadly and allow more countries to join the shift towards decarbonisation."

The lab-scale batteries (cion batteries) have been successfully fabricated and tested in the University of Sydney's chemical engineering facility. The researchers now plan to improve and commercialise the recently fabricated Ah-level pouch cells.

Bin‐Wei Zhang, Liuyue Cao, Cheng Tang, Chunhui Tan, Ningyan Cheng, Wei‐Hong Lai, Yun‐Xiao Wang, Zhen‐Xiang Cheng, Juncai Dong, Yuan Kong, Shi‐Xue Dou, Shenlong Zhao. Atomically Dispersed Dual‐Site Cathode with a Record High Sulfur Mass Loading for High‐Performance Room‐Temperature Sodium–Sulfur Batteries. Advanced Materials, 2022; 2206828 DOI: 10.1002/adma.202206828

The researchers declare no competing interests. The research involved contributions from researchers at Chongqing University, University of Adelaide, University of Wollongong, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, and the University of Science and Technology China. It was funded by The Australian Research Council, National Natural Science Foundation of China, Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities and the Ministry of Science and Technology China.

Meteorites Plus Gamma Rays Could Have Given Earth The Building Blocks For Life

Even as detailed images of distant galaxies from the James Webb Space Telescope show us more of the greater universe, scientists still disagree about how life began here on Earth. One hypothesis is that meteorites delivered amino acids -- life's building blocks -- to our planet. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Central Science have experimentally shown that amino acids could have formed in these early meteorites from reactions driven by gamma rays produced inside the space rocks.

Ever since Earth was a newly formed, sterile planet, meteorites have been hurtling through the atmosphere at high speeds toward its surface. If the initial space debris had included carbonaceous chondrites -- a class of meteorite whose members contain significant amounts of water and small molecules, such as amino acids -- then it could have contributed to the evolution of life on Earth. However, the source of amino acids in meteorites has been hard to pinpoint.

In previous lab experiments, Yoko Kebukawa and colleagues showed that reactions between simple molecules, such as ammonia and formaldehyde, can synthesize amino acids and other macromolecules, but liquid water and heat are required. Radioactive elements, such as aluminum-26 (26Al) -- which is known to have existed in early carbonaceous chondrites -- release gamma rays, a form of high-energy radiation, when they decay. This process could have provided the heat needed to make biomolecules. So, Kebukawa and a new team wanted to see whether radiation could have contributed to the formation of amino acids in early meteorites.

The researchers dissolved formaldehyde and ammonia in water, sealed the solution in glass tubes and then irradiated the tubes with high-energy gamma rays produced from the decay of cobalt-60. They found that the production of α-amino acids, such as alanine, glycine, α-aminobutyric acid and glutamic acid, and β-amino acids, such as β-alanine and β-aminoisobutyric acid, rose in the irradiated solutions as the total gamma-ray dose increased. 

Based on these results and the expected gamma ray dose from the decay of 26Al in meteorites, the researchers estimated that it would have taken between 1,000 and 100,000 years to produce the amount of alanine and β-alanine found in the Murchison meteorite, which landed in Australia in 1969. This study provides evidence that gamma ray-catalysed reactions can produce amino acids, possibly contributing to the origin of life on Earth, the researchers say.

The authors acknowledge funding from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science KAKENHI.

The Murchison meteorite is a meteorite that fell in Australia in 1969 near Murchison, Victoria. It belongs to the carbonaceous chondrite class, a group of meteorites rich in organic compounds. Due to its mass (over 100 kg or 220 lb) and the fact that it was an observed fall, the Murchison meteorite is one of the most studied of all meteorites.

In January 2020, cosmochemists reported that the oldest material found on Earth to date are the silicon carbide particles from the Murchison meteorite, which have been determined to be 7 billion years old, about 2.5 billion years older than the 4.54-billion-year age of the Earth and the Solar System.[a] The published study noted that "dust lifetime estimates mainly rely on sophisticated theoretical models. These models, however, focus on the more common small dust grains and are based on assumptions with large uncertainties."

On 28 September 1969 at approximately 10:58 a.m. local time, near Murchison, Victoria, in Australia, a bright fireball was observed to separate into three fragments before disappearing, leaving a cloud of smoke. About 30 seconds later, a tremor was heard. Many fragments were found scattered over an area larger than 13 square kilometres (5.0 sq mi), with individual mass up to 7 kilograms (15 lb); one, weighing 680 grams (1.5 lb), broke through a roof and fell in hay. The total collected mass of the meteorite exceeds 100 kilograms (220 lb).

A Murchison meteorite specimen at the National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.

Yoko Kebukawa, Shinya Asano, Atsushi Tani, Isao Yoda, Kensei Kobayashi. Gamma-Ray-Induced Amino Acid Formation in Aqueous Small Bodies in the Early Solar System. ACS Central Science, 2022; DOI: 10.1021/acscentsci.2c00588

Fossil Overturns More Than A Century Of Knowledge About The Origin Of Modern Birds

Fossilised fragments of a skeleton, hidden within a rock the size of a grapefruit, have helped upend one of the longest-standing assumptions about the origins of modern birds.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the Natuurhistorisch Museum Maastricht found that one of the key skull features that characterises 99% of modern birds -- a mobile beak -- evolved before the mass extinction event that killed all large dinosaurs, 66 million years ago.

This finding also suggests that the skulls of ostriches, emus and their relatives evolved 'backwards', reverting to a more primitive condition after modern birds arose.

Using CT scanning techniques, the Cambridge team identified bones from the palate, or the roof of the mouth, of a new species of large ancient bird, which they named Janavis finalidens. It lived at the very end of the Age of Dinosaurs and was one of the last toothed birds to ever live. The arrangement of its palate bones shows that this 'dino-bird' had a mobile, dexterous beak, almost indistinguishable from that of most modern birds.

For more than a century, it had been assumed that the mechanism enabling a mobile beak evolved after the extinction of the dinosaurs. However, the new discovery, reported in the journal Nature, suggests that our understanding of how the modern bird skull came to be needs to be re-evaluated.

Each of the roughly 11,000 species of birds on Earth today is classified into one of two over-arching groups, based on the arrangement of their palate bones. Ostriches, emus and their relatives are classified into the palaeognath, or 'ancient jaw' group, meaning that, like humans, their palate bones are fused together into a solid mass.

All other groups of birds are classified into the neognath, or 'modern jaw' group, meaning that their palate bones are connected by a mobile joint. This makes their beaks much more dexterous, helpful for nest-building, grooming, food-gathering, and defence.

The two groups were originally classified by Thomas Huxley, the British biologist known as 'Darwin's Bulldog' for his vocal support of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. In 1867, he divided all living birds into either the 'ancient' or 'modern' jaw groups. Huxley's assumption was that the 'ancient' jaw configuration was the original condition for modern birds, with the 'modern' jaw arising later.

"This assumption has been taken as a given ever since," said Dr Daniel Field from Cambridge's Department of Earth Sciences, the paper's senior author. "The main reason this assumption has lasted is that we haven't had any well-preserved fossil bird palates from the period when modern birds originated."

The fossil, Janavis, was found in a limestone quarry near the Belgian-Dutch border in the 1990s and was first studied in 2002. It dates from 66.7 million years ago, during the last days of the dinosaurs. Since the fossil is encased in rock, scientists at the time could only base their descriptions on what they could see from the outside. They described the bits of bone sticking out from the rock as fragments of skull and shoulder bones, and put the unremarkable-looking fossil back in storage.

Nearly 20 years later, the fossil was loaned to Field's group in Cambridge, and Dr Juan Benito, then a PhD student, started giving it another look.

"Since this fossil was first described, we've started using CT scanning on fossils, which enables us to see through the rock and view the entire fossil," said Benito, now a postdoctoral researcher at Cambridge, and the paper's lead author. "We had high hopes for this fossil -- it was originally said to have skull material, which isn't often preserved, but we couldn't see anything that looked like it came from a skull in our CT scans, so we gave up and put the fossil aside."

During the early days of Covid-19 lockdown, Benito took the fossil out again. "The earlier descriptions of the fossil just didn't make sense -- there was a bone I was really puzzled by. I couldn't see how what was first described as a shoulder bone could actually be a shoulder bone," he said.

"It was my first in-person interaction in months: Juan and I had a socially distanced outdoor meeting, and he passed the mystery fossil bone to me," said Field, who is also the Curator of Ornithology at Cambridge's Museum of Zoology. "I could see it wasn't a shoulder bone, but there was something familiar about it."

"Then we realised we'd seen a similar bone before, in a turkey skull," said Benito. "And because of the research we do at Cambridge, we happen to have things like turkey skulls in our lab, so we brought one out and the two bones were almost identical."

The realisation that the bone was a skull bone, and not a shoulder bone, led the researchers to conclude that the unfused 'modern jaw' condition, which turkeys share, evolved before the 'ancient jaw' condition of ostriches and their relatives. For an unknown reason, the fused palates of ostriches and kin must have evolved at some point after modern birds were already established.

Two of the key characteristics we use to differentiate modern birds from their dinosaur ancestors are a toothless beak and a mobile upper jaw. While Janavis finalidens still had teeth, making it a pre-modern bird, its jaw structure is that of the modern, mobile kind.

"Using geometric analyses, we were able to show that the shape of the fossil palate bone was extremely similar to those of living chickens and ducks" said Pei-Chen Kuo, a co-author of the study. Added co-author Klara Widrig: "Surprisingly, the bird palate bones that are the least similar to that of Janavis are from ostriches and their kin." 

Both Kuo and Widrig are PhD students in Field's lab at Cambridge.

"Evolution doesn't happen in a straight line," said Field. "This fossil shows that the mobile beak -- a condition we had always thought post-dated the origin of modern birds, actually evolved before modern birds existed. We've been completely backwards in our assumptions of how the modern bird skull evolved for well over a century."

The researchers say that while this discovery does not mean that the entire bird family tree needs to be redrawn, it does rewrite our understanding of a key evolutionary feature of modern birds.

And what happened to Janavis? It, like the large dinosaurs and other toothed birds, did not survive the mass extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous period. The researchers say that this may be because of its large size: Janavis weighed around 1.5 kilograms and was the size of a modern vulture. It's likely that smaller animals -- like the 'wonderchicken', identified by Field, Benito, and colleagues in 2020, which comes from the same area and lived alongside Janavis - had an advantage at this point in Earth's history since they had to eat less to survive. This would have been beneficial after the asteroid struck the Earth and disrupted global food chains.

The research was supported in part by the American Ornithological Society, the Jurassic Foundation, the Paleontological Society, and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Benito, J., Kuo, PC., Widrig, K.E. et al. Cretaceous ornithurine supports a neognathous crown bird ancestor. Nature, 2022 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05445-y

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