inbox and environment news: Issue 595

August 20 - 26, 2023: Issue 595

The Powerful Owl Project:  It’s Fledging Time! 

Our favourite time of year is here. 
Powerful Owlets have taken that great leap of faith from several hollows in Greater Sydney and the delightful sound of trilling owlets is floating out from many more.
These gorgeous balls of fluff are very vulnerable for the first few weeks after they fledge. They’re still learning to fly and they’re easily frightened. Frightened owlets might trill or flush from their roost and then be mobbed by day birds.

If you’re lucky enough to come across owlets, observe quietly and from a distance. 

If you take your dog with you when you go walking, please keep it on-leash, especially in parkland and in the bush, to help keep newly fledged owlets safe.

NB: Dogs are prohibited in Pittwater Wildlife Preservation Areas.
Photo: PO Project

Mona Vale Road (East) Upgrade: Fauna Bridge Supports Installed

On Friday morning, at 4am in the freezing cold, the supports for the new Fauna Bridge overpass were installed. Contractors, the Georgiou Group, advised  they had scheduled the fauna bridge overpass supports installation and partial and full closure of Mona Vale Road between Manor Road and Ponderosa Parade on Thursday 17 August and Friday 18 August, weather permitting.
They needed to carry out this work at night to;
  • safely install the fauna bridge supports
  • minimise traffic disruptions
  • reduce safety risks to workers and motorists.
There was to be a partial and full closure of Mona Vale Road over two nights; Thursday 17 August from 9pm to 6am, westbound lane closure for bridge support delivery and Friday 18 August from 9pm to 10:30pm westbound lane closure and from 10:30pm to 5am full closure of Mona Vale Road.

The overpass is one of 4 fauna passes announced for the upgrade - one bridge and an underpass for the East upgrade and the same again for the West upgrade.

4am Friday August 18 2023, the fauna bridge installation works completed successfully. Photo: courtesy Transport for NSW/RMS (and Lorraine; who has rescued so many wallabies along this section)

In 2014 Pittwater Natural Heritage Association, Wildlife Roadkill Prevention Association (Northern Beaches) and Katandra Bushland Sanctuary Trust began campaigning to connect threatened bushland reserves in the Pittwater area in a bid to help stop the decline of our native fauna.

According to information gathered by local wildlife volunteers in 2015 – 2016 over 53 wallabies died on Mona Vale Road between Terrey Hills and Mona Vale. Although Wallabies were counted as an indicator species, many other native species have also died on Mona Vale Road, including possums and echidnas. These distressing statistics sparked members of these community groups into calling for action to reduce roadkill on this road.

In September 2017, after years of lobbying NSW Roads and Maritime Services to get more fauna underpasses and overpasses included in the upgrade of Mona Vale Road East, Jacqui Marlow, Marita Macrae and David Palmer of Pittwater Natural Heritage Association were told at a meeting with NSW Roads and Maritime Services that the fauna crossings they had been campaigning for were now included in the final plans for the eastern section of the road upgrade.

This completed the suite of fauna road crossings that have been planned for the upgraded Mona Vale Road between Mona Vale and Terrey Hills. This included both sides of the road being fenced along its entire length to guide native animals to the crossing sites.

In March 2018 the officially announcement confirming the MVR West Upgrade fauna bridge was made.

There are actually 4 fauna passes - 2 for East and 2 for West - 2 x bridges and 2 x underpass, as stated in 2018. This is the result of work by PNHA and WRPA in concert with the great staff at Transport for NSW/RMS over a few years - they commenced talks about this when the project was announced - along with support and backing from former Pittwater MP Rob Stokes.

The MVR East upgrade fauna pass locations (per 2018 project documents):

Placement of West upgrade fauna passes: (these were identified as places where our wildlife crosses through the data collected by wildlife rescuers and carers and the Wildlife Roadkill Prevention Association, along with local wildlife rescuers in WIRES and Sydney Wildlife Rescue:

The Pittwater Natural Heritage Association and Wildlife Roadkill Prevention Association also asked for fauna fences to be placed alongside the works sites to prevent wildlife deaths before the project commenced. The cutting into bush to widen the footprint of the build was creating more exposed access to this dangerous road, and likely to lead to more wildlife injuries and deaths.

The campaign was led by Jacqui Marlow of the Wildlife Roadkill Prevention Association.

In May and then June 2019 confirmation these would be installed was received, an announcement that had been worked towards as part of the pre-commencement mitigation against wildlife deaths

The groups involved were also advised that nest boxes had been installed to compensate for loss of nest sites within the construction zone. Forty boxes were said to have been installed around Mona Vale Road East and another forty around Mona Vale Road West. 

However, reports were coming in from residents that local fauna was being killed - three wallabies were killed on Mona Vale road, a Monday night, on June 3rd 2019 alone. Pittwater Online also received reports from residents of Warriewood, one lady stating a wallaby was bounding down their street in the middle of the day, 'looking very distressed and scared'. 

Wallabies are usually out at dusk, night and dawn to feed - not bounding down a suburban road in the middle of the day.

Three months later, on Friday September 20, 2019 a Transport for NSW spokesperson stated:

''Fauna fencing is now being installed along the Mona Vale Road East upgrade corridor.

Fencing is also being installed opposite the Mona Vale Road West upgrade as part of early work, on the southern side of the road between Kimbriki Road and Tumburra Street at Ingleside.

The fauna fencing is being progressively installed as road work continues and will aim to minimise the likelihood of fauna crossing Mona Vale Road.

The fencing will be 1.8 metres high and dug into the ground to ensure all fauna cannot make their way under the fence.''

The fences were finally beginning to be installed in late September 2019.

October 2019 Pittwater Online pictorial update of MVR East upgrade; fauna fences installed

It's important to remember that all the people in all these groups are volunteers who have put in years towards this result - countless studies and papers were written or cited, data collected and shared - and unwavering support by former Pittwater MP Rob Stokes along with a core group of great people at Transport for NSW and the contractors made this happen.

Readers may recall workers from the Mona Vale Road East upgrade calling in Sydney Wildlife Rescue volunteers to save a nest of plover eggs in Spring 2019 and move these, and their parents, to where they would be safe. 

The work done on Thursday and Friday is great news for our local wildlife and an indication of how much locals care for these other locals. Once complete the fauna overpass will look a little alike this drawing used to announce the fauna passes that had been added in for the MVR West upgrade:

Overpass: An artist's impression of an animal overpass that will be build along Mona Vale Road West. Picture: courtesy NSW Government

Photo: David Palmer, Jacqui Marlow and Marita Macrae celebrate the June 2019 announcement of a fauna bridge to be built over Mona Vale Rd East. 


Photo: August 19 2023 - Jacqui Marlow, David Palmer and Marita Macrae celebrate the installation of the MVR East Upgrade fauna bridge supports.

The Wildlife Roadkill Prevention Association aims to reduce the roadkill of native animals on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, Australia. In 2005, the association was formed to address wildlife roadkill and raise awareness of broader conservation issues for our area.

The Pittwater Natural Heritage Association was formed to act to protect and preserve the Pittwater areas major and most valuable asset - its natural heritage.

Pittwater Natural Heritage Association seeks to raise awareness and provide information and advice to members on issues such as:

Native Tree Canopy

Identification of trees local to your particular area. What to plant to replace dead or dying trees, and how to care for trees. The characteristic form of the native tree canopy is a major contributor to Pittwater's sense of place.

"Bush Friendly" Gardens

Selecting plants for your garden that will live in harmony with nearby bushland and provide habitat for native animals and birds.

Building and Landscaping

Promoting practices which preserve and protect the visual qualities of the landform, preserve soil stability and prevent erosion of steep slopes and siltation of waterways.

Weed Infestation

Information on noxious and environmental weeds, weed identification and methods of control and eradication.

Living with Wildlife

Maintaining habitat and wildlife corridors for our rich and diverse native fauna. Understanding the impacts of introduced birds and animals and uncontrolled domestic pets.

Keeping our Waterways Healthy

Using and enjoying our waterways and estuaries whilst maintaining appropriate water quality and habitat for aquatic creatures. Caring for the streams, wetlands, saltmarsh and mangrove systems that are an integral part of our waterways.

Rock Platforms, Beaches and Dunes

Protecting and preserving the plant and animal communities on rock platforms. Restoration and regeneration of dune systems and maintenance of their stability.

Find out more and become a member at:

Above and below: how the fauna overpass looks now. Photos supplied.

Mother And Calf Southern Right Whales Expected To Take A Breather In Sydney Harbour This Weekend: Please Stay Away From Them

Sydneysiders may be welcoming 2 very rare and special visitors this weekend as the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) waits to see if a mother-calf pair of Southern Right Whales will stop in for a rest in Sydney Harbour over coming days.

NPWS Marine Wildlife Team Member Andy Marshall said the Service has been tracking the mother and calf pair since 27 July, when the 2 were spotted together for the first time off Coffs Harbour.

"We believe the calf was born around the 2 July and over the past fortnight, mother and baby have been spotted resting and nursing at Coffs Harbour, Scott's Head, Port Macquarie, Forster, Port Stephens, and Swansea on their leisurely south-bound journey," said Mr Marshall.

"Continuing their current trajectory, we expect the pair to reach Sydney sometime this weekend," said Mr Marshall.

Quiet, undisturbed time in shallow, sandy bottom bays and protected beaches is a critical part of life for Southern Right Whale calves. At approximately 3-to-4 weeks old, this calf needs to nurse and consume around 300 litres of milk per day to gain the strength necessary for the long and treacherous swim back towards the Antarctic.

"We know how exciting it is to see a Southern Right Whale and its calf up close, but we're asking everyone to please keep your distance. The biggest threat to the survival of Southern Right Whales in NSW waters is disturbance from people getting too close," said Mr Marshall.

"Approaching the pair in a boat, with a drone or on a jet ski, kayak, or surfboard not only compromises a calf's ability to nurse and get the sustenance it needs to grow, but it can also drive the whales away from their shallow resting places and out into deeper waters, where they are exposed to predation by orcas and sharks.

"All watercraft, including vessels, surfers, jet skis must stay at least 300 m away from the pair in all directions. Drones are strictly prohibited within 100 m of the whales, in all directions.

"The best way to catch a glimpse of the whales is from one of Sydney's beautiful headland vantage points. That way, you can enjoy the incredible sight without impacting the animals.

"If you're lucky enough to see this pair, or another Southern Right Whale, in coming weeks, we ask that you please immediately contact NPWS on 13000PARKS or ORRCA on 02 9415 3333.

"NPWS will be out on the water over the weekend, working closely with ORRCA, Marine Rescue, Transport for NSW and the Water Police to ensure our whale friends are safe and all water users are abiding by approach distance regulations," said Mr Marshall.

Southern Right Whales are an endangered species, with less than 270 in the south-east Australian population. This calf is one of only 2 calves recorded in New South Wales this year.

For more information, visit Approaching marine mammals in NSW
Photo Supplied: Alex McNaught, Photography

Australian Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference 2023: Local Papers Presented

The Australian Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference 2023 was held August 11 to 13 in Perth this year, with over 180 attendees and 120 online. Margaret Woods of Sydney Wildlife Rescue, from our area, was both an attendee and a 2023 Committee Member. 

Local Wildlife Carers had two papers presented on the Saturday - 'Victims, viruses, volunteers and vets' by Joan Reid OAM and Lynleigh Greig OAM, about the Sydney Wildlife Mobile Clinic and 'Roadkill monitoring app: using technology to conserve wildlife' by Jacqui Marlow. John Isles also helped with the Roadkill monitoring paper at the conference. He was the coordinator of the paper that Jacqui wrote with him, and spoke to this at the 2023 Conference.

Jacqui, along with Conny Harris, is a foundation member of The Northern Beaches Roadkill Prevention Committee, which aims to reduce roadkill of native animals on the northern beaches of Sydney, Australia. In 2005, the association was formed to address wildlife roadkill and raise awareness of broader conservation issues in our area.
The Northern Beaches Roadkill Prevention Committee runs as a Profile of the Week this Spring. 

Australian Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference 2023: CONFERENCE COMMITTEE
The 2023 committee is:
Chairperson. Dean Huxley (WA)
Vice Chair. Helen Riley (WA)
Secretary. Jodi Jones (Qld)
Treasurer. Marg Peachey (ACT)
Mandy Conway (ACT)
Mandy Hall (NT)
Greg Gordon (Vic)
Oma Rogers (Tas)
Suzie Nethercott-Watson (Tas)
Jacqui Marlow (NSW)
Margaret Woods (NSW)

‘The National Wildlife Rehabilitation Conferences have been running in Australia since 2003. A group of like-minded people who had been involved with organising conferences had been collaborating over the past 5 or 6 years to make life easier for future conference organisers by sharing their experiences and offering their help if required.

In 2010 these people formed the core of the AWRC, partly to continue this work in a more formal manner, but also to ensure transparency, accountability and management for the conference funds between conferences. The committee was officially incorporated in October 2010. As members reside in different states, meetings are held by teleconference.

What AWRC does
‘The committee is now a non-profit association dedicated solely to supporting the ‘Australian Wildlife Conferences. Our roles are to:
  • Encourage and facilitate the organisation of regular national wildlife rehabilitation conferences around Australia
  • Provide if requested, operational support to conference organising committees + Administer conference funds, including the interest-free "rolling loan" to conference organising committees
  • Maintain the conference website between conferences, and disseminate conference information through the website
The AWRC's are dedicated to the continuation of the biennial wildlife rehabilitation conferences. Each conference has added something new and special to the overall experience. This ongoing collaboration has helped continuously improve the quality, integrity and overall experience of the conference for wildlife carers.

Joan Reid and Lynleigh Greig

Jacqui Marlow repairing wildlife exclusion fencing on Wakehurst Parkway

Saving Native Species Grants

The Saving Native Species Program is providing $224.5 million over four years to support the recovery of our unique plants, animals and ecological communities.

The program includes commitments to save the koala, and tackle yellow crazy ants and gamba grass that are threatening our native species.

It will also strengthen conservation planning to better protect threatened species and guide on-ground action.

The plan maps our pathway to protect, manage and restore Australia’s threatened species and important natural places.

It also identifies 110 priority species and 20 priority places to drive action where it is needed most, and where it will have the biggest impact.

Available Grant Opportunities

Applications for this grant opportunity will close on Thursday 7 September 2023.

Apply now at
The grant opportunity seeks to improve trajectories for the priority species from the Threatened Species Action Plan: Towards Zero Extinctions 2022-2032. For this opportunity, $20 million is available until 2025-26.

This grant opportunity will not include projects that fund the koala. For information on koala specific conservation initiatives, refer to the Saving Koalas Fund.

Threatened Species Action Plan - 110 priority species
There are:
  • 22 Birds
  • 21 Mammals
  • 9 Fish
  • 6 Frogs
  • 11 Reptiles
  • 11 Invertebrates
  • 30 Plants

Supporting priority species
The Australian Government is funding more than $12 million in Priority Species grants through the Environment Restoration Fund. Community led projects are delivering a wide range of actions to directly benefit over 50 priority species on the ground, including weed management, feral predator control, habitat restoration, seed collection and propagation, captive breeding, and citizen science programs.

A full list of the successful projects can be found at Environment Restoration Fund.

Threatened Species Action Plan 2022-2032
110 priority species
22 Birds
Australasian Bittern Botaurus poiciloptilus
Black-eared Miner Manorina melanotis
Carnaby’s Cockatoo Zanda latirostris
Christmas Island Goshawk Accipiter hiogaster natalis
Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis
Golden-shouldered Parrot, Alwal Psephotus chrysopterygius
Hooded Plover (e) Thinornis cucullatus cucullatus
King Is. Brown Thornbill Acanthiza pusilla magnirostris
King Is. Scrubtit Acanthornis magna greeniana
Malleefowl Leipoa ocellata
Night Parrot Pezoporus occidentalis
Noisy Scrub-bird Atrichornis clamosus
Norfolk Is. Green Parrot Cyanoramphus cookii
Orange-bellied Parrot Neophema chrysogaster
Plains-wanderer Pedionomus torquatus
Princess Parrot Polytelis alexandrae
Red Goshawk Erythrotriorchis radiatus
Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (SE)
Calyptorhynchus banksii graptogyne
Regent Honeyeater Anthochaera phrygia
Swift Parrot Lathamus discolor
Western Ground Parrot Pezoporus flaviventris
White-throated Grasswren Amytornis woodwardia

21 Mammals
Australian Sea-lion Neophoca cinerea
Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby Petrogale penicillata
Central Rock-rat, Antina Zyzomys pedunculatus
Chuditch, Western Quoll Dasyurus geoffroii
Eastern Quoll, Luaner Dasyurus viverrinus
Gilbert’s Potoroo, Ngilkat Potorous gilbertii
Greater Bilby Macrotis lagotis
Kangaroo Is. Echidna Tachyglossus aculeatus multiaculeatus
Koala (Qld, NSW, ACT) Phascolarctos cinereus
Leadbeater’s Possum Gymnobelideus leadbeateri
Mountain Pygmy-possum Burramys parvus
New Holland Mouse, Pookila Pseudomys novaehollandiae
Northern Brushtail Possum Trichosurus vulpecula arnhemensis
Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat, Yaminon Lasiorhinus krefftii
Northern Hopping-mouse, Woorrentinta Notomys aquilo
Northern Quoll Dasyurus hallucatus
Numbat Myrmecobius fasciatus
Quokka Setonix brachyurus
Spectacled Flying-fox Pteropus conspicillatus
Southern Bent-wing Bat Miniopterus orianae bassanii
Western Ringtail Possum Pseudocheirus occidentalis

11 Invertebrates
Ammonite Snail Ammoniropa vigens
Cauliflower Soft Coral Dendronephthya australis
Eltham Copper Butterfly Paralucia pyrodiscus lucida
Giant Gippsland Earthworm Megascolides australis
Glenelg Freshwater Mussel Hyridella glenelgensis
Kangaroo Island Assassin Spider Zephyrarchaea austini
Lord Howe Island Phasmid Dryococelus australis
Margaret River Burrowing Crayfish Engaewa pseudoreducta
Mount Lidgbird Charopid Land Snail Pseudocharopa ledgbirdi
Pink Underwing Moth Phyllodes imperialis smithersi
Tasmanian Giant Freshwater Crayfish Astacopsis gouldi

9 Fish
Freshwater Sawfish Pristis pristis
Grey Nurse Shark (eastern) Carcharias taurus
Maugean Skate Zearaja maugeana
Murray Hardyhead Craterocephalus fluviatilis
Red Handfish Thymichthys politus
Redfin Blue-eye Scaturiginichthys vermeilipinnis
Stocky Galaxias Galaxias tantangara
Swan Galaxias Galaxias fontanus
White’s Seahorse Hippocampus whitei

6 Frogs
Growling Grass Frog Litoria raniformis
Kroombit Tinker Frog Taudactylus pleione
Mountain Frog Philoria kundagungan
Mountain-top Nursery-frog Cophixalus monticola
Southern Corroboree Frog Pseudophryne corroboree
White-bellied Frog Anstisia alba

11 Reptiles
Arnhem Land Gorges Skink Bellatorias obiri
Bellinger River Snapping Turtle Wollumbinia georgesi
Canberra Earless Dragon Tympanocryptis lineata
Collared Delma, Adorned Delma Delma torquata
Great Desert Skink, Tjakura Liopholis kintorei
Green Turtle Chelonia mydas
Olive Ridley Turtle Lepidochelys olivacea
Pygmy Blue-tongue Lizard Tiliqua adelaidensis
Short-nosed Sea Snake Aipysurus apraefrontalis
Western Swamp Turtle Pseudemydura umbrina
Yinnietharra Rock-dragon Ctenophorus yinnietharra

30 Plants
Adamson’s Blown-grass Lachnagrostis adamsonii
Angle-stemmed Myrtle Gossia gonoclada
Arckaringa Daisy Olearia arckaringensis
Bolivia Hill Rice-flower Pimelea venosa
Border Ranges Lined Fern Antrophyum austroqueenslandicum
Bulberin Nut Macadamia jansenii
Carrington Falls Pomaderris Pomaderris walshii
Davies’ Waxflower Phebalium daviesii
Foote’s Grevillea Grevillea calliantha
Forked Spyridium Spyridium furculentum
Giant Andersonia Andersonia axilliflora
Gorge Rice-flower Pimelea cremnophila
Graveside Leek-orchid Prasophyllum taphanyx
Imlay Mallee Eucalyptus imlayensis
King Blue-grass Dichanthium queenslandicum
Lax Leek Orchid Prasophyllum laxum
Little Mountain Palm Lepidorrhachis mooreana
MacDonnell Ranges Cycad Macrozamia macdonnellii
Narrow-leaf Eremophila Eremophila subangustifolia
Native Guava Rhodomyrtus psidioides
Scaly-butt Mallee Eucalyptus leprophloia
Small-flowered Snottygobble Persoonia micranthera
Smooth Davidson’s Plum Davidsonia johnsonii
Stiff Groundsel Senecio behrianus
Stirling Range Dryandra Banksia montana
Tangled Wattle Acacia volubilis
Waddy-wood Acacia peuce
Wollemi Pine Wollemia nobilis
Wongan Eriostemon Philotheca wonganensis
Woods Well Spyridium Spyridium fontis-woodii

Invitation For Public Comment: Mt Gilead Stage 2 Residential Development, Gilead, NSW (EPBC 2019/8587)

The following notice is published pursuant to Section 95A(3) of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
Lendlease Communities (Figtree Hill) Pty Limited is proposing to construct a residential development at Gilead, NSW. The overall development will be for residential land use and is planned to consist of low and medium density residential development of approximately 3,300 lots, retail and educational facilities and associated infrastructure, parkland, open space and biodiversity offset and environmental conservation areas.

The location of the action is Lot’s 1 & 2 DP 1218887, Lot 2 DP 249393, part Lot 5 DP1240836, Lot 2 DP603674 and Lot 1 DP603675 at Gilead, approximately 10 kilometers (km) south of Campbelltown, NSW. The Action Area is approximately 644 ha of which 259 ha will be developed and 236 ha will be registered as dedicated conservation areas. A further 149 ha will be retained as rural land, open space and existing easements.

The proposed action has been determined to be a “controlled action” under the EPBC Act and will therefore require assessment and approval by the Commonwealth Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water before it can proceed. The controlling provision under the EPBC Act is “Listed threatened species and communities” (Sections 18 and 18A) and the assessment approach is through preliminary documentation.

The draft preliminary documentation for this proposal includes the referral information and will be on public display from Monday 14th August to Friday 1st September 2023 at the following locations:
Campbelltown City Library – 1 Hurley St, Campbelltown, NSW, 2560
State Library of NSW – Macquarie St, Sydney NSW, 2000

Note: Persons with any special needs may contact Eco Logical Australia on 1300 646 131 and ask for Robert Humphries for assistance in accessing the documentation.
Interested persons and organisations are invited to provide comments on the proposal in writing to Lendlease Communities (Figtree Hill) Pty Limited via Robert Humphries at Eco Logical Australia:
Post: Robert Humphries
Eco Logical Australia
Suite 2, Level 3, 668 Old Princes Hwy
Sutherland, NSW 2232
The deadline for submissions is 5pm (EST) on Friday 1st September 2023 - opened August 14, 2023

Documents can be downloaded by using the links above
  1. Click here to download – EPBC 2019_8587 Mt Gilead Stage 2 Preliminary Documentation_AdequacyAssessment_Ver 3_20230720
  2. Click here to download – Appendix A_2019-8587 Referral
  3. Click here to download – Appendix B_EPBC 2019_8587 Decision notice 24FEB2020
  4. Click here to download – Appendix C_EPBC 2019_8587 PD Requirements_24FEB2020
  5. Click here to download – Appendix E_Lendlease SustainabilityPolicy
  6. Click here to download – Appendix F_cam-sustainability-framework-full-1
  7. Click here to download – Appendix G_ Australia-mission-zero-roadmap-summary
  8. Click here to download – Appendix H_MtGilead Stage2_Biocert_v8_20230718
  9. Click here to download – Appendix I_Draft Response Principles for Koala Protection in the Greater Macarthur and Wilton Growth Areas
  10. Click here to download – Appendix J_DPE Methodology to calculate Koala corridor widths
  11. Click here to download – Appendix K1_DPE Letter to Lendlease re Koala corridors – Dec 2021
  12. Click here to download – Appendix K2_DPE Indicative koala corridor map Gilead
  13. Click here to download – Appendix L_Koala_Conservation_at_Gilead_Lendlease 2022
  14. Click here to download – Appendix M_ Mount Gilead Stage 2 Koala Plan of Mgnt v4_20230720
  15. Click here to download – Appendix N_Mount Gilead Stage 2 EPBC CEMP V5_20230720_signed
  16. Click here to download – Appendix O – PMST Search – 2 February 2023
  17. Click here to download – Appendix P_EPBC Likelihood tables_v3-02022023
  18. Click here to download – Appendix Q_Koala Drone surveys Figtree Hill_Wild Conservation 2021
  19. Click here to download – Appendix R_Koala Drone Surveys Figtree Hill_Wild Conservation 2022
  20. Click here to download – Appendix S_PlotData_EPBCondition_20191009
  21. Click here to download – Appendix T_Flora Species List from plot data
  22. Click here to download – Appendix U_Naturalised Stormwater Strategy for Gilead_E2 Designs
  23. Click here to download – Appendix V_BioBankingCreditSummaryReport_Development_20230626
  24. Click here to download – Appendix W_BioBankingCreditSummaryReport_BiobankSite_20230626

Appendix X EPBC 2019-8587 Offset Calculations Ver 3 20230630
  1. Click here to download – Gilead EPBC offset_CPW Step 1_Cond C_Ver 3_20230628
  2. Click here to download – Gilead EPBC offset_CPW Step 2_Cond A_Ver 3_20230628
  3. Click here to download – Gilead EPBC Offset_GHFF_Large-eared Pied Bat Offset Calculations_existing_Ver 3_20230628
  4. Click here to download – Gilead EPBC Offset_GHFF_Large-eared Pied Bat Offset Calculations_restored_Ver 3_20230628
  5. Click here to download – Gilead EPBC offset_Pomaderris_Vul_Ver 3_20220628
  6. Click here to download – Gilead EPBC offset_RFEF Step 1_Cond C_Ver 2_10112022
  7. Click here to download – Gilead EPBC offset_SSTF Step 1_ Cond A_Ver 3_20230628
  8. Click here to download – Gilead EPBC offset_SSTF Step 2_ Cond B_Ver 3_20230628
  9. Click here to download – Gilead EPBC offset_SSTF Step 3_Cond D_Ver 3_20230628
  10. Click here to download – Gilead_Koala Offset Calculations_Endangered_existing_Ver 3_20230628
  11. Click here to download – Gilead_Koala Offset Calculations_Endangered_restored_Ver 3_20230628
  12. Click here to download – Gilead_Koala Offset Calculations_Vulnerable_existing_Ver 3_20230628
  13. Click here to download – Gilead_Koala Offset Calculations_Vulnerable_restored_Ver 3_20230628
  14. Click here to download – Gilead_Quoll Offset Calculations_Vulnerable_existing_Ver 3_20230628
  15. Click here to download – Gilead_Quoll Offset Calculations_Vulnerable_restored_Ver 3_20230628
  16. Click here to download – Gilead_Quoll Offset Calculations_Vulnerable_Ver 2_10112022
  17. Click here to download – Gilead_Swift Parrot Offset Calculations_existing_CE_Ver 3_20230628
  18. Click here to download – Gilead_Swift Parrot Offset Calculations_restored_CE_Ver 3_20230628
Swift parrot; DCCEEW -  3 Oct 2021 — Swift Parrot. EPBC Status: Critically Endangered
DCCEEW; ›  13 Feb 2023 — The koala (combined populations of Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory) was listed as endangered on 12 February 2023 › Large-eared Pied Bat critically endangered from 23 Nov 2021 — Chalinolobus dwyeri (Large-eared Pied Bat) is listed in the Vulnerable category of the threatened species list under the Environment - The main factors that make the species eligible for listing in the Vulnerable category are its very restricted geographic distribution, the low number of nursery roosts, and the presence of numerous actual and potential threats
The spotted-tailed quoll is listed as a vulnerable species in New South Wales. Its distribution and population have dramatically declined, and the animal is now found over a restricted range. In many cases, quolls are living in isolated areas that may be too small to support viable long-term populations- 29 June 2023

Time Of Wiritjiribin

Tugarah Gunya'marri—cold and windy
The lyrebirds' calls ring out through the bushland as he builds his dancing mounds to attract his potential mates. It is the time of the flowering of the Marrai'uo (Acacia floribunda) which is a sign that the fish are running in the rivers.

At the end of this time the Boo'kerrikin (Acacia decurrens) flower, which indicates the end of the cold, windy weather, and the beginning of the gentle spring rains.

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

Female Lyre bird - Elanora Heights

Photo by Selena Griffith, May 29 2023

Selena says ''this one followed me along the path. Never been so close.''

Bushcare Training Day At North Narrabeen

All volunteers new and experienced are invited to register for Council's Bushcare training day: 
Saturday 16th September 9:00am to 1:30pm - Lunch provided
Coastal Environment Centre, Narrabeen & Site Visit to Irrawong Bushcare Site

Council will be hosting a hands-on training day, with topics covering: 
  • Weed identification and best practice removal techniques
  • Native plant identification and weed species including lookalikes
  • Hands-on weed removal
  • Bring along your unknown plant species for identification
Site visit to Irrawong Bushcare site and meet some fellow bushcare volunteers
Please confirm if you would like to register for the day by replying to and let Council know if you would be interested in staying for lunch.

Palmgrove Park Avalon: New Bushcare Group Begins 

Palmgrove Park Avalon is a remnant of the Spotted Gum forest that was once widespread on the lower slopes of the Pittwater peninsula. This bushland’s official name and forest type is Pittwater and Wagstaffe Endangered Ecological Community, endangered because so much has been cleared for suburban development. Canopy trees, smaller trees and shrubs, and ground layer plants make up this community. Though scattered remnant Spotted Gums remain on private land, there is little chance of seedlings surviving in gardens and lawns. More information HERE

A grant to PNHA from Council in 2021 funded revegetation of a section between Dress Circle Rd and Bellevue Rd. The tubestock planted there late in 2022 by students from Avalon Primary and bush regeneration contractors is flourishing.

More tubestock was planted on National Tree Day on July 30 2023.

A new Bushcare group will now be working there from Saturday August 5, starting at 9am and working for up to three hours. Your help would be wonderful.

Contact Pittwater Natural Heritage Association on to find out more.

2023 Banksia Foundation NSW Sustainability Awards Open For Nominations

NSW Department of Planning and Environment: Do you know someone with a big idea to improve sustainability in NSW?
The 2023 Banksia Foundation NSW Sustainability Awards are now open for nominations! 

Individuals, businesses, large and small, and community and government groups are welcome to enter. 
Showcase your green credentials and receive recognition for your achievements.

Explore the categories and nominate now at
Entries close September 7, 2023

Pittwater Garage Sale Trail Returns: Repurpose Your Items

Want to do a pre-Spring Clean out? 
Contact Amber Marsh by emailing her at to get involved. Great to see this initiative re-launched - details;

Northern Beaches Clean Up Crew: Sunday August 27 2023 From 10:00-12:15 - Turimetta Beach Clean Up

Thank you to everyone who came to the Dee Why Lagoon Beach Side Clean Up  on Sunday July 30. You, me and everyone are all the clean up crew. So proud and grateful to each and everyone who came today to make our planet a little bit cleaner for all beings.

DY Clean July 2023

Come and join us for our family friendly August clean up, at beautiful Turimetta Beach on the 27th at 10am. We meet in the grass area close to opposite number 56 Narrabeen Park Parade.

We have gloves, bags, and buckets, and grabbers. We're trying to remove as much plastic and rubbish as possible before it enters the ocean. Some of us can focus on the bush area and sandy/rocky areas, and others can walk along the beach and even clean up in the water (at own risk). There a steps down to the beach, and they can be steep, so please don't fill your bags too heavy before carrying them up. We will clean up until around 11.20, and after that, we will sort and count the rubbish so we can contribute to research by entering it into a marine debris database. The sorting and counting is normally finished around noon, and we'll often go for lunch together at our own expense. We understand if you cannot stay for this part, but are grateful if you can. We appreciate any help we can get, no matter how small or big.

No booking required - just show up on the day - we will be there no matter what weather. We're a friendly group of people, and everyone is welcome to this family friendly event. It's a nice community - make some new friends and do a good deed for the planet at the same time. For everyone to feel welcome, please leave political and religious messages at home - this includes t-shirts with political campaign messages.
Message us on our social media or send us an email if you are lost. All welcome - the more the merrier. Please invite your friends too!

Photos: NBCUC

Waste And Sustainability In Schools NR37040: At Kimbriki

Friday September 15 2023 - 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM at Kimbriki
5 hours elective professional development - Limited spaces 30 maximum. DET bookings through MyPL - NR37040
Non DET Staff please REGISTER directly with

Stony Range Spring Festival 2023: Sunday September 10

Seen Any Glossies Drinking Around Nambucca, Bellingen, Coffs Or Clarence? Want To Help?: Join The Glossy Squad

If you've seen a black cockatoo with a red tail drinking at a watering spot in the late afternoon, please let the NSW Dept. of Environment know.
The threatened glossy black-cockatoo's peak nesting season is now, and the Biliirrgan Project's Glossy Squad is keen to protect glossies' nests.

Led by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment's Saving our Species program with partners including BirdLife Australia, Landcare, and the Clarence Environment Centre, the project wants to hear of any sightings across the area.

Glossies are the only black cockatoo with red tails in northern New South Wales. The females have yellow on their heads and pairs mate for life.

Female glossies lay a single egg in a vertical tree hollow, then stay put for a month while it incubates. During that time, the female relies entirely on her mate to feed her. He eats for 2, gorging himself on she-oak (allocasuarina) seeds each day.

Late in the afternoon he drinks – again for 2 – before returning with food supplies to his nesting hen who can be heard 'begging' or calling for food. Only after the chick hatches does the hen leave the nest.

The Black Summer fires of 2019–20 burnt nearly half of the glossy habitat in northern New South Wales, resulting in a significant loss of feed and nest trees.

Protecting nest trees is crucial to conserving the glossy black-cockatoo, however at this stage there are only a handful of nests known across the whole of northern New south Wales.

The Glossy Squad needs eyes on the ground to find more active nests so the remaining birds can be monitored and protected.

Let the Squad know if you see glossy black-cockatoos drinking in the late afternoon, or any of these nesting signs:
  • a female bird (identifiable by yellow on her head) begging and/or being fed by a male (with plain black/brown head and body and unbarred red tail feathers)
  • a lone adult male, or a male with a begging female, flying purposefully after drinking at the end of the day.
Glossies only eat the seeds from she-oak (allocasuarina) cones and need to drink water each evening. They can be seen at watering holes, dams or other fresh water sources at dusk.

Please report any sightings through the online survey, which can also be accessed by the QR code below, or by emailing

Want to be more involved? Join the Glossy Squad and actively help find new nests of this important species. Just email to find out how.

The Biliirrgan Project aims to conserve the glossy black-cockatoo (Biliirrgan in Gumbaynggirr) on Gumbaynggirr, Yaegl and Bundjalung country in northern New South Wales. The project was initially funded through a Commonwealth Bushfire Recovery grant.

2 female glossies and a male. Glossy black-cockatoos tend to travel in small families of between 3 and 6. Photo: Laurie Ross

Glossy black-cockatoo id

Department Of Planning And Environment To Become Two New Departments  From January 1st 2024

On Friday August 18 2023 NSW Premier Chris Minns announced that the Department of Planning and Environment will become two new departments to better deliver on the Government’s priorities of addressing the energy challenges, climate change, the environment and housing.

The NSW Government stated it is committed to keeping the lights on for NSW households, leading the essential transition to clean renewable energy, setting up the Energy Security Corporation, securing the future of our natural environment, as well as addressing the cost of living by ensuring housing is more affordable.

From 1 January 2024, the Department of Planning and Environment will be split into two new dedicated entities, the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, and the Department of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure.

The new departments will be joined by the Office of Energy and Climate Change which is currently in Treasury.

There will be no changes to Ministerial portfolios. The changes have been made following a detailed review and analysis of services and programs.  

The Public Sector Review is ongoing and any further machinery of government changes will take place post the budget.

The 2023-24 Budget and Appropriations Bill will be presented on 19 September on the basis of current administrative arrangements.

All changes to machinery of government covered in today’s announcement, due to take effect from 1 January, will be reflected in full in the 2024-25 Budget.

NSW Premier Chris Minns said:

“Our government will always keep people at the heart of our decisions, and it’s clear that we need to align our agencies with the most important issues facing our communities.

“That’s precisely what this change is designed to achieve.” 

“The new Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water pulls together the collective environmental expertise of government into one place – creating a team ready to tackle one of our biggest challenges in energy security.

“The changes announced today will also provide a renewed focus and deep expertise to address the housing crisis.” 

Minister for Climate Change, Energy and Environment Penny Sharpe said:

“We went to the election with a commitment to taking serious action on Climate Change and addressing the decline in biodiversity.

“This new department brings these key tasks together and will allow the Minns Government to deliver on our election commitments and focus on the future of NSW.

“This future secures clean energy, drives economic growth for households and businesses and protects our air, our water, our soil and our plants and animals.”

Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Paul Scully said:

“It’s my job to make sure there is enough housing for people in NSW. 

“We inherited a housing crisis more than a decade in the making and know how challenging the housing situation is for everyone.

“We’ve already established new planning rules which encourage the construction of more homes.

“We’ve reformed infrastructure contributions to get roads, schools, health services and open spaces delivered faster in areas of high housing growth. 

“These changes combined with departmental changes, will hone our housing delivery focus.

“I look forward to the new approach and fresh ideas that will be generated by bringing together the best minds and expertise in the public sector.”

Minister for Housing and the Minister for Water Rose Jackson said:

“Our government is focused on bringing solutions to the table that are thorough and informed.”

“We want to create a government for the future not just right now. Part of that work means pulling together the right teams.

“As the Minister for Water, this new department not only makes sense but is absolutely crucial to ensure NSW is ready for the future.

“We know that climate change, pollution and land management are some of the biggest risks to water quality and security.”

Rising River Alert – Snowy River Below Jindabyne Dam

August 15, 2023
The NSW Department of Planning and Environment today issued a ‘rising river alert’ for the Snowy River between Jindabyne Dam and Dalgety in southern NSW for Tuesday 22 August 2023.

The river will rise due to the fourth high-flow event in a series of eight planned environmental releases from Jindabyne Dam to the Snowy River during 2023.

The highest flow rate for this event will occur at Jindabyne Dam from 8am to 4pm on Tuesday 22 August and will be equivalent to 5,000 megalitres per day for the eight-hour period.

It is expected to see the river level at Dalgety rises by approximately 0.5 m. These levels do not include the effect of rainfall or wet conditions in the catchment, which may increase flow rates and water depths.

For the remainder of Tuesday 22 August, the flow rate will be 3,379 megalitres per day. The flow rate will drop to a target of 2,080 megalitres per day on Wednesday 23 August.

The environmental benefits from this release are expected to be greatest between the dam wall and the junction with the Delegate River. However, the flow pulse will be noticeable well down into Victoria.

Water released from Jindabyne Dam may take several hours to reach Dalgety Weir at this flow rate and around 3-4 days for the flow to arrive at Orbost in Victoria, subject to catchment conditions.

Landholders downstream of the Jindabyne Dam are advised to take all necessary precautions with stock, fencing and property in proximity to the river. As the release flows through the system people should refrain from entering or crossing swollen waterways.

Conditions will be closely monitored in the lead up to the release. If heavy rainfall appears likely the release may be cancelled or modified to avoid adverse effects on river levels and an announcement will be made accordingly.

The department will work with the NSW State Emergency Service and the Bureau of Meteorology to provide information to the community regarding the management of this release should weather conditions warrant.

More information can be found at Snowy River increased flows

More Councils To Recycle Food And Garden Waste

August 16, 2023
The second round of the NSW Government’s Go FOGO grants is now open for councils to establish food organics and garden organics or ‘FOGO’ recycling services for households across the state.

Successful grant recipients will join 56 council areas in NSW who already provide or are preparing to provide a FOGO collection service to their residents.

NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Director of Major Programs Kathy Giunta said it’s estimated that the program will establish FOGO recycling for two million households in NSW by 2027.

“Food waste makes up almost half of the contents of our red lid bins and can generate millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year when it breaks down in landfill,” Ms Giunta said.

“These grants will allow more households in NSW to start recycling their nutrient-rich organic waste into high quality commercial compost that can be used to enrich soils in our local parks, sporting fields or in agriculture.” 

“Councils can use the funding as needed to prepare their new waste service, including purchasing bins and caddies, rolling out community education and completing waste audits to ensure a successful FOGO service.”

The grants are available as part of a $69 million commitment under the NSW Government’s Waste and Sustainable Materials Strategy to halve the amount of organics waste sent to landfill in NSW by 2030. 

Households with the service will be provided with educational resources, kitchen caddies and a green bin to place their food and garden scraps in for weekly collection at the kerbside. 

Round 1 was awarded in January 2023, allocating $6.2 million to 14 councils including metropolitan areas like the Inner West and Cumberland as well as six councils in the Riverina region. 

Round 2 applications are open to councils until Tuesday, 10 October 2023.

More details are available on the EPA website:

Minister for the Environment, Penny Sharpe said, 
“Recycling our food waste is an effective way to help meet our climate change targets, because every tonne of organic waste that is diverted from landfill saves 1.5 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.

“Going FOGO is a win for waste reduction, emission reduction and the environment.”

$850,000 In Funding Open To Improve Fish Habitat

Keen local anglers, farmers, land managers and community groups are invited to apply for the latest round of the Habitat Action Grants to see their local waterways flourish with more than $850,000 available, Minister for Agriculture Tara Moriarty announced.

Habitat Action Grants are open from 8 August 2023 to 29 September 2023.

Ms Moriarty said that recreational fishing groups, community organisations, local councils and natural resource managers across the state would have until September 29 to apply for funding for their projects to improve habitat for native fish.

“These grants will see up to $40,000 awarded per project for both our inland waterways and our coastal systems,” Ms Moriarty said.

“The Habitat Action Grant program is a fantastic opportunity to improve your local creek, river, estuary or surrounding area to promote healthy waterways and to encourage more native fish, naturally.

“I encourage as many submissions as possible – so we can improve fish habitat to give our local fishers some great opportunities to make a difference in their area.

“As locals, you know your waterways better than anyone, so it’s time to float your ideas and come up with some fantastic ways to enhance our aquatic environments. We are particularly interested in your concepts for rehabilitating Trout cod and their freshwater habitats.”

Habitat Action Grants are supported by the Recreational Fishing Trusts, with funds being raised by the NSW Recreational Fishing Fees.

“This is your opportunity to put your recreational fishing fees to work to make more fish”

In the past, habitat rehabilitation projects which have been funded have included:
  • removal or modification of barriers to fish passage
  • rehabilitation of riparian lands (riverbanks, wetlands, mangrove forests, saltmarsh)
  • re-snagging waterways with timber structure
  • the removal of exotic vegetation from waterways and replacement with native plants
  • bank stabilisation works
  • fencing to exclude livestock.
“There are some long-term benefits for completing this work and ultimately, it’s about making sure we have functional fish habitat and happy native fish here in NSW.”

Since 2009, the Recreational Fishing Trusts have invested nearly $8 million into the Habitat Action Grants program, seeing significant improvement to fish habitat across NSW.

For more information and to apply for this round, visit

Alcohol Washing Confirms New Varroa Detection Near Kempsey

 August 15 2023

The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has issued a new Biosecurity Emergency Order (28), following the confirmation of a new Varroa detection in the general emergency zone near Kempsey, on the state’s mid-north coast.

The detection was immediately reported after the beekeeper undertook a mandatory 16-week alcohol wash and found two mites, which suggests the parasite was detected at an early level of infestation.

NSW DPI Deputy Incident Controller, Dr Shannon Mulholland thanked the beekeeper for following the advice on alcohol washing and contacting the department as soon they discovered a potential mite.

“We are working with the impacted beekeeper and are focused on tracing and surveillance to understand how the mites arrived at the location,” Dr Mulholland said.

“Given the low mite count and existing surveillance and compliance efforts in the Kempsey area, DPI is confident that this detection is not due to natural or environmental spread from existing red zones.

“NSW DPI will immediately begin priority surveillance within 5 kilometers of the infested premises, as well as of any hives that have moved out of or through this area recently.

“We are also working with local Police, Highway Patrol and the NSW Rural Crime team to monitor hive movements in the area and to enforce compliance with the Control Order movement restrictions.”

The new case brings the total number of infected premises to 202 since Varroa mite was first identified at the Port of Newcastle in June 2022.

Based on the information available, NSW DPI continues to believe eradication is technically feasible.

Beekeepers who have hives in the Kempsey area or who have moved hives through the area are reminded to:
  • Ensure they are registered
  • Not move hives from their current location
  • Report the location of those hives to NSW DPI
  • Undertake mandatory alcohol washes on their hives at least every 16-weeks and report the results to NSW DPI within 7 days.
Hive locations and alcohol wash results can be reported to NSW DPI by filling out the online forms at or by calling the Varroa Emergency Response Hotline on 1800 084 881.

NB: Palm Beach is now in the eradication zone:

Blue Mountains National Park And Kanangra-Boyd National Park Draft Plan Of Management: Public Consultation

The Blue Mountains National Park and Kanangra-Boyd National Park Draft Plan of Management is on public exhibition until 26 September 2023.
Public exhibition of the draft plan provides an important opportunity for community members to have a say in the future management of the Blue Mountains and Kanangra-Boyd national parks. Once adopted, this plan of management will replace the existing plans for these parks, which were adopted in 2001.

The draft plan is accompanied by the Blue Mountains National Park and Kanangra-Boyd National Park Draft Planning Considerations report. It is recommended that readers of the plan refer to the planning considerations report for detailed explanations of the parks' values and management considerations.

These parks are a part of Darug and Gundungurra Country. The parks form the core component of one of the largest and most intact stretches of protected bushland in New South Wales. They are part of the Greater Blue Mountains Area World and National Heritage property, contain significant areas of wilderness, occupy a large part of the Sydney Drinking Water Catchment, and are one of the key attractions in a major tourism region.

Key management directions and new uses for buildings or new campsites proposed in the draft plan includes:
  • improving recognition of the parks significant values, including World and National Heritage values, and providing for adaptive management to protect the values
  • recognising and supporting the continuation of partnerships with Aboriginal communities
  • providing outstanding nature-based experiences for visitors through improvements to visitor facilities - including:
  • Opportunities for supported or serviced camping, where tents and services are provided by commercial tour operators, may be offered at some camping areas in the parks 
  • Jamison Creek, Jamison Valley Walk-in camping Potential new camping
  • Leura Amphitheatre Jamison Valley Walk-in camping Potential new camping
  • Mount Solitary Jamison Valley Walk-in camping Potential new camping
  • Maxwell’s HuC Kedumba Valley Cabin/hut Potential new accommodation
  • Kedumba Valley Maxwell’s Hut (historic slab hut) - Building restoration in progress; potential new Accommodation for bushwalkers
  • Government Town Police station; courthouse - Potential new Visitor accommodation
Documents available at: HERE

Have your say
Public exhibition is from 28 July 2023 to 26 September 2023.

You can provide your written submission in any of the following ways:

Email your submission to:
Post your written submission to:
Manager, National Parks and Wildlife Service Planning and Assessment
Locked Bag 5022
Parramatta NSW 2124
All submissions must be received by 26 September 2023.

Our response to your submission will be based on the merits of the ideas and issues you raise rather than the quantity of submissions making similar points. For this reason, a submission that clearly explains the matters it raises will be the most effective way to influence the finalisation of the plan.

Submissions are most effective when DPE/NPWS understand your ideas and the outcomes you want for park management. Some suggestions to help you write your submissions are:
  • write clearly and be specific about the issues that are of concern to you
  • note which part or section of the document your comments relate to
  • give reasoning in support of your points - this makes it easier for us to consider your ideas and will help avoid misinterpretation
  • tell us specifically what you agree/disagree with and why you agree or disagree
  • suggest solutions or alternatives to managing the issue if you can.
Your submission will be provided to relevant National Parks and Wildlife Service advisory bodies. See our privacy policy at link above for information on how they will treat any personal information you provide.

Plans For New Wind Energy Project At Spicers Creek On Public Exhibition

July 28, 2023
The NSW State Government has stated NSW could see a further 530,000 homes powered by clean renewable energy, with plans for a wind energy project and battery storage system in the Central-West Orana region now on exhibition for community feedback.

The Spicers Creek Wind Farm project would be located approximately 25 km north west of Gulgong and 35 km north east of Wellington in NSW, within the Dubbo Regional and Warrumbungle Shire Council areas.

The Department of Planning and Environment’s Executive Director of Energy, Resources and Industry Assessments, Clay Preshaw encouraged the community to have their say on the proposed plans.

“Local residents and stakeholders have a vital role to play in the development of this project which, if approved, seeks to deliver up to 117 wind turbines that could produce 700-megawatts of electricity for 370,000 homes across NSW,” Mr Preshaw said.

“That’s equivalent to around half the generating capacity of the Mt Piper coal fired power station in the NSW Southern Highlands.

“It would also feature a 400-megawatt, with up to 1,800-megawatt per hour battery energy storage system, that would capture, store and distribute energy to 160,000 homes, which would contribute to grid stability and energy security.”

The proposal on exhibition also contains details of how the infrastructure needed to support the project will be delivered, including local road upgrades, access tracks, electrical infrastructure, temporary construction facilities and the creation of 320 jobs during the construction phase and 12 ongoing jobs.

The project is part of the Central-West Orana Renewable Energy Zone (REZ), which is one of five areas identified by the NSW Government that will play a vital role in delivering affordable energy generation for the state over the coming decades.

All feedback provided will be addressed by the applicant and be reviewed as part of the Department of Planning and Environment’s rigorous assessment process.

For more information and to have your say by Thursday 24 August 2023, visit Spicers Creek Wind Farm on the NSW Planning Portal

Nauseous Territory: Outfoxing Predators Using Baits That Make Them Barf

August 17, 2023
Introduced foxes, dogs, cats, rats, and other predators kill millions of native animals every year, but what if they were conditioned to associate this prey with food that made them ill?

A team of international researchers have shown the potential to do just that, burying baits containing capsules of levamisole, a chemical that induces nausea and vomiting when consumed by predators.

In a world first experiment conducted in south-eastern Australia, where introduced red foxes are responsible for countless wildlife deaths, the Australian National University (ANU) and University of South Australia scientists laid baits of fried deboned chicken, with some containing encapsulated levamisole to hide the taste and smell of the chemical that makes animals nauseous or sick.

Over three sequential periods, untreated baits were laid, followed by levamisole-containing baits and untreated baits again.  During the final period baits taken fell by 30%, indicating that foxes had consumed the levamisole-containing baits, fallen ill, and were reluctant to go back for seconds, despite the later absence of levamisole.

Researchers say this evidence shows it is possible to condition foxes to avoid food sources based on their unique odour, and ultimately this strategy may be applicable to protecting vulnerable wildlife living in that habitat.

The non-lethal tactic for keeping predators at bay could be potentially more effective than shooting, trapping and poison baiting in certain contexts, according to ANU PhD student Tim Andrewartha.

“Based on our findings, this potential is something we hope to explore in the future,” Andrewartha says.

UniSA researcher Associate Professor Anton Blencowe says invasive predators are responsible for almost 60% of all bird, mammal, and reptile extinctions globally, so it’s critical to find ways to mitigate their impacts on native wildlife.

“Existing lethal control methods – shooting, trapping, and poisoning can be counterproductive in some situations, with predators capable of adapting their behaviour and becoming harder to control,” he says.

The tactic employed in this experiment, known as conditioned taste aversion (CTA), shows promise as a tool to reduce the predation of vulnerable wildlife, the researchers outline in a paper published this month in Conservation Science and Practice.

A range of encapsulated nausea-inducing agents can be injected into food sources, such as eggs or animal carcasses, so the predator associates the symptoms with the food odour and not the chemical.

Microencapsulation, where the agent particles are minimised, can also be used to hide textures and prevent the capsule from being accidentally broken open during consumption.

Scientists say more research is needed to determine the best chemical and dosage used, whether live prey rather than a carcass are more effective at conditioning aversion in the red fox, and the time between consumption and onset of symptoms.

Landscapes of nausea: Successful conditioned taste aversion in a wild red fox population” is published in Conservation Science and Practice. The study was led by the Australian National University in collaboration with the University of South Australia, the University of Tokyo, and James Hutton Institute, UK.

Areas Closed For West Head Lookout Upgrades

NPWS advise that the following areas are closed from Monday 22 May to Thursday 30 November 2023 while West Head lookout upgrades are underway:

  • West Head lookout
  • The loop section of West Head Road
  • West Head Army track.

Vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians will have access to the Resolute picnic area and public toilets. Access is restricted past this point.

The following walking tracks remain open:

  • Red Hands track
  • Aboriginal Heritage track
  • Resolute track, including access to Resolute Beach and West Head Beach
  • Mackeral Beach track
  • Koolewong track.

The West Head lookout cannot be accessed from any of these tracks.

Image: Visualisation of upcoming works, looking east from the ramp towards Barrenjoey Head Credit: DPE

More at:

Bush Turkeys: Backyard Buddies Breeding Time Commences In August - BIG Tick Eaters - Ringtail Posse Insights

Around now you may see some of your local neighbourhood Bush Turkeys setting up nesting mounds.

Male brush turkeys rake up huge leafy mounds to entice females to lay their eggs deep inside the pile between August to February each year. They usually lay one egg every 2 to 5 days. The females do not stay around the mound once they have laid. The male maintains the mound temperature to around 34 degrees Celsius by shifting around the composting material to incubate the eggs for 50 days. The mulch may hold around 20 eggs.

Chicks take 48 hours to dig themselves out to an independent life. They receive no further parental care. Unfortunately, they are very vulnerable to attack. On average, only one chick in every 200 eggs laid survives.

In our area NSW Dept. of Environment statistics show 928 have been rescued since data was collected and just 255 released, meaning 673 did not survive. Collision with motor vehicles, unsuitable environment (people not wanting them in their gardens or passing through same)along with dog and cat attacks are listed as the primary causes of rescues.

During the Great Depression in the 1930s, when jobs and food were scarce, Australian brush turkeys (bush turkeys) were nearly wiped out when people used them for meat and eggs. Today, this native wildlife is protected under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and the population of brush turkeys is now recovering in areas where they have not been seen for many decades.

Mound builders like lyrebirds and brush turkeys are territorial, and in the large area where they rake and shift leaf litter, looking for insects and worms, they are also breaking up the dry leaves and twigs and pushing them into the soil. This reduces the fuel available for hot ground fires and can create a refuge for small animals during wildfires.

If you have ticks in your yard, you want bush turkeys visiting! According to Wild Birds Unlimited, an adult turkey is one of the most voracious tick predators around, and an individual may eat 200 or more of these parasites in a given day. The Tick Encounter Resource Center reported that many species of bird feast on parasites.

As we head into what is reported to be a HOT Spring and Summer, to keep ticks down in your yard, keeping Bush turkeys safe and encouraging other insect eating birds to visit by providing suitable habitat, will also keep you and your family safer from tick bites.

Photos: a baby Bush Turkey in PON yard - which is a thoroughfare for bush turkeys. Adult bird in PON yard. Images: AJG/PON

PNHA Guided Nature Walks 2023

Our walks are gentle strolls, enjoying and learning about the bush rather than aiming for destinations. Wear enclosed shoes. We welcome interested children over about 8 years old with carers. All Welcome. 

So we know you’re coming please book by emailing: and include your phone number so we can contact you if weather is doubtful. 

The whole PNHA 2023 Guided Nature Walks Program is available at:

Red-browed finch (Neochmia temporalis). Photo: J J Harrison

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
Contact: Phone or text Conny Harris on 0432 643 295

Wheeler Creek - Wednesday mornings 9-11am
Contact: Phone or text Judith Bennett on 0402 974 105
Or email: Friends of Narrabeen Lagoon Catchment :

Gardens And Environment Groups And Organisations In Pittwater

Report Fox Sightings

Fox sightings, signs of fox activity, den locations and attacks on native or domestic animals can be reported into FoxScan. FoxScan is a free resource for residents, community groups, local Councils, and other land managers to record and report fox sightings and control activities. 

Our Council's Invasive species Team receives an alert when an entry is made into FoxScan.  The information in FoxScan will assist with planning fox control activities and to notify the community when and where foxes are active.

Marine Wildlife Rescue Group On The Central Coast

A new wildlife group was launched on the Central Coast on Saturday, December 10, 2022.

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:

Watch Out - Shorebirds About

Summer 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.

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

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.

Trapped: Australia’s extraordinary alpine insects are being marooned on mountaintops as the world warms

Kate Umbers/Invertebrates Australia
Kate UmbersWestern Sydney UniversityJaana DielenbergCharles Darwin University, and Matthew ShanksIndigenous Knowledge

We may not pay invertebrates much thought, but they’re the workhorses of all ecosystems. Insects and other invertebrates do essential jobs such as pollinating plantsimproving soils and controlling pests. They’re also food for many larger animals, which moves nutrients up the food chain.

Invertebrates are vulnerable to rising global temperatures. In response to climate change, many are moving to cooler areas, be that across land towards the poles, or upward in elevation.

But not all invertebrates have that option. In Australia, invertebrates already living at the highest possible elevation – on mountain summits – have nowhere higher to go. So how will they cope? And how can we help them?

Answering these questions is important. Invertebrates underpin Earth’s ecosystems – so if their numbers decline, the ecological damage will be felt far and wide.

grasshopper on a bush
A blistered pyrgomorph grasshopper. How will Australia’s alpine invertebrates cope as the climate warms? Kate Umbers

A Life At The Top

The invertebrates of the Australian Alps are beautiful and diverse. As in all ecosystems, they make up the largest proportion of our alpine animal species.

Most of our alpine invertebrates are found nowhere else If we don’t look after them they’re gone forever. And each species extinction is like losing a rivet in an aeroplane wing; eventually whole ecosystems will crash.

Warmer temperatures can affect invertebrates in many ways. For example, pollinating insects that collect nectar may hatch before plants flower – creating issues for both the insects and the plants. Species that rely on wet or damp conditions may find their habitat dried out. Less harsh, cold conditions may also bring new predators and competitors into their habitats.

Overseas, where mountain ranges are typically much higher, animals have been moving up in elevation to survive. But Australia’s mountains are small – less than half the height of many key mountain ranges overseas. This leaves little room to move higher.

Alpine invertebrates tend to live in small, isolated populations on mountain tops. This limits their genetic diversity and therefore the potential that offspring can survive and adapt to changing conditions.

What’s more, many invertebrates don’t have wings, so can’t fly away to a more hospitable place. And being trapped on mountain tops also makes them vulnerable to devastating local threats such as unusually severe or extensive bushfires.

A spider from the Australian Alps looking out from her hole.
A spider from the Australian Alps looking out from her hole. Kate Umbers

Extraordinary Bogong Moths

Some species might seem to be moving higher up the Australian Alps. For example, it seems bogong moths inhabit low elevation caves less frequently than they once did. But this probably just shows the species’ habitat is shrinking upward.

Each year, bogong moths undertake an extraordinary nocturnal migration. From their starting point many hundreds of kilometres away, they use the stars and Earth’s magnetic field to navigate to the Australian Alps in search of cool caves and rock crevices. There, they rest and take refuge from the summer heat, before returning to their winter pastures.

In 2021, bogong moths were listed as endangered because the availability of their summer habitat is declining.

Bogong moths bring an incredibly important influx of nutrients to the alps. They provide food for many animals, including the adorable, critically endangered mountain pygmy possum, as well as many types of birds.

The Taungurung people refer to the bogong moth as “Deberra”. The annual concentration of Deberra in the alps is culturally significant to the Taungurung and other traditional custodians.

Deberra have a high fat content and were harvested by Taungurung and other groups for eating. During the harvest, large gatherings of many Aboriginal nations were held and cultural business was conducted.

So Deberra offers not only a rich source of food, but also connection with deeply significant cultural landscapes. They are an important element in the cyclical movement of people and exchange of knowledge within and between Indigenous nations.

For Traditional Owners, Deberra is, like all things, part of the interrelated web of Country. When Deberra travels, human and non-human entities follow. It supports energy flows of many kinds.

The decline of Deberra is a sign that Country is sick. Sick Country tells us the land is not being managed well.

A rock outcrop on the alpine high plain during summer
Bogong moth habitat on Mount Kosciuszko in summer. The moths migrate to alpine areas in summer. James Trezise/author supplied

Colour-Changing Skyhoppers

The adults of many alpine invertebrate species live for just a single summer, lay their eggs, then die. They include skyhoppers, a group of alpine grasshoppers unique to Australia, many species of which are threatened.

Skyhoppers rely on a thick snow layer to protect their eggs in winter. But Australia’s snow cover is becoming increasingly unreliable as the planet warms.

Thermocolour skyhoppers, listed as endangered, are unique among grasshoppers in that they change colour from black to turquoise when their body temperature exceeds 25℃.

Until recently, five skyhopper species were known to science. But when researchers walked the entire 655-kilometre Australian Alps walking track, they discovered 15 species of skyhopper exist – each separated by the rugged mountain landscape.

The true biodiversity of the alps is unknown. What we do know is that it is heavily fragmented. What may look like one species across the alps is likely to be many species each occupying small areas. This means they’re even more vulnerable than currently recognised.

A blue grasshopper on a yellow flower
Skyhoppers lay their eggs under snow cover. Kate Umbers

Helping Them Hang On

Much of the Australian Alps region is contained in national parks, but this alone is not adequate protection for our alpine biodiversity.

Greenhouse gas emissions to date have put our alpine biodiversity on a knife’s edge. Australian and international governments must swiftly undertake far more ambitious climate action to cool the alps.

And more effort is needed to give our alpine ecosystems the best chance of coping with climate change. This includes allowing Traditional Owners to connect to and manage Country and removing threats such as feral species, disease and habitat destruction.The Conversation

Kate Umbers, Senior Lecturer in Zoology, Western Sydney UniversityJaana Dielenberg, University Fellow, Charles Darwin University, and Matthew Shanks, Director, Cultural Land Management at Taungurung Land and Waters Council, Indigenous Knowledge

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

Two new Australian mammal species just dropped – and they are very small

Linette UmbrelloCC BY-SA
Linette UmbrelloQueensland University of TechnologyAndrew M. BakerQueensland University of Technology, and Kenny TravouillonWestern Australian Museum

You probably know about the Tasmanian devil. You might even know about its smaller, less-famous relative, the spotted-tailed quoll.

But these are far from the only meat-eating marsupials. Australia is home to a suite of other carnivorous and insectivorous pouched mammals as well, some of them the size of a mouse or smaller.

Tiniest of all are the planigales, some of which weigh less than a teaspoonful of water. Despite their size, these fierce predators often take on prey as big as themselves.

To date, there are four known species of planigale found across Australia. We have recently discovered another two species, both inhabitants of the Pilbara region of northwest Western Australia: the orange-headed Pilbara planigale (Planigale kendricki) and the cracking-clay Pilbara planigale (P. tealei).

How Many Kinds Of Planigale Are There?

The name planigale translates to “flat weasel”, an allusion to their extremely flat heads, which allow them to shelter in small cracks in rocks and clay soils. Planigales are among Australia’s smallest mammals, with some weighing an average of 4–6 grams (and measuring around 11cm in length), and other species a bit larger at 8–17 grams (and 13cm long).

Scientific studies from the late 1970s onward using body-shape and DNA data have suggested there are many more planigale species than we think.

We put these theories to the test, and found that planigales in the Pilbara display unique body shapes and are genetically unrelated to any of the four known planigale species.

Why Have These Species Only Been Described Now?

The process of describing these two new species was actually started more than 20 years ago, by scientists who were working at the Western Australian Museum at the time.

Their work began after ecologists conducting surveys for developing mines in the Pilbara were capturing planigales that didn’t really fit the descriptions of the known species. For want of a better option, they were still usually identified as either the common planigale (P. maculata) or the long-tailed planigale (P. ingrami).

Scientists led by taxonomist Ken Aplin began examining specimens held in the WA Museum and sequencing their DNA. These studies helped to confirm the discovery of two new species.

Sadly, Ken fell ill and passed away in 2019. This is where we stepped in.

Through support from the Australian Biological Resources Study and the Queensland University of Technology we were able to finish off Ken’s species descriptions and submit the research for publication. This is a crucial step in taxonomy – the species description has to be published before the new name can be considered official.

What Do We Know About The New Species?

Both new species occur in the Pilbara and surrounding areas. The orange-headed Pilbara planigale is the larger of the two, weighing an average of 7g (up to 12g for large males) with a longer, pointier snout and bright orange colouring on the head.

A small brown mouse-like marsupial sitting among reddish soil.
The cracking-clay Pilbara planigale (P. tealei) has only been found on cracking-clay soils. Linette UmbrelloCC BY-SA

The cracking-clay Pilbara planigale is much smaller, averaging just 4g with darker colouration and a shorter face. It has only been found on cracking clay soils, hence its name.

The orange-headed Pilbara planigale has been found on rocky and sandy soils as well, but both species require a dense cover of native grasses to persist. Both species actively forage during the night, while taking shelter during the day.

This means the two widespread species, the common planigale and the long-tailed planigale, do not occur in the Pilbara or on neighbouring Barrow Island, as was previously thought.

There is still a lot more work for us to do as there remain two “species complexes” of planigales. These are groups where genetic data suggests a species is comprised of multiple different forms.

We’ll be following up on this with more analysis to define more of Australia’s tiniest mammals.The Conversation

Linette Umbrello, Postdoctoral research associate, Queensland University of TechnologyAndrew M. Baker, Academic in Ecology and Environmental Science, Queensland University of Technology, and Kenny Travouillon, Curator of Mammals, Western Australian Museum

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

Thick ones, pointy ones – how albatross beaks evolved to match their prey

Milan SojitraCC BY-ND
Jane YoungerUniversity of TasmaniaDavid HockingMonash University, and Josh TylerUniversity of Bath

Albatross are among the world’s largest flying birds, with wingspans that can stretch beyond a remarkable three metres. These majestic animals harness ocean winds to travel thousands of kilometres in search of food while barely flapping their wings.

Young albatross, embarking on their first journey, can spend up to five years at sea without ever touching land.

Yet not all albatross are the same. Across the world’s oceans there exist 22 species, with many sharing an overlapping range around the Southern Ocean — a region synonymous with cold, roaring winds and towering waves.

Our new research published today shows how albatross species evolved different beak shapes to make the most of the ocean’s food resources. These species have adapted to different seafood diets.

A resting grey-headed albatross with its head turned to one side showing its striking yellow and black compound beak against a green leafy backdrop.
A grey-headed albatross (Thalassarche chrysostoma) showing its striking yellow and black compound beak. Bryce RobinsonCC BY-ND

Move Over, Darwin’s Finches!

In 1835 Charles Darwin discovered the finches of the Galápagos Islands and noted their beaks varied in shape and size to suit different diets. This observation became a centrepiece for the theory of evolution, showing how species adapt to different ways of life.

From a single common ancestor, Darwin’s finches diversified. Some birds have thick beaks for feeding on seeds and nuts, while others have pointed beaks for eating insects. This variation allows species to specialise, helping them to share available food sources and limit competition.

Albatross have fascinating beaks. Unlike most other birds, they have a “compound” beak made of multiple pieces of keratin. Albatross spend most of their lives at sea, so they have adapted to drink seawater. They use a special gland to remove salt from the seawater and their beaks contain tube-like passages that excrete the salty liquid.

By studying the shape of albatross beaks in three dimensions (3D), our new research shows that, just like Darwin’s finches, albatross beaks vary in size and shape to adapt to different diets.

A composite image showing a variety of albatross beaks, lined up and labelled, against a black background
Albatross have compound beaks made of multiple pieces of keratin. These vary in size and shape between the different species. Josh TylerCC BY-ND

The 3D Scanning Revolution

Wildlife research is undergoing a revolution as scientists use new 3D scanning and modelling techniques to compare the anatomy of animals. This gives fresh insights into their ecology and evolution.

Using museum specimens, we made 3D digital models of beaks for 61 birds from 12 different albatross species. We compared the size and shape of different species’ beaks. We tested if closely-related species had similar beaks. Alternatively, beaks might be more alike between species that are distantly related but consume similar food. Such a pattern would be an example of convergent evolution.

We found beak size and shape varied between albatross species, making it a useful tool for identifying species that otherwise look similar.

Beaks also varied between species that eat either invertebrate prey, fish, or a mixture of both. Even in species that have similarly shaped beaks and diets, variations in beak size enable them to focus on prey of different sizes within the same category, such as small versus large fish.

The variation is most obvious in changes in the length and thickness of the beaks, but they can also vary in how the separate keratin pieces come together to make up the whole shape of the beak. These differences help albatross species to avoid competition with each other as they forage together over the open ocean.

A chart showing the results of 3D analysis showing how albatross species beaks can differ in both size and proportion.
3D analysis shows how albatross species beaks can differ in both size and proportion. They also vary in how the keratin pieces fit together to make the overall shape of the bill. Josh TylerCC BY-ND

A Future For Albatross?

This research was made possible by the large collection of more than 750 albatross specimens preserved at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Almost all of these specimens came to the museum after being caught as bycatch in past longline fisheries, where bird carcasses were collected to identify which species were being captured on hooks.

Fortunately, improved fishing methods have reduced albatross bycatch, but this collection now remains as a valuable resource for new research like this into the biology of these birds.

Sadly, fisheries are not the only threat these extraordinary birds face. The first European record of an albatross from 1593 tells us how the bird was captured, killed and eaten. Today, of the 22 albatross species, two are considered critically endangered, seven species are endangered, and a further six species are considered vulnerable.

Albatross are still frequent victims of fisheries bycatchplastic pollution, and introduced predators on their breeding islands.

Like most wildlife species, the persistent threat of climate change looms large, as the world’s oceans warm and alter their habitat and the abundance of their prey.

Despite their evolutionary marvels and remarkable adaptations to the harshest ocean on Earth, the albatross serves as a poignant reminder of nature’s fragility. It is our duty to ensure their wings continue to soar above our oceans for generations to come.The Conversation

A photo showing the southern Royal albatross in flight, side view with outstretched wings against a pale blue sky and hillside
The southern Royal albatross (Diomedea epomophora) in flight. Julie McInnesCC BY-ND

Jane Younger, Lecturer, Southern Ocean Vertebrate Ecology, University of TasmaniaDavid Hocking, Adjunct Research Associate, Monash University, and Josh Tyler, Postgraduate Research Student, Department of Life Sciences, University of Bath

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

Nearly two-thirds of the top fossil fuel producers in Australia and the world aren’t on track for 1.5℃ climate target

Saphira RekkerThe University of Queensland and Belinda WadeThe University of Queensland

Rapid reductions in fossil fuel production and use are essential to limit global warming to 1.5℃ compared to pre-industrial levels. Our new research shows most of the world’s major coal, oil and gas companies are yet to make meaningful reductions.

Some companies have been quick to announce net-zero targets or other claims of alignment with the Paris Agreement. But how do their actions compare to what must be done to achieve the agreed goal of keeping the temperature increase below 1.5℃?

Our research developed a method to track whether production by individual fossil fuel companies is aligned with putting the world on a 1.5℃ climate pathway. We use production budgets as these can be compared directly with fossil fuel demand scenarios and avoid the need for complex emissions calculations.

More than 60% of the top 142 oil, gas and coal companies – including three of the five Australian companies assessed – were not on track. Rio Tinto and BHP were the two Australian companies found to be on track. Between 2014 and 2020, the fossil fuel sectors exceeded overall production budgets by 64% (oil), 63% (gas) and 70% (coal).

These budgets are the levels of production needed to limit warming to 1.5℃ under the Paris Agreement “middle-of-the-road scenario” (where trends broadly follow their historical patterns).

We need freely available information to understand the impact companies are having on the climate and to hold them accountable. Our results are on the website Are you Paris compliant?.

Trucks carry loads of coal at a mine
Coal producers were 70% over the production budget needed to stay on track for no more than 1.5℃ warming. Shutterstock

How Can We Track Companies’ Actions?

In an earlier research paper, we laid the foundation of what Paris compliance means using a strict science-based approach. We developed several conditions.

Firstly, the base year of measuring progress of an entity should be the same as the starting year of the decarbonisation scenario being used. While there are many such scenarios, the pathway has to be consistent with a 1.5℃ or “well below” 2℃ warming limit as stated in the Paris Agreement.

To prevent constant delay of action, only pathways starting in or before 2015 should be used. That’s when the world’s nations committed to decarbonisation under the Paris Agreement. For example, if a company wants to track its alignment with a well-below 2℃ pathway starting in 2014, it should start tracking from 2014.

Also, companies should make up for action deficits since the base year to stay within their budgets.

Commonly used frameworks such as the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and the London School of Economics’ Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI) don’t comply with these conditions. The not-for-profit SBTi is the primary point of call for companies wanting to develop emission reduction targets. It’s a partnership between CDP (which runs the global system of environmental impact disclosures), UN Global CompactWorld Wildlife Fund and World Resources Institute.

We have now applied our more rigorous approach to fossil fuel companies. Using publicly available production data from the Climate Accountability Institute allows us to assess a large number of companies.

We evaluated the 142 largest producers of coal, oil and gas against four possible emissions “pathways” to limit temperature increase to 1.5℃ this century. We used three pathways set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014 and the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero Emissions pathway from 2020. Each pathway involves different scenarios of climate actions, emissions and carbon capture and storage.

a gas fractionation plant
Gas producers exceeded their production budget by 63% from 2014 to 2020. Shutterstock

Off Course, With Much More To Do

Not only did we find the majority of these companies are not currently aligned, but the outlook is also troubling. If recent trends (2010-2018) continue, the companies would produce up to 68% (coal), 42% (oil) and 53% (gas) more than their cumulative production budgets by 2050.

In Australia, the three companies not on track were Whitehaven Coal, Santos and Woodside. They exceeded their production budgets by 232% (Woodside coal), 28% (Santos oil) and 33% (Santos gas), and 39% (Woodside gas, on track for oil).

BHP was on track because it has reduced its coal, oil and gas production more than required between 2014 and 2020 under the middle-of-the-road 1.5℃ scenario. It used 87% (coal), 85% (oil) and 92% (gas) of its production budgets. Rio Tinto entirely stopped its production of coal in 2018.

While we project future production using historical (2010-2018) growth, a next step would be to assess how current production plans align with 1.5℃ pathways.

Companies can use our method to see how much they need to reduce production to be aligned. They can also see how much carbon capture and storage is required under a certain 1.5℃ pathway.

Sun sets behind an oil production platform and pipeline
Oil producers were 64% over their collective production budget for keeping global warming to 1.5℃. Shutterstock

Tracking Enables Accountability

For companies to claim Paris alignment, they must be accountable for achieving the required levels of mitigation (reducing production and carbon capture and storage) under a particular 1.5℃ pathway.

Our method provides a foundation to drive this change. It offers a relatively simple way to measure corporate actions against the reductions required.

Our work aids the development of standards, regulation and guidance on what Paris alignment actually means. The Science Based Targets initiative has yet to finalise a method for the oil and gas sector. It has no method for coal.

Our method provides a process that can fill this void. In addition to tracking individual companies’ compliance with the Paris Agreement, we require clarity on their intentions beyond just setting targets. The International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) will play a vital role by requiring detailed climate transition plans from companies in countries that adopt its standards.

Tracking how companies are performing empowers all stakeholders – including governments, investors and individuals like you and me – to advocate for climate action and make climate-safe decisions. For example, investors can use this information to decide which companies to invest in and advocate for change where required. Governments can integrate this information into corporate guidelines for climate action.The Conversation

Saphira Rekker, Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Finance, The University of Queensland and Belinda Wade, Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Business, The University of Queensland

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

Yes, climate change is bringing bushfires more often. But some ecosystems in Australia are suffering the most

David LindenmayerAustralian National UniversityChris TaylorAustralian National UniversityMaldwyn John EvansAustralian National University, and Philip ZylstraCurtin University

Black Summer, Black Saturday, Ash Wednesday: these and so many other bushfire disasters are regular reminders of the fact Australia is among the most flammable continents on Earth.

Alarmingly, climate change is making bushfires more frequent. This is a huge concern, given the devastating effects of fire on both human communities, and the diversity of plants and animals.

As our new research shows, however, the trend is not uniform. We examined the frequency of wildfires in parts of Victoria over the past 40 years. We found fire frequency is increasing in all ecosystems we studied, but to varying extents. In some places, fires are occurring so often, entire ecosystems are at risk of collapse.

These nuances are important. They point to the urgent need to tackle climate change. They also have major implications for biodiversity conservation, and bushfire management and prevention, and cast further questions over the controversial practice of native forest logging.

Fires Are Becoming Shockingly More Frequent

To understand the effects of wildfires, it’s not enough to focus on a single fire. We must examine successive fires in an area and how frequently they occur.

Our analysis focused on southeastern Australia – one of the most populated, heavily forested, and fire-prone parts of the continent.

Specifically, we homed in on six geographic areas in Victoria known as “bioregions”. Bioregions vary in their climatic conditions, geological features, biodiversity and other characteristics. The six areas together cover 4.64 million hectares – much of it forest.

We excluded deliberate burns such as hazard reduction (or prescribed) burns lit by fire authorities. We also excluded places that had been logged, because they’re known to be at a high risk of severe fire – and so including them would have skewed the results.

We found a major change in the frequency of wildfire over the past four decades. Between 2001 and 2020, there were substantially more fires in almost all bioregions than between 1981 and 2000.

In the earlier two decades, almost 667,000 hectares of forest burned. More than 36,000 hectares of this burned more than once.

In the latter two decades, 3.1 million hectares burned. About 1 million hectares burned more than once.

The change was most pronounced in the three bioregions at higher elevations - the Snowy Mountains, Victorian Alps, and South East Coastal Ranges (which lie southeast of the Snowy Mountains).

The least amount of change was found in Victoria’s East Gippsland Lowlands. This area had more fires in 1981-2000 than the other areas we studied, but only a modest increase in number of fires between 2000 and 2020.

Fascinatingly, however, the story doesn’t end there.

two maps showing fire frequency
Frequency of fires between 1980 to 2000 (top) and between 2001 and 2020 (bottom) across regions throughout eastern Victoria. Authors provided

A Complex Picture

We found the changes in fire frequency were nuanced and complex. Across the study areas, the frequency of wildfires was very strongly affected by topographical features such as slope, as well as climate measures such as rainfall and temperature. However, the influence of these factors differed markedly between areas.

For example, in four bioregions we studied, wildfires became more frequent as rainfall declined. But the opposite was true in the other two bioregions.

The reasons for these complex findings remain unclear. Increased average rainfall may, in some cases, arrive in storm events with associated lightning (which can start fires). It can also lead to faster water runoff, meaning rainfall may not be as well retained in the soil as otherwise might be, and forests could become drier.

Similarly, fire frequency was also affected by the extent to which temperatures deviated from the long-term average. Generally, this deviation was toward hotter temperatures.

In some areas, this temperature variation was associated with less frequent fires. In others, it coincided with more frequent fires. Again, the reasons for these differences are not yet clear.

The increase in fire frequency is alarming. Some places where fire has been particularly frequent include wetter forests, such as those dominated by ash-type eucalypts. Consistent with earlier analyses, we found evidence of locations that have experienced up to four fires in the past 25 years.

Fires in ash-type ecosystems have historically occurred only once every 75 to 150 years. Fires occurring too often in these environments may lead to the entire ecosystem collapsing.

Our results have major implications for the native forest logging forestry industry. More frequent fires means many trees burn well before they’ve reached an age suitable for sawlogs. This suggests yields from native forest logging in south-eastern Australia will decline, making the practice even more financially precarious.

a scorched hillside
A fire-affected area in the Victorian Alps following fires in 2013. The area, near the Gippsland town of Licola, also burned in 2007 and later in 2019. Authors provided

What Must Happen Next?

Our results confirm wildfires are becoming more frequent in parts of fire-prone south-eastern Australia. And while climate change influences the frequency of fire, the effects vary across geographical areas.

Clearly, we must seek to limit the number of wildfires. An obvious response is to take more strident steps to tackle climate change. But even if humanity meets this huge global challenge, it will be a long time before we see demonstrable changes in climate conditions.

More immediate options include managing vegetation to reduce flammability. For example, activities such as logging and thinning can make forests more flammable, so such practices should be halted in these vulnerable ecosystems.

Greater efforts are needed to conserve biodiversity that is sensitive to fire, and to conserve ecosystems at risk of collapse. We must also embrace new technologies to detect wildfires as soon as they ignite, and suppress them as quickly as possible.The Conversation

David Lindenmayer, Professor, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National UniversityChris Taylor, Research Fellow, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National UniversityMaldwyn John Evans, Senior Research Fellow, Australian National University, and Philip Zylstra, Adjunct Associate Professor at Curtin University, Research Associate at University of New South Wales, Curtin University

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

Giant old trees are still being logged in Tasmanian forests. We must find ways of better protecting them

Bob Brown FoundationCC BY-ND
Jamie KirkpatrickUniversity of Tasmania

The photo said it all. On the back of a logging truck, a tree so large it could barely fit. It was cut down in Tasmania’s Florentine Valley, not far from Mount Field, where it had started life as a seedling over a century ago.

The photo triggered outrage from conservationists and the public. Greens founder Bob Brown called the felling “a national disgrace” and urged a halt to the felling of old growth giants.

Giant trees are supposed to be protected as a matter of normal process. Trees over 85 metres high or with a trunk volume of 280 cubic metres should be retained with a 100 metres radius of uncleared bush around them. The loggers say this one was cut down for “safety reasons”. We don’t know if this one met those criteria.

Whether or not that’s true, the felling has sparked a new battle in Tasmania’s long-running forest wars. Unlike in Victoria, old growth logging in Tasmania doesn’t look like ending any time soon. But we must find ways to better protect these giants of nature, the tallest flowering trees in the world. They store huge amounts of carbon in their trunks and in the soil, provide habitat for many forest creatures and produce awe in humans who see them.

florentine valley logged tree`
The fallen giant. Bob Brown FoundationCC BY-ND

Why Was This Giant Logged?

The truck transporting the trunk of the tree was seen exiting Tasmania’s Florentine Valley. This valley has been the site of many protests over the years. Part of it is in the World Heritage Area, but logging is still allowed in other parts of it.

Why was a tree this size cut down? Safety.

“On occasion, it may be necessary for Sustainable Timber Tasmania to remove a large tree where it presents an access or safety risk,” a spokeswoman told

That is possible. Giant old trees can hollow out as they age and become a safety risk if people are allowed near them. But the trunk in the published photo shows no sign of hollowing out. If it was a giant, the mandatory 100 metre protection zone would eliminate almost all risk.

At the very least, the felling suggests not all of Tasmania’s ancient trees are adequately protected. What it shows is the need for independent assessment of areas slated for logging likely to be home to giants – and to ensure trees felled for “safety” reasons" genuinely need to be removed.

And what about trees that are not quite big enough to be protected? As ecologist and tall-tree expert Dr Jennifer Sanger has observed, the 85-metre figure is arbitrary. We need to plan for the giant trees of the future by keeping the almost giant trees of now.

Ancient Giants Matter

Mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) is the world’s largest flowering plant. The trees can live up to 700 years and reach over 100 metres in height.

Do they matter more than other trees? Yes. That’s because big old trees begin to decay in interesting ways, creating hollows for possums and birds to nest in, and even hollowing out inside the trunk, which makes habitat for bats. They play an outsized role in ecosystems in providing shelter, hollows and food.

Ironically, these processes of decay can make these giants all but useless for timber. If you’re logging a giant to turn it into large structural beams, you might find it’s hollow inside and all but useless.

The sheer size of these trees also means they have more habitat to offer for other forms of life. Native animals, birds and invertebrates rely on these trees. Plus, they store massive amounts of carbon, both above ground and in the soil. Cutting down the old growth forests of which these trees are a part and turning them into production forests results in a substantial ongoing leakage of soil carbon for many generations.

The trees induce awe and wonder in most who see them. People are passionate about keeping them on the planet – one of the reasons for the forest wars in the first place. These huge trees attract tourists to walk beneath them or up in their canopies.

Haven’t Tasmania’s Forest Wars Stopped?

Sadly, no. The decades-long battle between loggers and conservationists in Tasmania has certainly become less intense after many old growth forests such as the Weld, Styx, Florentine and Great Western Tiers gained World Heritage protection in 2013.

But native forest logging in Tasmania shows no sign of stopping entirely. Old-growth logging continues around the state, including in the Florentine Valley where this giant tree was felled. Rainforest trees in some reserves are available for logging.

In May, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced his state would this year end native forest logging, which has long been a loss-making industry. Instead, plantation logging will be expanded.

Why can’t Tasmania do this? It mostly comes down to politics. Tasmania is the poorest state in Australia, and the few jobs logging native forests are politically important.

Also, the wood from larger trees are better for ends such as veneer, exposed beams and furniture than most plantation-sourced wood. Their felling can be rewarding financially for the companies that do it, as no-one has to pay to grow them and they can contain large volumes of high quality wood.

But overall, cutting down old growth forests may not stack up economically, with the quasi-government enterprises managing production forests often making losses. It didn’t make much financial sense in Victoria, and may not in Tasmania.

Will the felling of this giant bring change? Don’t bet on it. Probably the best we can hope for is to preserve as many giants – and near-giants – as we can. And to do that, we’ll need independent assessments of old growth forest slated for logging to double-check measurements of these precious trees. The Conversation

Jamie Kirkpatrick, Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Tasmania

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

More Than 250 Scientists Call For An End To Land Clearing

August 14, 2023
More than 250 Australian scientists have called on the Australian Labor Party to end land clearing in this term of government—calling the broad-scale destruction of native woodlands, grasslands, forests and wetlands “the single biggest threat to biodiversity in Australia”. 

Over the last three years Australia is still averaging more than half a million hectares of clearing—that’s 1.5 million hectares in Queensland and NSW alone in the last three years—an area bigger than Greater Sydney. And for every 100 hectares bulldozed, as many as 500 native mammals, 2000 birds, and 15,000 reptiles die. That adds up to tens of millions of native animals killed directly every year by the bulldozing of their homes.

But the destruction doesn't end there, the fragmentation of their homes leaves those animals exposed to predation by feral animals and localised extinctions caused by drought, bushfires, ecosystem collapse and disease.

Not only is it impossible for Australia to tackle climate change and end extinction without first ending land clearing, it's critical to communities, society and our economy which all depend on functioning ecosystems. Land clearing degrades the soil we need to grow crops, adversely affects local rainfall, harms pollinators like bees, and pollutes waterways. As solutions go, it doesn’t get much more straightforward than this: to end extinction and limit global boiling to 1.5 degrees Celsius we simply must stop the bulldozers.

Read the full letter below: 

Let's End Land Clearing

Last year in Montreal, the world made what could prove to be an historic agreement to reverse the global nature crisis. Australia played a vital role in securing the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and its mission: to halt and reverse biodiversity loss to put nature on a path to recovery. 

As researchers who study, document and work to recover Australia’s plants and animals, insects and ecosystems, we are keenly aware of the value of nature to Australians and the world. 

Australians love our unique nature: we put it on our money, name our sports teams after it, and spend time in it with our families. For First Peoples, it is inseparable from culture and identity.

Australia’s nature, in all its diversity, is also pivotal to the functioning of earth’s systems. The state of nature has profound implications for society and the economy – for our health and wellbeing, our lifestyles and our prosperity.

But nature in Australia is in desperate trouble.

As scientists and experts, we have sounded the alarm for more than 30 years that the large-scale destruction of native woodlands, forests, wetlands and grasslands was the single biggest threat to the nation’s biodiversity.

That is still the case today.

Across the nation, 500,000 hectares or more of land are cleared annually. For every 100 hectares of native woodland cleared, about 2000 birds, 15,000 reptiles and 500 native mammals will die. 

Land clearing and native forest logging exacerbate climate change, affect local temperature and rainfall, degrade soils, increase pollution in freshwater streams and marine environments like the Great Barrier Reef, harm pollinators like native bees, and worsen the impact of invasive predators like cats and foxes.

The mission agreed in Montreal is urgent. Our commitment to end extinction could be world-leading. But the legacy of this government will be written by the actions it takes to halt the current drivers of nature destruction and repair past damage. 

The mission to recover nature can only be fully realised by respecting the rights and honouring the knowledge of First Peoples in land management and forest stewardship.

We urge you to commit, and act, to end broad-scale land clearing and native forest logging in this term of government. Ending extinction, limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and reversing nature’s decline depends on it.

For the full list of scientist signatories visit

Letters Show Need For Urgent Action To Protect Threatened Species

August 17, 2023
Five Australian species are at ‘immediate’ risk of extinction and a further 41 species are on course to be listed as ‘critically endangered’, correspondence between the Threatened Species Scientific Committee and Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek reveals.

Most of the species recommended for listing as ‘critically endangered’ have not previously appeared on Australia’s list of threatened species.

“This correspondence between the Environment Minister and the Threatened Species Scientific Committee makes one thing clear: nature in Australia is in big trouble,” said Australian Conservation Foundation nature campaigner Peta Bulling.

“Plants and animals that make this land unique are being pushed towards extinction at a truly alarming pace.

“In the context of the government’s ‘no new extinctions’ goal, the fact the Threatened Species Scientific Committee has immediate concerns for five species, including Tasmania’s extraordinary maugean skate, highlights the need for urgent action to protect these species.

“Of the 41 species identified by the Committee, the majority have never even been listed as threatened under our national environment laws, yet here they are making their first appearance in the code red category of ‘critically endangered’.

“The Cape Melville leaf-tailed gecko measures is about 20 centimetres long and lives in a remote part of Queensland. It has large eyes and a long, slender body and limbs.

“It has only been known to western science since 2013, when it was voted one of the top 10 new species discovered that year. A decade later and it still hasn’t been formally protected by our national environment laws.

“Other species have been officially protected for years, but they are clearly in trouble.

“The Mary River Turtle is arguably one of Australia’s most unusual species. It is only found in the Mary River in Queensland and can extract oxygen from the water through a gill-like structure in its cloaca, which is why it is sometimes known as the ‘bum-breathing turtle’.

“It also has a habit of growing algae on its head and shell, which gives it an undeniably cool punk rock look.”

Above: A Mary River Turtle. Photo: Rob Downer, Shutterstock)

“From 2007–09 ACF campaigned to stop a Queensland government plan to build a dam on the Mary River, because of the damage it would do to the Mary River Turtle, the Mary River cod, the Queensland lungfish and other species.

“In 2009 then Environment Minister Peter Garrett refused the Traveston Crossing dam environmental approval and that particular threat was averted.

“But now this correspondence shows the Mary River Turtle is at risk of extinction.

“Australia’s threatened species list already has more than 2,000 species on it. It’s clear our nature laws aren’t stemming the tide of extinction in this country.

“Habitat destruction is the leading cause of extinction in Australia, directly contributing to the listing of 60% of Australia’s threatened species.

“Habitat destruction is a threat to humans and wildlife, as we rely on the same forests and landscapes for our food, water, oxygen, medicines, physical and mental health and climate control – to name just a few benefits nature provides.

“Australia urgently needs strong outcome-driven environment laws, active conservation and recovery planning and an end to harmful activities like land clearing and native forest logging.”

ACF research shows our ineffective laws are letting many hundreds of thousands of hectares of threatened species habitat be bulldozed without penalty.

Nearly 8 million hectares of threatened species habitat in Australia have been destroyed since 2000 and recent ACF investigations show this destruction is continuing.

A green roof or rooftop solar? You can combine them in a biosolar roof, boosting both biodiversity and power output

Peter IrgaUniversity of Technology SydneyEamonn WoosterCharles Sturt UniversityFraser R TorpyUniversity of Technology SydneyJack RojahnUniversity of Canberra, and Robert FleckUniversity of Technology Sydney

Growing city populations and limited space are driving the adoption of green roofs and green walls covered with living plants. As well as boosting biodiversity, green roofs could play another unexpectedly valuable role by increasing the electricity output of solar panels.

As solar panels heat up beyond 25℃, their efficiency decreases markedly. Green roofs moderate rooftop temperatures. So we wanted to find out: could green roofs help with the problem of heat reducing the output of solar panels?

Our research compared a “biosolar” green roof – one that combines a solar system with a green roof – and a comparable conventional roof with an equivalent solar system. We measured the impacts on biodiversity and solar output, as well as how the plants coped with having panels installed above them.

The green roof supported much more biodiversity, as one might expect. By reducing average maximum temperatures by about 8℃, it increased solar generation by as much as 107% during peak periods. And while some plant species outperformed others, the vegetation flourished.

These results show we don’t have to choose between a green roof or a solar roof: we can combine the two and reap double the rewards.

Daramu House in the Sydney CBD has a large array of solar panels installed over a green roof.

How Was The Study Done?

Many studies have tested a single rooftop divided into “green roof” and “non-green roof” sections to measure the differences caused by vegetation. A problem with such studies is “spatial confounding” – the effects of two nearby spaces influencing one another. So, for example, the cooler green roof section could moderate the temperature of the non-green section next to it.

In studies that use distinct buildings, the buildings might be too far apart or too different in construction to be comparable.

The two buildings in our study were the same height, size and shape and located next to each other in Sydney’s central business district. The only difference was Daramu House had a green roof and International House did not.

We selected a mix of native and non-native grasses and non-woody plants, which would flower across all seasons, to attract diverse animal species.

(A) The study site location (red dot) in the Sydney central business district. (B) Architectural design of Daramu House. (C) Rooftop view looking south, showing plantings around and underneath solar panels. Green Roof & Solar Array – Comparative Research Project

The biosolar green roof and conventional roof had the same area, about 1860 square metres, with roughly a third covered by solar panels. Vegetation covered about 78% of the green roof and the solar panels covered 40% of this planted area.

To identify which species were present on the roofs we used motion-sensing cameras and sampled for DNA traces. We documented changes in the green roof vegetation to record how shading by the solar panels affected the plants.

How Did The Panels Affect The Plants?

In the open areas, we observed minimal changes in the vegetation cover over the study period compared to the initial planted community.

Plant growth was fastest and healthiest in the areas immediately around the solar panels. Several species doubled in coverage. We selected fast-growing vegetation for this section to achieve full coverage of the green roof beds as soon as possible.

The vegetation changed the most in the areas directly below and surrounding the solar panels. The Baby Sun Rose, Aptenia cordifolia, emerged as the dominant plant. It occupied most of the space beneath and surrounding the solar panels, despite having been planted in relatively low densities.

This was surprising: it was not expected the plants would prefer the shaded areas under the panels to the open areas. This shows that shading by solar panels will not prevent the growth of full and healthy roof gardens.

(A) An example of evenly distributed plant cover around solar panels. (B) Aptenia cordifolia (Baby Sun Rose) came to dominate the area beneath solar panels. Minor cover of Viola hederacea can also be seen. (C) Vegetation around solar panels along the outside of east section of the roof. (D) Additional evidence of the dominance of A. cordifolia beneath the panels and dieback directly under them. (E) Relatively even cover of a range of species and marked increase in height in Goodenia ovata (Hop Goodenia). (F) Substantial height increases for the entire vegetation community. Green Roof & Solar Array – Comparative Research Project

What Were The Biodiversity Impacts?

eDNA sampling on site.

We used environmental DNA (eDNA) surveys to compare biodiversity on the green roof and conventional roof. Water run-off samples were collected from both roofs and processed on site using portable citizen scientist eDNA sampling equipment to detect traces of DNA shed by the species on the roof.

The eDNA surveys detected a diverse range of species. These included some species (such as algae and fungi) that are not easily detected using other survey methods. The results confirmed the presence of bird species recorded by the cameras but also showed other visiting bird species went undetected by the cameras.

Overall, the green roof supported four times as many species of birds, over seven times as many arthropods such as insects, spiders and millipedes, and twice as many snail and slug species as the conventional roof. There was many times the diversity of microorganisms such as algae and fungi.

Encouragingly, the green roof attracted species unexpected in the city. They included blue-banded bees (Amegilla cingulata) and metallic shield bugs (Scutiphora pedicellata).

Bee with blue bands on a flower
Blue-banded bees were among the unexpected visitors to the green roof. Chiswick Chap/Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA

How Did The Green Roof Alter Temperatures?

The green roof reduced surface temperatures by up to 9.63℃ for the solar panels and 6.93℃ for the roof surfaces. An 8℃ reduction in average peak temperature on the green roof would result in substantial heating and cooling energy savings inside the building.

This lowering of temperatures increased the maximum output of the solar panels by 21-107%, depending on the month. Performance modelling indicates an extensive green roof in central Sydney can, on average, produce 4.5% more electricity at any given light level.

2 graphs showing temperatures and solar power output for biosolar green roof and conventional roof
Energy output (left) and surface temperatures (right) of solar panels on a biosolar green roof and on a conventional roof. Data: Green Roof & Solar Array – Comparative Research Project

These results show we don’t have to choose between a green roof or a solar roof. We can combine them to take advantage of the many benefits of biosolar green roofs.

Biosolar Roofs Can Help Get Cities To Net Zero

The next step is to design green roofs and their plantings specifically to enhance biodiversity. Green roofs and other green infrastructure may alter urban wildlife’s activities and could eventually attract non-urban species.

Our green roof also decreased stormwater runoff, removed a range of run-off pollutants and insulated the building from extremes of temperature. A relatively inexpensive system provides all of these services with moderate maintenance and, best of all, zero energy inputs.

Clearly, biosolar green roofs could make major contributions to net-zero cities. And all that’s needed is space that currently has no other use.The Conversation

Peter Irga, ARC DECRA Fellow and Lecturer in Air and Noise Pollution, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Technology SydneyEamonn Wooster, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Gulbali Institute, Charles Sturt UniversityFraser R Torpy, Director, Plants and Environmental Quality Research Group, University of Technology SydneyJack Rojahn, PhD Candidate, Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, and Robert Fleck, Research Scientist, School of Life Sciences, University of Technology Sydney

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

Rising seas and a great southern star: Aboriginal oral traditions stretch back more than 12,000 years

Duane HamacherThe University of MelbourneGreg LehmanUniversity of TasmaniaPatrick D. NunnUniversity of the Sunshine Coast, and Rebe TaylorUniversity of Tasmania

Content note: this article mentions genocide and acts of colonial violence against Aboriginal people.

How long do you think stories can be passed down, generation to generation?

Hundreds of years? Thousands?

Today, we publish new research in the Journal of Archaeological Science demonstrating that traditional stories from Tasmania have been passed down for more than 12,000 years. And we use multiple lines of evidence to show it.

Tasmania’s Violent Colonial History

Within months of establishing a colonial outpost on the island in 1803, British officials had committed several acts of genocide against Aboriginal Tasmanian (Palawa) people. By the mid-1820s, soldiers, convicts, and free settlers had taken up arms to fight what became known as the “Black War”, aimed at capturing or killing Palawa and dispossessing them of their Country.

Tasmania’s colonial government appointed George Augustus Robinson to “conciliate” with the Palawa. From 1829 to 1835, Robinson travelled with a small group of Palawa, including Trukanini and her husband, Wurati. By 1832, Robinson’s “friendly mission” had turned to forced removals.

An illustrated postcard showing the (so-called) 'Friendly Mission', led by George Augustus Robinson (1941)
A postcard showing the (so-called) ‘Friendly Mission’, led by George Augustus Robinson (1941), colourised version. State Library of Victoria

Robinson kept a daily journal, which included records of Palawa languages and traditions. Over time, Palawa men and women slowly began to share some of their knowledge, explaining how their ancestors came to Tasmania (Lutruwita) by land from the far north, before the sea formed and turned their home into an island. They also spoke about the Sun-man, the Moon-woman, and a bright southern star.

These stories are of immense importance to today’s Palawa families who survived the devastating impact of colonisation, and who continue to share these unique creation stories. Through careful investigation of colonial records, and collaborating with Palawa knowledge-holders, we found something remarkable.

Rising Seas And The Formation Of Lutruwita

Over the past 65,000 years, Australia’s First Peoples witnessed natural disasters and significant changes to the land, sea and sky. Volcanoes spewed fire, earthquakes shook the land, tsunamis inundated the coastlines, droughts plagued the continent, meteorites fell to the earth, and the stars shifted in the night sky.

Some 20,000 years ago, the world was in the grip of an ice age. Australia was conspicuously drier than it is today, and the ocean was significantly lower. All of that sea water was bound up in glaciers that swathed vast tracts of land, particularly across the Northern Hemisphere, and polar ice caps much larger than ours today.

As time passed, temperatures gradually rose and the ice began to melt. After 10,000 years, the sea level had risen 125 metres; a process that dramatically transformed coastlines and submerged landscapes that had been ancestral Country for thousands of generations. This forced humans to change where and how they lived.

During the ice age, both Lutruwita and Papua New Guinea were connected to mainland Australia by dry land, forming a landmass called Sahul. As the seas rose, Tasmania’s connection gradually narrowed to form what geologists call the Bassian Land Bridge.

Topographic map of the Bass Strait
A topographic map of the Bass Strait, showing the conditions before the Bassian Land Bridge was submerged. The yellow shaded area represents geography of the land bridge, while the broken red line indicated the last vestige of a continuous Bassian Land Bridge between Tasmania and the mainland. Patrick NunnAuthor provided

People continued to live on this “land bridge”, but by 12,700 years ago it had narrowed to just 5 kilometres wide (lime-green shading on the map above). Habitable land was gradually reduced as the sea closed in. Less than 300 years later, the “land bridge” was gone and Lutruwita was completely surrounded by water.

Palawa traditions from that time survived hundreds of generations of retelling, forming part of a larger canon of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories around Australia. They described rising seas and submerging coastlines as the ice sheets melted before levelling off around 7,000 years ago. Stories of similar antiquity are known from other parts of the world.

A Great South Star

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures developed rich and complex knowledge systems about the stars, which are still used today. They describe the movements of the Sun, Moon, and stars, as well as rare cosmic events, such as eclipses, supernovae, and meteorite impacts.

In the 1830s, a Palawa Elder spoke about a time when the star Moinee was near the south celestial pole. He laid down a pair of spears in the sand and drew a few reference stars to triangulate its position.

Colonists seemed perplexed about the presence of an antipodean counterpart to Polaris, as no southern pole star exists today. Some tried to identify the stars on the star map, but seemed confused and labelled them incorrectly, as they were unaware of an important astronomical process called axial precession.

As the Earth rotates, it wobbles on its axis like a spinning top. This shifts the location of the celestial poles, tracing out a large circle every 26,000 years. As thousands of years pass by, the positions of the stars in the sky slowly change.

Long ago, Canopus was at its southernmost point in the sky. Lying just over 10 degrees from the south celestial pole, it appeared to always hover in the southern skies each night. That last occurred 14,000 years ago, before rising seas turned Lutruwita into an island.

A star map showing the location of Canopus 14,000 years ago.
Stars in the southern sky as they would have appeared 14,000 years ago, accounting for precession, nutation, and proper motion. Canopus is very close to the south celestial pole (SCP). StellariumCC BY

Exciting Collaborative Futures

We can see through independent lines of evidence that Palawa stories have been passed down for more than twelve millennia. We also find here the only example in the world of an oral tradition describing a star’s position as it would have appeared in the sky over 10,000 years ago.

Our investigation of colonial records that record traditional systems of knowledge has demonstrated a powerful cross-cultural way of better understanding deep human history. This also recognises the immense value of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditions today.

This research was co-authored by graduate Michelle Gantevoort from RMIT University, and student researchers Ka Hei Andrew Law from the University of Melbourne and Mel Miles from Swinburne University of Technology.The Conversation

Duane Hamacher, Associate Professor, The University of MelbourneGreg Lehman, Pro Vice Chancellor, Aboriginal Leadership, University of TasmaniaPatrick D. Nunn, Professor of Geography, School of Law and Society, University of the Sunshine Coast, and Rebe Taylor, Associate Professor of History, University of Tasmania

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

Thousands of migratory birds will make NZ landfall in spring – will they bring a deadly bird flu with them?

Shutterstock/Imogen Warren
Jemma GeogheganUniversity of Otago and Nigel FrenchMassey University

A highly pathogenic bird flu is currently sweeping the world – and New Zealand could be better prepared for its potential arrival.

Over the past few years, more and more birds have come to harbour new strains of this deadly virus as it continues to evolve to infect new species. It is now causing a panzootic (a pandemic of animals) among wild aquatic birds.

The virus, known as highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, has likely already killed thousands of birds worldwide (the exact number is difficult to estimate). What’s more, spillovers to non-avian hosts such as mammals are becoming increasingly common.

While only a few human cases have been reported, catsfoxes and sea lions are being infected at an alarming rate.

Despite intercontinental transmission of highly pathogenic bird flu variants during the past 20 years, no cases have been reported in New Zealand – yet. Australia is also considered free of the virus, although a few years ago a strain in chickens was thought to have evolved locally.

One reason we emphasise “yet” is because each spring, thousands of migratory birds arrive in Aotearoa New Zealand. Will they bring these deadly strains of avian influenza with them? An unwanted viral hitchhiker of this type could have devastating consequences for our biota and industries.

How Bird Flu Could Get To New Zealand

New Zealand is conventionally assumed to be at low risk from highly pathogenic avian influenza. We are thought to be too far away from other landmasses and not on routes that migratory waterfowl usually take.

Any migratory shore and seabirds that do usually make landfall in New Zealand are thought likely to die of the disease before reaching our shores.

But some wild birds might experience asymptomatic infections, even of strains that are typically highly pathogenic.

Also, the recent expansion of susceptible host species, including to marine mammals, increases the risk that some species might carry the virus here.

As for geography, research suggests wild bird migrations are responsible for transmitting the virus from Europe to the Americas across the Atlantic, as well as throughout Eurasia. So why not to New Zealand? Are we really just too far away?

How To Prepare For An Outbreak

If this highly pathogenic avian influenza virus were to arrive, New Zealand is not as prepared as it could be. The major reason is that we have very little active virus surveillance of wildlife.

New Zealand monitors livestock, including cows, sheep and poultry, for a range of diseases. But the impact of this virus on people and non-poultry livestock is likely to be minimal.

The first signs might be the death of seabirds or marine mammals. While perhaps not as iconic as a kiwi or kākāpō, New Zealand is home to a great many seabirds found nowhere else on the planet.

A pair of fairy terns, tara iti.
Highly endangered species, such as the fairy tern or tara iti, are particularly vulnerable. Shutterstock/Lei Zhu NZ

Some species, such as tara iti (or fairy tern) are critically endangered, with only about 50 individuals left. A virus such as this could directly drive the extinction of species with such low numbers.

Given this risk, the US took action to vaccinate the Californian condor against avian influenza – but only after finding 21 dead condors (4% of the remaining population) which had tested positive for the H5N1 strain.

What should New Zealand watch for and how can we be better prepared to detect any incursions early?

  • Raising awareness: unexpected deaths in animals are a red flag. Usually, such events are investigated by the Ministry for Primary Industries. But we must better inform the public about what to do if they spot a dead bird or sea lion.

  • Testing: ramp up active and targeted surveillance of known pathogens. Wild birds have been surveyed annually since 2004 for avian influenza. However, since 2010 the focus has shifted away from migratory birds to sampling resident wildfowl in the summer months, concentrating on a small number of coastal locations visited by migratory shorebirds. This is based on the lack of positive samples from migratory bird prior to 2010, but the global situation and consequences of an incursion warrant revisiting active migratory bird surveillance across more locations.

  • Genomics: use the viral genomics capabilities we have already established during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Europe, for instance, there are some circulating variants of avian influenza that seem to better infect mammals. If the virus arrives here, viral genomics can be used effectively to let us know what form we are dealing with, and inform our response.

It is clear that to first spot and then stop a virus such as this, we need to look at the entire ecosystem – that is, where humans, animals and the environment are interconnected. This is known as the “One Health” approach.

While this makes intuitive sense, the reality is that disease surveillance affecting humans, domestic animals and wildlife is largely siloed and under-resourced. There is limited integration of activities across these domains. The result is that we are currently ill-equipped to track and respond rapidly to this deadly virus were it to arrive in New Zealand.

We are advocating defragmentation of our surveillance for emerging pathogens. It is time to provide a more enhanced and integrated One Health surveillance system, involving expertise across universities, research institutes and government departments to re-evaluate our pandemic (and panzootic) preparedness.The Conversation

Jemma Geoghegan, Professor and Webster Family Chair in Viral Pathogenesis, University of Otago and Nigel French, Distinguished Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Public Health, Massey University

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

Montana youth win unprecedented climate case: What does this ruling mean for Canada?

A Montana court delivered a ruling in a much anticipated youth-led climate change case. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)
Jason MacLeanUniversity of Saskatchewan 

On Aug. 14, a Montana court delivered what is being hailed as a game-changing ruling in a much anticipated youth-led climate change case, Held v. State of Montana.

The Montana First Judicial District Court ruled that the state’s energy policy forbidding the government from considering the impacts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate change in its environmental decision-making violates the state constitution’s fundamental “right to a clean and healthful environment.”

The court’s decision is a resounding victory for the 16 youth plaintiffs and their legal team. Michael Gerrard, founder of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change (who was not involved in the case), said that “I think this is the strongest decision on climate change ever issued by any court.”

That said, the court stopped short of requiring the state to develop a supervised GHG emissions reductions plan.

The Montana state government issued a fiery response to the ruling and has signalled its intention to appeal, which will send the case to the state Supreme Court. However, regardless of how events play out in Montana, one question stands out: What are the implications of this ruling here in Canada and around the world?

Express And Implied Rights

The legal landscape here in Canada is, unsurprisingly, quite a bit different from the United States. Specifically, The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not include a green amendment like Montana’s; indeed, the Charter has not been amended once since its enactment in 1982.

Consequently, rights-based climate litigation in Canada requires the judiciary to interpret other Charter rights — particularly Section 7’s right to life, liberty and security of the person, and Section 15’s right to equality — as naturally and necessarily encompassing a right to a clean and healthy environment.

Attorneys for the State of Montana are seen before a hearing in the climate change lawsuit, Held vs. Montana.
A Montana court ruled that the state violated its citizens rights to a clean and healthful environment, a provision which does not exist under Canadian law. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP)

A number of Canadian environmental law scholars argue forcefully that even though Canada’s Charter is silent on the need to protect the Earth’s critical life-support systems — clean air, water and a stable climate — the rights to life, equality and security of the person will be meaningless on a dying planet and therefore must be interpreted with reference to ecological sustainability.

Indeed, the core argument advanced in the ongoing youth climate case in Canada, La Rose v. His Majesty the King, is that the federal government has a constitutional duty to protect Canadian youth and future generations from climate change. A decision by the Federal Court of Appeal in the La Rose case is expected soon.

If the youth plaintiffs prevail, the case will proceed to a trial. If the court rules in favour of the federal government, the youth plaintiffs will almost certainly appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Montana decision, however, as strong an endorsement as it is of climate science and renewable energy alternatives to fossil fuels, will not likely assist the youth plaintiffs in the La Rose case. The Montana decision is legally distinguishable because its constitution includes an express — as opposed to an implied — right to a clean and healthful environment.

The same goes for Canadian arguments advancing the common law public trust doctrine, which is already expressly codified in the Montana Constitution.

A Constitutional Challenge

The other key climate law case in Canada is the Supreme Court of Canada’s pending decision in Alberta’s constitutional challenge to the federal Impact Assessment Act. Here, too, the Montana decision is a sobering reminder of the limitations of constitutional litigation when it comes to advancing climate policy.

If the Montana decision stands, state agencies will have the discretion to consider GHG emissions and climate change when reviewing energy projects. But as the Supreme Court of Canada case illustrates, the key question is not whether climate change is considered, but how.

After all, Canada approved the Bay du Nord offshore oil project under the Impact Assessment Act, contrary to Alberta’s claims that the “no more pipelines law” will block future fossil fuel development.

Beyond Symbolism

But that does not mean that the Montana decision is merely a symbolic victory. It’s a strong vindication of independent scientific expertise and its relevance to climate and energy policymaking.

The Montana decision also reaffirms the potential of collective action and collaboration among youth, environmental lawyers, and climate change scholars.

The Montana court joins other courts around the world in highlighting the problem of delaying climate action, which requires youth and future generations to make even faster, more radical and more expensive emissions reductions down the road.

German lawmakers seen in session at the Bundestag.
Germany’s constitutional court recently held that any actions by the German government which lock-in future harms are unconstitutional. (Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP)

Germany’s highest constitutional court, for example, held that it was unconstitutional for the government to make decisions today that lock-in future harms and place a disproportionate burden on future generations. Yet Germany is still struggling to implement the court’s ruling by enacting a sufficiently ambitious emissions reduction plan. Judicial rulings must be founded on and sustained by sufficient political support to make a real difference on the ground.

Thus, the key now is to build on the court’s strong decision and take the fight to the democratic political arena where more than one Canadian provincial premier continues to deny their government’s responsibility to urgently act on climate change.

Verdicts send strong messages, but democratic politics is required to turn messages into policy.The Conversation

Jason MacLean, Adjunct professor, Environment and Sustainability, University of Saskatchewan

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

Trees, rivers and mountains are gaining legal status – but it’s not been a quick fix for environmental problems

The Whanganui River, New Zealand. Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock
Rónán KennedyUniversity of Galway

As the scale and severity of environmental issues become more obvious, lawmakers are experimenting with new ways to protect nature. One approach that has gone from blue-sky debate to meaningful reality over the past 50 years is to give elements of the natural world – trees, rivers and mountains – legal rights and allow people to go to court on their behalf.

In 2022, Spain’s Mar Menor saltwater lagoon became the first ecosystem in Europe to be granted a limited legal status similar to a company. Meanwhile, Ireland’s recent Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss concluded with a recommendation to amend the constitution to include a provision on the rights of nature.

This idea can be traced back to the early 1970s, when American legal scholar Christopher Stone spontaneously threw it into a classroom discussion about the gradual expansion of rights, and was pleasantly surprised by the positive response it got.

He knew that the US Supreme Court was about to hear an important case on what lawyers call “standing” (whether or not one has the right to be heard by a court in a particular dispute), in which an environmental organisation called the Sierra Club was seeking to prevent the development of a ski resort in the Sequoia National Forest. Stone also knew that one of the justices, William O. Douglas, who was well known for his environmental sympathies, would be writing a foreword to an issue of a legal journal.

Giant sequoia trees covered in snow.
Sequoia National Forest, California. Panpilas L/Shutterstock

Stone quickly wrote an article called Should Trees Have Standing?, elaborating on his initial thought just in time to get it into that issue. Douglas picked up the idea and endorsed it in his judgment, saying: “The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it. Those people who have a meaningful relation to that body of water — whether it be a fisherman, a canoeist, a zoologist or a logger — must be able to speak for the values which the river represents and which are threatened with destruction.”

Though this did not sway the other members of the Supreme Court, it did spark a brief flurry of academic writing on the subject (the ski resort was never built anyway). Stone became a media celebrity for a short while before the idea of giving parts of nature legal rights faded from the public eye.

Fast forward to the 21st century and academics alongside environmental activists have given the idea a new lease of life. It has grown to include different schools of thought and these theories are now being put into practice worldwide.

So far, they have not been a quick fix for environmental problems. But they are leading to some successes.

More experiments may help identify how to make them work well effectively. But simply granting rights to nature is probably not a substitute for strong institutions and meaningful enforcement. This becomes clear when we explore the experiences of three different countries.

New Zealand

In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the British crown and New Zealand’s indigenous Māori people. The treaty aimed to protect the Māori people’s right to their land and resources.

As part of a settlement to remedy past breaches of the treaty, both a former national park called Te Urewera and the Whanganui River have been recognised in New Zealand law as entities with their own rights (although not all the rights of a human person) since 2014 and 2017 respectively. This has involved the creation of two boards to manage the natural resources, featuring joint representation from the government and the local tribe.

Plans for rethinking Te Urewera are still being formulated, and representation for the Whanganui River has only recently been appointed (like many things, it was delayed by the COVID pandemic). However, a strategic plan will be developed in tandem with a NZ$30 million (£14 million) fund to support the river’s health and wellbeing.

Time will tell if reframing this process so that nature itself has a voice will yield better outcomes.


In 2019, the High Court of Bangladesh recognised the Turag River (and all other rivers in Bangladesh) as a living entity with legal rights and required that the government take significant action to protect it.

The state agency with overall responsibility, the National River Conservation Commission, has promised rapid action. But, still today, many water bodies in the country are “dead” thanks to pollution caused by the widespread dumping of industrial and human waste.

The Buriganga River, which flows south-west of Bangladesh’s capital city of Dhaka, is now so polluted that its water appears black outside of the monsoon season.

An aerial view of the Buriganga River.
The Buriganga River has become the most polluted river in Bangladesh. Sk Hasan Ali/Shutterstock


In 2008, Ecuador adopted a new constitution that includes an article explicitly recognising nature’s right to “exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution”. This development has enabled landowners and environmentalists to bring cases to court to protect the country’s rivers and forestsslowly making this right a reality.

A striking example of this unfolded in 2021 when the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court revoked mining permits in Los Cedros – a cloud forest area of great biodiversity in the Andean mountains. It asserted that these permits not only violated the rights of local residents (such as the right to clean water and a healthy environment), but also the rights of the forest itself.

This is a significant step with ramifications for the future. However, it also highlights a common objection: that environmental matters frequently also include some form of human interest that can serve as a basis for legal standing. Consequently, granting nature rights may be unnecessary.

Whether they work or not, some form of rights for aspects of nature are likely to become part of most legal systems this century. Anyone with an interest in environmental protection should be aware of the idea and its development.

Imagine weekly climate newsletter

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Rónán Kennedy, Associate Professor, University of Galway

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

Rising methane could be a sign that Earth’s climate is part-way through a ‘termination-level transition’

Soaring wetland emissions of methane mirror those which accompanied previous abrupt changes in Earth’s climate. I. Noyan Yilmaz/Shutterstock
Euan NisbetRoyal Holloway University of London

Since 2006, the amount of heat-trapping methane in Earth’s atmosphere has been rising fast and, unlike the rise in carbon dioxide (CO₂), methane’s recent increase seems to be driven by biological emissions, not the burning of fossil fuels. This might just be ordinary variability – a result of natural climate cycles such as El Niño. Or it may signal that a great transition in Earth’s climate has begun.

Molecule for molecule, methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO₂ but it lasts slightly less than a decade in the atmosphere compared with centuries for CO₂. Methane emissions threaten humanity’s ability to limit warming to relatively safe levels. Even more troubling, the rate at which methane is increasing in the atmosphere has accelerated recently. Something like this has happened before: sudden surges in methane marked the transitions from cold ice ages to warm interglacial climates.

Methane was about 0.7 parts per million (ppm) of the air before humans began burning fossil fuels. Now it is over 1.9 ppm and rising fast. Roughly three-fifths of emissions come from fossil fuel use, farming, landfills and waste. The remainder is from natural sources, especially vegetation rotting in tropical and northern wetlands.

Methane is both a driver and a messenger of climate change. We don’t know why it is now rising so rapidly, but the pattern of growth since late 2006 resembles how methane behaved during great flips in Earth’s climate in the distant past.

The Methane Record: 2006 To Present

In late 2006, atmospheric methane unexpectedly began rising. Methane had risen fast in the 19th and 20th centuries but plateaued by the end of the 1990s. This rise was driven by fossil fuel emissions, especially from gasfields and coal mines.

Imagine accelerating a car with your foot flat down. The car speeds up but eventually air resistance equals engine power and the car hits maximum speed. In 1999, it looked like methane had reached a similar equilibrium between its sources and sinks. Then in late 2006, the amount of methane in the air climbed fast. Even more unexpectedly five years later, the rate of growth sped up again. During the 2020s the growth rate has become yet faster, faster even than during the peak of gas industry leaks in the 1980s.

A line graph showing methane in the air rising rapidly from 2006.
Methane in the air rose rapidly from 2006 – then it rose again, and again. NOAA/Nisbet et al. (2023)Author provided

Today’s growth seems to be driven by new emissions from wetlands, especially near the equator but perhaps also from Canada (beavers are methane factories which pull huge amounts of plant matter into ponds they’ve made) and Siberia. This is a result of climate change: increasing rainfall has made wetlands wetter and bigger while rising temperatures have boosted plant growth, providing more decomposing matter and so more methane. Emissions from huge cattle lots in tropical Africa, India and Brazil may also be rising and rotting waste in landfills near megacities like Delhi are important sources too.

Climate Terminations

In the past few million years, Earth’s climate has flipped repeatedly between long, cold glacial periods, with ice sheets covering northern Europe and Canada, and shorter warm inter-glacials.

When each ice age ended, Earth’s surface warmed by as much as several degrees centigrade over a few millennia. Recorded in air bubbles in ice cores, sharply rising methane concentrations are the bellwethers of these great climate-warming events. With each flip from a glacial to an interglacial climate there have been sudden, sharp rises in atmospheric methane, likely from expanding tropical wetlands.

These great climate flips that ended each ice age are known as terminations. Each has a Roman numeral, ranging from Termination IX which happened about 800,000 years ago to Termination IA which initiated the modern climate less than 12,000 years ago. For example, around 131,000 years ago during Termination II, the British climate suddenly flipped from glaciers in the Cotswolds to hippopotami wallowing in what is now Trafalgar Square.

Full terminations take several thousands of years to complete, but many include a creeping onset of warming, then a very abrupt phase of extremely rapid climate change that can take a century or less, followed by a longer, slower period during which the great ice caps finally melt. In the abrupt phase of the great change that brought about the modern climate, Greenland’s temperature rose by around 10°C within a few decades. During these abrupt phases, methane climbs very steeply indeed.

Is Something Dramatic Underway?

Methane fluctuated widely in pre-industrial times. But its increasingly rapid growth since 2006 is comparable with records of methane from the early years of abrupt phases of past termination events, like the one that warmed Greenland so dramatically less than 12,000 years ago.

There is already lots of evidence that the climate is shifting. Atlantic ocean currents are slowing, tropical weather regions are expanding, the far north and south are warming fastocean heat is breaking records and extreme weather is becoming routine.

In glacial terminations, the entire climate system reorganises. In the past, this took Earth out of stable ice age climates and into warm inter-glacials. But we are already in a warm interglacial. What comes next is hard to imagine: loss of sea ice in the Arctic in summer, thinning or partial collapse of the ice caps in Greenland and West Antarctica, reorganisation of the Atlantic’s ocean currents and the poleward expansion of tropical weather circulation patterns. The consequences, both for the biosphere in general and food production in south and east Asia and parts of Africa in particular, would be very significant.

There’s much to be done that could hastily stop methane’s rise: plugging leaks in the oil and gas industry, covering landfills with soil, reducing crop-waste burning. Shooting the methane messenger won’t stop climate change, which is primarily driven by CO₂ emissions, but it will help.

Roman numerals IX to I denote past great climate transitions. There is no Roman number zero, but then any future termination-scale transition will be different – a temperature step from our present interglacial climate to some new future that is warmer yet. Methane’s signal is still unclear, but the question remains: has Termination Zero begun?

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Euan Nisbet, Professor of Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London

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

Why moths might be more efficient pollinators than bees and butterflies

Yellow underwing moths were one of the species in the study. Eileen Kumpf/Shutterstock
Fiona MathewsUniversity of Sussex and Max Anderson

If you’ve ever felt underestimated and ignored, spare a thought for your local moths. Honeybees, bumblebees and butterflies are almost synonomous with pollination. People love them for their intimate relationship with flowers – we can’t grow a lot of our food or enjoy the sight of fragile springtime blossom without them. But our recent research showed moths may actually be more efficient pollinators.

Almost all scientific research on pollinators happens during the day, which means we know little about what happens at night. So we designed a study to compare the contribution of nocturnal and day-active pollinators. We focused on bramble, which is widespread across Europe. People often look at bramble as a prickly pest that needs to be removed from our green spaces. But it is a crucial source of nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies and moths, flowering from early spring through until the autumn.

During peak summer in the UK, when we carried out our experiment, the night is only around one-third of the entire day cycle. During this time, moths are almost the only insects that visit flowers. Even though 83% of all flower visits in our study happened during the day, pollination rates were higher at night time. This suggests moths are more efficient pollinators than species that are active during the day.

We used trail cameras to record visitors to bramble flowers over three days and placed special bags over the flowers so we could compare their pollination rates. One group of flowers was covered for the whole three days. The second group was covered only during the day time and a last set was covered only at night. It wasn’t possible to identify the species of every moth that visited the flowers, but among them were silver Y and large yellow underwing moths, which are both in the family Noctuidae.

While it remains unclear precisely why moths had higher pollination rates, it may be that they spend more time visiting each flower than honeybees, hoverflies and other daytime pollinators. In any case, it’s certain that the importance of moths as nocturnal pollinators is undervalued. Despite the fact there are only 60 species of butterfly and over 2,500 species of moth in the UK, a far higher proportion of research and environmental policies focus on butterflies.

Moth perches on purple flower.
A silver Y moth visiting a flower. Davide Bonora/Shutterstock

Our study showed that the pollination of valuable crop plants and threatened species of wildflowers may rely upon on moths. Many of the UK’s macro-moths (which tend to be larger) are declining, with over 40% of species declining in abundance.

Under Pressure

Moths face the same challenges as daytime pollinators, such as pesticides, habitat loss and climate change. But nocturnal moths are also threatened by artificial light at night. Recent research has highlighted how street lighting is disrupting the feeding behaviour of caterpillars and reducing moth numbers. Previous work has also shown the light disrupts adult moths from feeding, breeding and laying eggs.

Moths are not only important pollinators – they are key links in the food chain and shape the structure and composition of habitats. Their caterpillars feed on grasses and other plants. When caterpillars are dispersed throughout a habitat, some areas are grazed and others are not, which creates a varied structure. This variety bodes well for biodiversity, by creating a greater range of habitats for different species to live in. Not to mention the importance of moths as a vital food source for bats, birds and other small mammals.

New approaches to research are being developed and tested, which will help address gaps in our understanding about the role of moths as important pollinators.

For example, automated identification and tracking of insects through machine learning can allow us to remotely monitor pollinator activity, saving time in collecting and processing data. Understanding more about moths will give us the knowledge we urgently need to protect them.

What You Can Do

You can help these pollinating insects by allowing some patches of bramble and other flowering, scrubby plants to grow in your garden, allotments and hedgerows. You can also encourage your council to do the same across the network of road verges and parks in the UK.

The harmful effects of artificial light can be managed by dimming or limiting the operating time of street-lighting during the night, as pioneered by Devon and some other district councils. At home, you can switch off or reduce the use of outdoor lights at night and close your curtains and blinds to prevent light from spilling outside. Tackling light spill from shop fronts and glass office blocks could also help moths stay focused on pollination.

In light of the huge declines in populations of pollinating insects across the globe, it’s more important than ever to protect our pollinators. These small and simple changes will provide more homes for wildlife. Spreading the word could have a crucial impact on moth conservation – some of the most underappreciated and important animals on our planet.

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Fiona Mathews, Professor of Environmental Biology, University of Sussex and Max Anderson, South West Landscape Officer for Butterfly Conservation

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

Rod Stewart - Rhythm Of My Heart

Vietnam Veterans Remembered 50 Years On From Australian Troop Withdrawal

August 18, 2023
Vietnam Veterans Day commemorations being held today around the state and Australia will hold special significance, marking 50 years since Australia’s withdrawal from Vietnam.

Vietnam Veterans Day takes place on 18 August, originally to acknowledge the Battle of Long Tan which occurred in 1966 and resulted in 18 Australian deaths and 24 wounded after 3 hours of fierce fighting before the withdrawal of the Viet Cong. But the day is used to broadly to remember the service and sacrifice of all who fought in Vietnam.

Minister for Veterans David Harris was at the Cenotaph alongside RSL NSW President and Vietnam veteran Ray James OAM, to pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of our veterans of one of Australia's longest military engagements of the 20th century.

“This year, 50 years on from the withdrawal of Australian troops, we pay special tribute to all who served in Vietnam to keep us safe,” Mr Harris said.

“Sadly, 523 lost their lives and almost 2400 were wounded, with all involved carrying the scars and memories that only armed combat can bring. We will never forget your service and sacrifice.”

RSL NSW President Ray James OAM said commemorating significant moments in our military history is vital to Australia, as people, a community, and a nation.

“Today we will honour those veterans who lost their lives during a battle; returned home wounded, ill, or injured, lost their lives in the years since they returned, and still carry the physical and emotional scars of their service since Australia withdrew from the Vietnam War 50 years ago,” Mr James said.

“For those of us who are still here today, I say we must continue to honour the dead but fight like hell for the living as we support our fellow veterans of all conflicts, and connect them with the mateship, camaraderie, and services they need.”

Vietnam veterans and nurses are also being honoured in a new exhibition at the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park. The Stories of the Dat Do Dogs is a photographic exhibition with digital stories from over 50 veterans sharing their experiences from Vietnam.

Minister Harris who opened the exhibition said the memories shared by these veterans will enable their legacy to continue.

“The photographs and digital stories produced are essential to ensuring the sacrifices of these veterans are not forgotten, and their legacy is passed down to future generations.”

The exhibition will feature in the Auditorium at the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park Sydney through to March 2024.

For more information, visit the Anzac Memorial event page. You can also Read their Stories online

Financial Report On The Australian Aged Care Sector 2021-22

August 14, 2023
A report on the financial performance of the Australian aged care sector for the 2021-22 financial year. It includes an analysis of residential aged care, home care, and the Commonwealth Home Support Programme.

This report provides analysis on the financial performance of the Australian aged care sector in the 2021–22 financial year, including: 
  • Home care  
  • Residential care  
  • Commonwealth Home Support Programme 
  • Future demand for aged care  
It is produced through use of data submitted annually by aged care providers through the Aged Care Financial Report, such as income, expenses, cash flow statements and assessments. The information reported is dependent on the type of provider, such as residential aged care, home care, multi-purpose services and respite care, and the accuracy of the data submitted. 

The data shows how much is spent on care, nursing, food, maintenance, cleaning and administration and profits at the sector level. The report provides an insight into the financial performance of the aged care sector, including identifying industry trends. 

Overview - having read it

The Department of Health and Aged Care latest Financial Report on the Australian Aged Care Sector – FRAACS – shows residential aged care operated at a loss of $2.264 billion – or $32.97 per resident per day.

“The financial performance of the residential aged care sector has been declining since 2016-17 and has likely reached its lowest point in the 2021-22 financial year,” say the report’s authors.
Only 31 per cent of residential aged care providers proved profitable in 2021-22 – down 15 per cent on the previous year.

The poor result was attributed to a loss of $14.86 per resident per day for the accommodation funding stream – which included a loss of $813 million in bed license amortisation – and a loss of $6.37 for Covid-related expenses.

As the authors note: “The $813 million bed license amortisation loss is a result of the removal of the Aged Care Approvals Round and the need for providers to readjust the treatment of bed licences as intangible assets. The impact of bed license amortisation will not be ongoing post 1 July 2024, when residential aged care places will be allocated directly to older people, rather than providers.”

For residential aged care providers, profitability pressures were demonstrated by negative average earnings – before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation – of $46 per resident per year.

“While this decrease followed a trend in recent years, the decrease was greater in 2021-22 than all previous years,” say the report’s authors. “This decrease can be likely attributed to a large increase in Covid-19 expenses and increasing labour costs across all expense categories.”
Occupancy rates also had a significant impact on provider profitability. In 2021-22, FRAACS shows occupancy rates had fallen to an average of 86.2 per cent – a result also exacerbated by the pandemic.

“The occupancy rates across 2021-22 continued to be impacted by Covid-19 as preferences for older Australians entering residential aged care changed during this time,” say the authors.
While the home care sector remained profitable during the 2021-22 financial year, provider profitability decreased. In 2021-22, EBITDA per home care recipient per year was $1,232 – down from $1,792 in 2020-21. This equates to $2.78 per care recipient per day – down from $4.29.

“Over the last five years up until 2021-22, there has been an increase in the number of people accessing home care packages, and therefore Australian Government funding for home care has also increased,” say the report’s authors. “However, there has been an increase in the percentage of providers operating at a loss, and a reduction in earnings per recipient for all provider types, most significantly for regional providers.”

Meanwhile, the total amount of unspent funds – the sum of the Home Care Account Balance held by Services Australia on behalf of the recipient and the unspent funds held by providers – was, as of 30 June 2022, $2.3 billion, up on the 30 June 2021 amount of $1.7 billion.

“We expect to see improvements in sector financial performance.”

Despite yet another set of grim figures for the sector to digest, the report’s authors are optimistic that finances will improve over time.

“In future FRAACS reports, we expect to see improvements in sector financial performance as a result of key aged care reforms which have come into effect following the 2021-22 financial year.”

These include: 
  • the implementation of the Australian National Aged Care Classification funding model, which commenced on 1 October 2022
  • an additional 9,500 home care places in 2023-24
  • the expanded role of the Independent Health and Aged Care Pricing Authority, which will ensure care funding moves in line with the costs of delivering care
  • funding for higher wages for aged care workers
  • additional investment into nursing and care.
“The residential aged care sector has already seen improvements since the commencement of the AN-ACC funding model on 1 October 2022 as shown through the second quarterly financial snapshot for 2022-23,” say the authors. “The department will continue to monitor the financial performance of the sector through the Quarterly Financial Report and publish this financial performance in the QFS.”

The report’s authors also point to the Aged Care Taskforce, which was established in June 2023 to provide funding advice to the government. “Improving the system to ensure long-term sustainability for the future of aged care remains a priority for the Australian Government,” they say.

It will need to be a priority. As the authors themselves acknowledge: “Within a decade, there will be more people aged over 65 years than under 18 living in Australia for the first time in history … Australia will need a fair and equitable aged care system to be sustainable for the long-term and meet the needs of an ageing population.”

Australia's Progress In Advance Care Planning: Challenges And Innovations

UNSW Ageing Futures Institute member Dr Craig Sinclair has led work to address the key challenges in Advance Care Planning (ACP) in Australia.

ACP is a process that enables a person to plan for their future medical treatment and other care, for a time when they are not competent to make, or communicate, decisions for themselves. Whilst inherently an important consideration for older people, ACP is an important process for individuals and families across the life course.

Australia has made remarkable strides in ACP over the past two decades. States and territories have taken steps towards implementing ACP as part of routine care across the country, aligning with national accreditation standards, and a position statement taken by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. However one key challenge in ACP implementation is the lack of a consistent approach across Australia. Inconsistencies in legislation, terminology for ACP documents, and local policies between states and territories have hindered the development of a unified national approach to ACP, creating confusion and anxiety among health professionals and community members.

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted the urgency, uptake, and use of ACP in Australia. As the country grappled with the virus, innovative measures were implemented, such as adopting telehealth and video-conferencing platforms for ACP discussions and relaxing legal requirements for document witnessing through legislative amendments. While some of these innovations have persisted beyond the pandemic, their effects on ACP implementation and patient rights protection need further examination.

Dr. Craig Sinclair, the lead author of the publication, stresses the importance of future research and practice to focus on ACP quality oversight and tailored programs for diverse communities.

“Advance Care Planning Australia has played a significant role in promoting agreed-upon best practices and providing online training modules for health professionals and the community. Further work is needed to enable cross-jurisdictional compatibility of ACP documents and consistent alignment with best-practice principles. The lessons learned from events like COVID-19 may help pave the way for a more cohesive approach to Advance Care Planning in the future,” says Dr Sinclair.

“Coordinating a unified national approach, which incorporates quality control, and enables tailoring for the specific needs of diverse communities are essential steps to ensure effective and accessible ACP for all Australians. "

This publication was part of a special issue in the ZEFQ journal, which published updates from 29 countries around the world (including all inhabited continents) and was coordinated by the international society of Advance Care Planning (which includes researchers like Dr Sinclair). The special issue, released in conjunction with the recent ACPi 2023 conference in Singapore, is available open access for 1 year.

Digital Puzzle Games Could Be Good For Memory In Older Adults

August 14, 2023
Older adults who play digital puzzle games have the same memory abilities as people in their 20s, a new study has shown.

The study, from the University of York, also found that adults aged 60 and over who play digital puzzle games had a greater ability to ignore irrelevant distractions, but older adults who played strategy games did not show the same improvements in memory or concentration.

It is known that as humans age, their mental abilities tend to decrease, particularly the ability to remember a number of things at a single time -- known as working memory. Working memory is thought to peak between the ages of 20 and 30 before slowly declining as a person gets older.

Previous research, however, has shown that the way we hold information in the brain changes as we get older, and so the York team looked at whether the impacts of particular types of mental stimulation, such as gaming, also had altered effects depending on age.

Dr Fiona McNab, from the University of York's Department of Psychology, said: "A lot of research has focused on action games, as it is thought that reacting quickly, keeping track of targets and so on helps attention and memory, but our new analysis shows that the action elements do not seem to offer significant benefits to younger adults.

"It instead seems to be the strategy elements of the games -- planning and problem solving for example -- that stimulates better memory and attention in young people. We don't see this same effect in older adults, however, and more research is needed to understand why this is. We can't yet rule out that the strategy games played by older people are not as difficult as the games played by younger people and that the level of challenge might be important in memory improvement."

The study included older and younger adults playing digital games that they would normally play in their 'real lives'. This resulted in a wide range of games to be tested alongside a digital experiment that required participants to memorise images, whilst being distracted.
Dr Joe Cutting, from the University of York's Department of Computer Science, said: "Generally people have a good ability to ignore irrelevant distractions, something we call 'encoding distraction'. We would expect for example that a person could memorise the name of a street whilst being distracted by a child or a dog, but this ability does decline as we age.

"Puzzle games for older people had this surprising ability to support mental capabilities to the extent that memory and concentration levels were the same as a 20 year-olds who had not played puzzle games."

Older people were however more likely to forget elements committed to memory whilst being distracted if they only played strategy games, and young people were less successful at focusing attention if they played only puzzle games.

The researchers say future study could focus on why there is a difference between impacts of types of games depending on the age of a player and if this is connected to how the brain stores information as people age.

Joe Cutting, Bethany Copeland, Fiona McNab. Higher working memory capacity and distraction-resistance associated with strategy (not action) game playing in younger adults, but puzzle game playing in older adults. Heliyon, 2023; 9 (8): e19098 DOI: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2023.e19098

95% male conductors, 70% ageing classics and zero appetite for risk: what’s wrong with elite Australian opera

Caitlin VincentThe University of MelbourneBronwyn CoateRMIT University, and Katya JohansonEdith Cowan University

The stories told on the operatic stage have received critical attention for their representation of gender, particularly the often violent fate of their heroines.

But little attention has been paid to women’s representation behind the scenes in Australia. In part, this is due to a lack of readily available data about women’s actual status within opera companies.

We have now created a unique dataset to address this gap.

We looked at the production credits for staged operas presented by Opera Australia, Opera Queensland, the State Opera of South Australia, Victorian Opera and West Australian Opera from 2005 to 2020.

For each production, we tracked the gender profile of the practitioners credited as conductors, directors and designers. We looked at who was credited when, and on which kinds of operas.

We found evidence of pervasive gender inequality.

Gender Inequality At Top Opera Companies

Across the five companies, women were hugely underrepresented in the core creative leadership roles of conductor and director.

Women held just 5% of conductor credits over the 16 seasons, and less than a quarter of director credits. Not only were women less likely to see initial credits compared to men, they were also less likely to have opportunities to work on more than one production.

At individual companies, women’s representation was lowest at Opera Australia and the State Opera of South Australia.

Less than 3% of conductors and 19% of directors credited at Opera Australia were women. The State Opera of South Australia did not credit a single woman conductor between 2005 and 2020 and just 17% of its credited directors were women.

In comparison, two of the smallest companies – Opera Queensland and Victorian Opera – had by far the highest representation for women in both roles.

Women also saw low representation as designers, comprising 21% of set designers and 9% of lighting designers. Women were much more likely to be credited in the feminised role of costume designer.

Inequality Is Greatest In Productions Of The Canon

The kinds of operas programmed also affected women’s representation as conductors, directors and designers.

Canonical works like Puccini’s La bohème (1895) and Bizet’s Carmen (1875) are seen as low-risk because they are recognised as masterpieces of the genre and are popular with existing opera audiences.

Canonical operas dominated programming at four of the five companies, followed by slightly less popular works from the 19th century and earlier, such as Rossini’s La Cenerentola (1817) and Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles (1863).

The combination of canonical and slightly less canonical works comprised 84% of programming at West Australian Opera, 79% at Opera Australia, 73% at Opera Queensland and 64% at the State Opera of South Australia. (The outlier, Victorian Opera, explicitly focuses on modern operas.)

However, women practitioners were notably absent from the production teams for these popular works. On canonical operas, women’s representation as conductors dropped to less than 1%. Women directors and designers saw almost universal drops in representation across both categories of repertoire.

Instead, women were more likely to be credited on high-risk modern operas. These works are thought to be less popular with audiences and are programmed less frequently and for fewer performances than canonical works.

Women also had higher levels of representation in musical theatre works, popular with audiences but traditionally holding little prestige in the sector.

Risk Perception And Gender Inequality

Beyond the risk associated with different operas and their ability to attract audiences, a contributing factor for gender inequality in opera is how “risky” certain practitioners are thought to be.

Studies from the creative industries have shown perceptions of risk in the arts are deeply gendered, particularly when it comes to hiring for key artistic or governance roles. While men practitioners are seen as reliable, women are seen as inherently risky.

These biases are exacerbated in fields like opera where work opportunities are driven by personal networks and professional visibility, both of which favour men.

Risk perceptions also have compounding effects. Because modern operas are already seen as “risky”, it appears these productions can take the “risk” of employing women – whereas canonical operas, programmed because they are “safe”, also make the “safe” choice in hiring men.

Risk Aversion In Funding Enables Gender Inequality

Entrenched gender bias is difficult to shift in any field. But with Australia’s opera companies, government funding policies are exacerbating the field’s existing inequality.

Here again, it comes down to questions of risk.

Australia’s peak arts funding body, now named Creative Australia, has a particular focus on mitigating risk – both financial and artistic – through its operatic policies.

In exchange for multi-year funding support, companies are expected to maintain financial targets and prioritise programming operas that are low-risk financially. Companies are also encouraged to rent existing productions from Opera Australia or co-commission new productions with other companies.

These policies are laudable for their attention to efficient public spending and co-operation. But policies can have unintended impacts.

By encouraging companies to program low-risk popular operas, Creative Australia is trying to mitigate financial risk. But such policies don’t take into account the fact that women practitioners are largely absent from these works.

In the same way, policies that promote co-operation don’t consider how this leads to companies reproducing gender imbalances. Opera Australia is framed as a key source of rental productions for other companies but also has some of the lowest rates of representation for women directors and conductors.

It is critical that arts funding bodies and policymakers consider the practical impacts of their policies. At the same time, opera companies need to acknowledge the extent to which their own organisational practices are driving inequality within the sector.

The scale of gender inequality at work in Australian opera production won’t be easily remedied. But shining a light on the extent of the problem is a start towards making the sector accountable for its performance, both on and off the stage. The Conversation

Caitlin Vincent, Lecturer in Creative Industries, The University of MelbourneBronwyn Coate, Senior Lecturer in Economics, RMIT University, and Katya Johanson, Professor of Audience Research, Edith Cowan University

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

Running This Week: The Chiltern Trail On The Verge Of Spring 2023 By Kevin Murray And Joe Mills

August 10, 2023

A terrific walk on a terrific day... 6.8 kilometres on the Chiltern Track at Ingleside, with Glenys and Joe. Whew! I took a picture or two that you might enjoy...

(Did I mention it was 6.8 kilometres?)

Kevin M.

The Chiltern Track, in Ku-ring-gai NP, running from Chiltern Rd Ingleside to McCarrs Creek Rd, is a firetrail through wonderful bushland, full of interest at all seasons. This is a great place to spot birds, with 144 local species recorded in e-bird at present, so take some binoculars if a birder or just listen for their songs. This is also a place where you will see bushflowers bloom year round, and especially in the weeks leading into Springs' official months.

Chiltern has a meaning of, relating to, or being chalky, sandy, gravelly, and loamy soils of England that are naturally dry and lie in dry situations.

The Warringah Shire Council meeting held December 20th 1954 records:

Street Names – Shire Engineer’s Report

h) Stating that attempts are being made to establish a Progress Association in the area between Ingleside and Church Point, the proposed name being ‘’Cicada Glen’’, that letters from the provisional Hon. Secretary refer to Chiltern Road, running north from Mona Vale Road some distance west of the road to the new sanitary depot; and suggesting that the Council officially name this road Chiltern Road. Resolved, - That this suggestion be adopted. (Crs. Hewitt, McKay) 

The Chiltern Trail is a firetrail that goes from the end of Chiltern Road in Ingleside down to McCarrs Creek Road. 

This affords you great views over the district, stretches to t he Lower Gledhill Falls, where McCarrs Creek plunges over a cliff into a pool. You can also access from the other side of the creek by following McCarrs Creek from The Duckhole.

You can also access Crystal Creek, which is to the east of the trail as it flows down to McCarrs Creek Road.

Length: 6.8 km - you need to be fit will take 2-3 hours in and back. Best walked in Autumn, Winter or Spring.

One for those of us who aren't quite as fit as this happy trio - thank you very much Glenys, Kevin and Joe - BEAUTIFUL! Head over to the Pictures page and enjoy this week's Pictorial.


2024 NSW Seniors Festival To ‘Reach Beyond’

August 17, 2023
The 2024 NSW Seniors Festival is shaping up to be bigger and better, with the theme ‘Reach Beyond’.

Minister for Seniors Jodie Harrison said the NSW Seniors Festival is the biggest gathering for seniors in the state and provides an opportunity for older Australians to celebrate and connect. 

“The NSW Government is looking forward to delivering a festival that embraces everybody and recognises the important contributions seniors play in our community,” Minister Harrison said. 

“We want to see NSW seniors taking advantage of the many activities, that include the popular signature events – the Premier’s Gala Concerts and Expo.

“The NSW Seniors Festival is a great time for older Australians to ‘reach beyond’, to seek out new experiences and make new friends by participating in the festivities.”

Next year’s NSW Seniors Festival will run from 11-24 March 2024, with the Expo and Gala concerts taking place between 13-14 March. Each year the festival provides a full program of events and entertainment, with a huge variety of exciting activities across the state.

Discounted early bird applications for prospective Seniors Festival Expo stallholders are now open and will run until 22 September 2023. Prospective Seniors Festival Expo exhibitors can visit, 

The Premier’s Gala Concerts will be live-streamed so people can watch no matter where they are. Further details on the Premier’s Gala Concerts will be announced later this year.

Find out more about the NSW Seniors Festival

APSC Releases Capability Review Report For The Department

August 18, 2023: Federal Dept. of Health and Aged Care
The Australian Public Service Commission has released its capability review report for the Department of Health and Aged Care. Read more about the process and the outcome of the review.

The capability review of the Department of Health and Aged Care is the second to be published under the Australian Government’s re-instated pilot Capability Review program.

The review was conducted a team of independent reviewers between February to May, 2023. The final report was endorsed by the APSC Commissioner on 19 July 2023.

We will consider the report’s findings and prepare an action plan setting out the actions we intend to take in response to the review.

Wildfires And Farming Activities May Be Top Sources Of Air Pollution Linked To Increased Cases Of Dementia

August 14, 2023
No amount of air pollution is good for the brain, but wildfires and the emissions resulting from agriculture and farming in particular may pose especially toxic threats to cognitive health, according to new research from the University of Michigan.

Increasingly, evidence shows exposure to air pollution makes the brain susceptible to dementia. And now the findings of Boya Zhang and Sara Adar, environmental epidemiology researchers in U-M's School of Public Health, point to a strong likelihood that agriculture and wildfires, with their release of a range of harmful emissions at high concentrations, need to be more closely studied and monitored for their risks to public health, specifically dementia.

"We saw in our research that all airborne particles increased the risk of dementia but those generated by agricultural settings and wildfires seemed to be especially toxic for the brain," said Adar, associate chair of the Department of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health. She currently leads several large cohort studies on the impacts of exposures on cognitive aging and dementia.

"Our findings indicate that lowering levels of particulate matter air pollution, even in a relatively clean country like the United States, may reduce the number of people developing dementia in late life," Adar said.

Adar and Zhang's paper, "Comparison of Particulate Air Pollution From Different Emission Sources and Incident Dementia in the U.S.," appears today in the Journal of the American Medical Association's Internal Medicine.

Zhang, a research fellow who focuses on the effects of air pollution on cardiopulmonary disease and cognitive aging, said: "This work suggests that particulate matter air pollution from agriculture and wildfires might be more neurotoxic compared with other sources. However, more research is needed to confirm these effects, especially for these two sources which have received less attention in prior research."

"Given that the development of dementia could take a long time, this study mainly aimed to provide evidence for policymakers to reduce exposures to these sources of emissions," Zhang said.

The findings come as unusually poor air quality is regularly triggering alerts in the U.S. The alerts are aimed at protecting the public from the unseen, swirling mix of microscopic toxins in air pollution, specifically fine particulate matter or PM2.5. It is one of the most concerning elements of air pollution. At less than 2.5 microns in size, PM2.5 is less than the width of a human hair. Because it's so small, it can enter the brain through the nose directly or cross the blood-brain barrier in other ways. PM2.5 is also known to affect the lungs, heart, and in emerging research, the brain and cognitive function.

"These findings are quite timely given the increasing frequency of wildfire smoke in our

communities," Adar said. "Our data suggest that in addition to some of the more obvious health impacts of wildfire smoke like irritation to our throats and eyes along with breathing difficulties, high smoke days might also be taking a toll on our brains."

The record number of air quality alerts in the U.S. this year are due in large part to smoke from wildfires burning in Canada since May. The effect of wildfire is not new in the U.S., especially given the fires in the western part of the country.

Adar, a long-time environmental epidemiologist, said that wildfire smoke is becoming a more widespread stressor with many cities experiencing 30-plus days each year impacted by smoke. Given the extremely high levels of exposure to the public, wildfires are thought to contribute up to 25% of fine particulate matter exposures over a year across the U.S. and as much as 50% in some western regions of the country, Adar said.

"While individual wildfires may be short-lived, these events are becoming more frequent in our communities due to warmer temperatures, drier conditions, and longer fire seasons. As we've seen, wildfire smoke can also travel very far distances," Adar said.

Their findings are based on research into the development of dementia among nearly 30,000 adults from across the U.S. over an 18-year period. The data comes from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally-representative collection of cohorts of older adults who have been followed since 1992. Pollution estimates in Adar and Zhang's study were based on home addresses of participants. Participants have been interviewed biennially about their cognition, overall health, and health behaviours until death or loss of contact for the survey.

They observed that higher levels of particulate matter air pollution, especially from agriculture and wildfires, were associated with greater risks of dementia. The findings could not be explained by other factors such as individual, neighbourhood, socioeconomic status, occupation, or hometown or region of the country.

"With the knowledge of which sources are more toxic than others, it may be possible to design interventions for specific sources as a more effective way to decrease the burden of dementia," Zhang said.

Dementia is currently the seventh leading cause of death and one of the major causes of disability and dependency for older people, according to the World Health Organization.

The research specifically sought to test the hypothesis that a variation in emission sources could explain which are most toxic, but measuring the emissions with their distinct physical and chemical characteristics is challenging.

Past studies analysing exposures to source specific fine particulate matter meant researchers mainly investigated relationships with the total mass of fine particulate matter in the air.

"In our study, we used a sophisticated prediction model that includes information about the chemical transformations and dispersion of pollution from different sources to estimate the levels of source-specific particulate matter air pollution at participants' residential addresses," Zhang said. "This approach is beneficial because it not only accounts for pollution directly emitted by a source but also pollution generated through reactions with other chemicals in the air."

Since the average level of exposure to PM2.5 for the people studied was less than the National Ambient Air Quality Standard, this is not just an issue of extreme pollution events, the researchers say, though it's clear that the air quality from wildfire events is worsening. This research suggests that it's not just sending people with respiratory ailments to the hospitals but there may also be longer lasting effects to the body. With the changing climate, it's likely that these threats to health will increase.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Institute of Aging.

Boya Zhang, Jennifer Weuve, Kenneth M. Langa, Jennifer D’Souza, Adam Szpiro, Jessica Faul, Carlos Mendes de Leon, Jiaqi Gao, Joel D. Kaufman, Lianne Sheppard, Jinkook Lee, Lindsay C. Kobayashi, Richard Hirth, Sara D. Adar. Comparison of Particulate Air Pollution From Different Emission Sources and Incident Dementia in the US. JAMA Internal Medicine, 2023; DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2023.3300

Interested, curious and empathetic, Michael Parkinson helped bridge the gap between Australia and England

Lea RedfernUniversity of Sydney

Michael Parkinson, who has died at 88, demonstrated the art of the good interview night after night. He practised deep listening, giving his interviewee his full attention, but he was always aware of the audience. While he was asking questions on behalf of the audience and advocating for the audience, he always had the person he was interviewing as his focus.

As host of Parkinson (1971–82 and 1998–2007) and Parkinson in Australia (1979–83), he was a big presence on Australian TV. He was television the whole family could watch together, never unsuitable for children.

We may not have understood everything, and some references went over our head, but as children we could watch Parkinson with our parents. I remember as a young person regularly watching him and hoping the interview would be funny that week.

There were times you knew it was going to be hilarious. When Billy Connolly or “our” Dame Edna were going to appear it was a must-watch.

Whoever the interviewee, Parkinson brought out their stories, their observations. He gave them space to share engaging stories and never stepped on a punchline. Although humour was a draw card for the audience, there was space for pathos, too.

Finding The Shape

Parkinson was an interviewer of great skill. He could be a presence, but never pull focus from the interviewee. He was deeply empathetic, and always in control of the interview.

The form of the interview was always satisfying: he knew how to draw a narrative through the length of the program. When interviewing three people at once, he knew how to be fair and have a balance between everyone and their stories. He made this appear effortless.

From 1979 to 2014 he frequently worked in Australia across the ABC, Channel Ten and Channel Nine.

For a generation of ten pound passage immigrants, he represented the best of the old country: he was never patronising, never spoke down to people, and helped to bridge the gap between Australia and England. He was able to bring us the best of British and Australian interviewees alike, affirming Australia’s international standing in the arts and culture.

When speaking to Australian politicians, sports stars and actors he was always deeply interested and deeply curious. He could reflect us back to ourselves without any of the cultural cringe so evident in the media of the time. The affection Australians felt for him is shown in the diminutive “Parky”.

An Authentic Voice

Born in Yorkshire in 1935, Parkinson didn’t attend university, starting his career working for newspapers straight out of school. It was perhaps this start which aided in his plain speaking common sense and ability to talk to ordinary people. You got the sense he could speak to anybody. There was no putting on a persona; he was always authentically him.

Today, this authentic self is seen in many of our best interviewers. We know how important it is curiosity and authenticity drive the interview – Parkinson was doing this decades before others recognised its importance.

When I started in radio, I looked towards Parkinson as the gold standard. I admired how he was able to draw people out and reveal so much of themselves. He demonstrated how the media could go beyond the soundbite.

So much of the media of the time was about context-free news and current affairs journalism. Although his interviews were with celebrities, he showed people might share more of themselves and the world if they’re given time and space to speak. Parkinson gave us a fuller, richer sense of the people he spoke to.

His legacy in Australia can be seen in people like Andrew DentonRichard Fidler and Sarah Kanowski – long form interviews driven by curiosity.

Some people have been describing Parkinson’s death as the end of an era, but his legacy will live on. When we look at shows like ABC Conversations, and so many longform podcasts, we find curious interviewers who, like Parkinson, build a relationship and find a connection with an interviewee. A soundbite might show up on TikTok or YouTube – but you have to do the longform interview to get there.

Perhaps one of the best demonstrations of this was Parkinson’s interview with Ian Thorpe. In the 2014 interview, Thorpe came out publicly for the first time, and spoke about his depression and use of drugs and alcohol.

Without the relationship Parkinson was able to build over the course of the interview, it is doubtful Thorpe would have felt comfortable to come out in the same way. Parkinson was always interested in giving people the opportunity to reveal themselves.

That Thorpe felt Parkinson’s show was a safe space to come out says something about the tenor of his relationship with his interviewees and his place in Australian culture.

There For The Audience

His few missteps seemed to be with women. As I grew older, I realised he was a man of his time, as was made obvious in his awkward interviews with Meg Ryan and Helen Mirren. In these interviews, his occasional awkwardness around gender is writ large, and the interviews go off the rails. He fails to develop his famous rapport and adjust his approach in response to their discomfort.

But given the length of his career, the rarity of these missteps is still impressive. His geniality and quiet generosity came across night after night, for decades.

What defined him more than anything was how he was inclusive of his audience. No matter how complex the ideas or how smart the person he was interviewing, the audience was brought along with them. He was there on our behalf, and able to ask the clarifying questions without worrying about his own ego.

He represents an age of Australian and British relationships in a way that is truly singular and his interviews are artefacts of that age. He was an interiewer who stood out for not having to stand out, and the delights and possibilities of the long-form interview are his legacy.The Conversation

Lea Redfern, Lecturer, Discipline of Media and Communications, University of Sydney

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

2024 NSW Seniors Festival Grants Program Applications Open

Applications are open for 2024 NSW Seniors Festival grants - at:

From art classes to information sessions, we're calling for applications to fund activities that provide seniors with opportunities to be active and engaged in their local communities.

$200,000 in funding is available for local councils and not-for-profit organisations to run events and activities during the festival. Do you know a local organisation or council that should apply? Let them know today so they don’t miss their chance!  

Read the Grant Guidelines to check if your organisation is eligible: 

Applications close at 5pm on Monday 28 August.

Find out more and visit:

2024 Festival Dates 
Save the Date!
The 2024 NSW Seniors Festival will run from 11 – 24 March and you're invited!

The Premier's Gala Concerts and Seniors Festival Expo will be held at ICC Sydney on 13 and 14 March.

Gala Concerts' performers and on-sale ticket dates will be announced in late 2023.

NSW Seniors Festival Grant Program 2024
The NSW Seniors Festival Grants program provides $200,000 in funding for community programs and activities that enable older Australians to remain active, healthy, and engaged during the NSW Seniors Festival.

The grants program is a key part of the 2024 NSW Seniors Festival. The festival will run from Monday, 11 March – Sunday 24 March 2024.

The NSW Seniors Festival Grant program encourages Seniors in NSW to enjoy new experiences, continue learning, stay active and connect to their communities. It does this by:
  • supporting a broad range of local community organisations
  • supporting programs and activities in regional NSW
  • fostering partnerships with community groups and services
  • providing programs and activities for diverse communities in NSW
  • supporting projects that empower older people to stay connected
  • assisting organisations to increase capacity of current programs and activities.
Applications can be for small scale, multiple and larger activities throughout the NSW Seniors Festival.

There are two funding levels that applicants can apply for:
  • Up to $5,000 for local community programs and activities.
  • $5,001 - $10,000 to local government organisations for large scale community and regional programs and activities – funding is available to local government organisations only.
Projects must be located within NSW and conducted between 11-24 March 2024.

The Rions

Photo: Maclay Heriot

Tik Tok:

There will be no better way to spring into Spring and Summer 2023 than tuning in to the sounds coming from Pittwater band and former Barrenjoey High School alumni The Rions this September through November. To back up newly released EP 'Minivanthe boys will be on the road, taking it to the streets, and nightclubs, in a tour that stretches from Queensland to Tassie and even a jaunt over to Western Australia. Although only one local gig is scheduled so far, at Dee Why and 18+, included are performances with the Grapevine Gathering national tour, indicating The Rions are happy to inspire locals to join the road trip phenomenon to 'see and be in other places' during Australia's warmer months.

First forming as a band following a 2016 high school talent show, when they were in Year 7, their music teacher Mr Stone (father of Angus & Julia) saw something special and encouraged the boys to get gigging.

The name stems from the inability of Harley to pronounce the word ‘lion’ when a toddler; he would pronounce it ‘rion’. He had been telling fellow band members about this when the organisers asked them what they were going to be called and the spontaneous response from his band mates was ‘The Rions!’.

The band consists of Noah Blockley (lead vocals, bass guitar), Harley Wilson (guitar), Asher McLean (guitar), and Tom Partington (drums).

They started performing in our area at the age of 13 and have ventured through a multitude of genres, citing Arctic Monkeys, Lime Cordiale, Spacey Jane, and Dayglow as their musical influences.

Awesome music from The Rions at the opening of the Avalon Youth Hub in 2018 Asher was playing piano initially, and this is before Noah took up the bass. Tom, using borrowed drums here, would build his own drum kit as his Year 12 Design and Technology (DT) major work at Barrenjoey High School. Photo: A J Guesdon

Besides being talented musicians they also have ‘put back’ into our local community –  just some of these 'fronting ups' were making music at the opening of the Avalon Youth Hub in 2018, playing the Breath Festival in 2019 and teaming up with Marvell in 2020 to help 2019/2020 fire impacted Mogo Public School at Batemans Bay when BHS was raising funds for these youngsters.

At just 17 years old, their natural talent and hard work helped them create a loyal following, winning a spot in the Bluesfest Busking Comp Grand Final, taking out the Northern Composure Audience Choice Award and winning Triple j’s Unearthed High 2021 with their single ‘Night Light' produced alongside Callum Howell (Ocean Alley).

The win built on the momentum of debut singles ‘Sadie‘, ‘Halfway Out‘ and  ‘Head Still Hurts’, followed by ‘Disassociation’ and ‘Anakin’, each stronger than the last.

Since, The Rions racked up some 10 million streams worldwide, gone back-to-back in consecutive Hottest 100 countdowns and drawn praise from the likes of even the most unlikely of fans in Avatar’s Sam Worthington. Night Light would land at No. 51 on triple j’s Hottest 100 countdown for 2021, and they’d follow it up with Anakin which appeared at No. 64 in  2022.

The Rions runs as Profile of the Week this Issue. A taster:

Bring Back Memories Not Measles

August 18, 2023
​NSW Health is urging people planning to travel overseas to ensure they are fully protected against measles before they go, following two recent cases in travellers who have returned from Bali.

While rare in Australia, measles remains a common illness in many parts of the world, including locations popular with Australians such as Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Thailand.

The Middle East, Africa, parts of Europe and the UK, are also considered higher risk for measles due to ongoing circulation of the virus, or current outbreaks.

Dr Christine Selvey, Director Communicable Diseases Branch NSW Health said measles is highly infectious.

“Anyone who is not immune is at risk of developing the disease if they are exposed,” Dr Selvey said.

“Measles can be very severe and people with measles often require hospitalisation, however it is almost completely preventable through vaccination.”

Anyone arriving from overseas, who develops symptoms of measles, are advised to contact their GP urgently to arrange measles testing, particularly those arriving from known areas of high risk for measles such as South-East and Southern Asia or Africa.

“Travellers who develop symptoms, should call ahead to their GP or Emergency Department to ensure they don’t wait in the waiting room with other patients,” Dr Selvey said.

Symptoms of measles include fever, sore eyes and a cough, followed three or four days later by a red, blotchy rash spreading from the head and neck to the rest of the body.

Two doses of measles vaccine provide long term protection to 99% of people vaccinated.

The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine is safe and is included on the National Immunisation Program for children at 12 and 18 months of age.

Anyone in NSW born during or after 1966 who does not have evidence of having received two doses in the past can access free measles vaccine from their GP (all ages) or pharmacies (people over 12 years of age).

People born prior to 1966 are likely to have had measles infection and are generally considered immune. People who are unsure of whether they have had two doses should get a vaccine, as additional doses are safe.

People travelling with young children should discuss travel plans with their GP as the measles vaccine schedule can be started from 6 months of age for children travelling to areas which are a risk for measles.

More information on measles can be found on the measles factsheet.

Fun Little Wave At South Av. - Tuesday August 15, 2023

Pictures From The Past: Palm Beach In 1921

Warringah Shire Council's Minutes from Meetings records, from the Meeting of 19th September, 1921:

Palm Beach (Item 26). The Palm Beach Progress Association's letter, 2/9/21, urging erection of dressing sheds at Palm Beach, and offering to arrange for cost of erection, if Council provide the material, was read in conjunction with the report. Resolved. - (Crs. Hitchcock, Quirk) That the proposal be approved, £5 to be voted for the supply of the necessary material, the (Vote) sheds to be in accordance with the plan submitted by Mr. Kerr, and to be completed to the Council's satisfaction.

Photos by Rex Hazlewood, circa December 1921, courtesy The Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Item No.:c046220004h and Item No.:c046220004h show view from Beach road at Palm Beach with dressing sheds in place on the sand and horses plus the view to the beach from the then rock pool at Palm Beach - this was expanded and 'finished' due to a loan to the Council from Mr. Hordern in 1926. He owned the house/ weekender you can see at the far south in this section from a panorama:.

Above: Sections from Panorama of Palm Beach, New South Wales, 7, nla.obj-162484891, PIC P865 Enemark collection of panoramic photographs [picture] courtesy of the National Library of Australia - the shed in the far left corner is the original Palm Beach SLSC Shed and the house behind it is the Hordern weekender - more in: The First Weekenders On The Palm Beach Beachfront + A Look Into Palm Beach SLSC Clubhouses In The Club's 101st Season - January 2023

Canberra Today And Tomorrow

Published by the NFSA - From the Film Australia Collection.  Made by The Commonwealth Film Unit 1959. Directed by Joe Scully, Rhonda Small and John Martin Jones. The development of Australia’s National Capital. Canberra, the National Capital of Australia, is a city which has been planned; a place where modern living is enriched by a lovely setting. But the hustling young city of today is expanding and developing, and there is emerging the pattern of the proud city of tomorrow.

Find What You're Looking For During Skills Week

National Skills Week starts Monday 21 August.

People across NSW are being encouraged to explore and celebrate everything vocational education and training offers during National Skills Week, which starts on Monday 21 August. 

The Skills Week theme, 'What are you looking for?', highlights the exciting education and career opportunities offered through Vocational Education and Training (VET) pathways. 

NSW Department of Education Secretary Murat Dizdar said Skills Week aimed to overturn out-of-date perceptions about the opportunities vocational education offered.  

“Our job market is changing rapidly, and the vocational education sector has a key role to play in future-proofing existing and emerging industries,” Mr Dizdar said. 

“Vocational education will continue to support the traditional trades but is also crucial for new and emerging industries. For example, our clean energy future will provide terrific jobs based on many of our current trades.” 

Mr Dizdar said the line between a university, or a vocational education and training pathway was increasingly being blurred. 

“Vocational education and training sits alongside university as an equal partner in the tertiary education sector and the future lies in increased collaboration between these two,” he said. 

“The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.” 

He said Skills Week was also an important time to highlight the work done in opening young people’s eyes to the career opportunities available through the School-based Apprenticeships and Traineeships (SBATs) program in NSW public schools. 

Almost 3000 students are currently undertaking SBATs in NSW public schools, a 9.5 per cent increase in participation that is bucking the national trend. 

According to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research, NSW has almost 113,000 trainees and apprentices in training, which is more than any other state or territory.

Mr Dizdar said in Skills Week it was also important to highlight the incredible support of employers, who mentor students through their training, and the sector’s world-class educators.  

Now in its 13th year, Skills Week celebrates the skills, talents, and career pathways of students, apprentices, trainees, and the wide range of industries they work in.  

National Skills Week takes place from 21-27 August, with a launch at the Parliament of NSW on 22 August. 

Photo: Almost 3000 students are undertaking School-based Apprenticeships and Traineeships in NSW public schools,

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: Credo

Word of the Week returns in 2023 simply to throw some disruption in amongst the 'yeah-nah' mix. 


1. a statement of the beliefs or aims which guide someone's actions or the way they live.2. a guiding belief or principle : creed. 3. a creed of the Christian Church in Latin. 4. a musical setting of the Nicene Creed, typically as part of a mass.

From Old English: Latin, ‘I believe’. Compare with creed. From early 13c., "the Creed in the Church service," from Latin credo "I believe," the first word of the Apostles' and Nicene creeds, first person singular present indicative of credere "to believe," from PIE compound *kerd-heart- "to believe," literally "to put one's heart" (source also of Old Irish cretim, Irish creidim, Welsh credu "I believe," Sanskrit śrad-dhā- "faith, confidence, devotion"), from PIE root *kerd- "heart." The nativized form is creed. General sense of "formula or statement of belief" is from 1580s.

*kerd- Proto-Indo-European root meaning "heart."

It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Greek kardia, Latin cor, Armenian sirt, Old Irish cride, Welsh craidd, Hittite kir, Lithuanian širdis, Russian serdce, Old English heorte, German Herz, Gothic hairto, "heart;" Breton kreiz "middle;" Old Church Slavonic sreda "middle."

Creed: (noun) - 1. a system of religious belief; a faith. 2. a formal statement of Christian beliefs, especially the Apostles' Creed or the Nicene Creed. 3. a set of beliefs or aims which guide someone's actions. From Old English creda, from Latin credo.

Hip-hop at 50: 7 essential listens to celebrate rap’s widespread influence

Hip-hop culture spread quickly – to places like London, seen here in 1984. Kerstin Rodgers/Redferns
Howard ManlyThe ConversationJamaal Abdul-AlimThe ConversationMatt WilliamsThe ConversationMolly JacksonThe Conversation, and Nick LehrThe Conversation

On the evening of Aug. 11, 1973, DJ Kool Herc attended a block party in the South Bronx. Armed with two record players and a mixer, he created an extended percussive break while others rhymed over the beats. Hip-hop was born.

Well, that’s the origin story, although pinpointing the birth of a genre is never going to be an exact science. What is undeniable, though, is that in the 50 years since that event, hip-hop has evolved, grown and influenced nearly every aspect of modern U.S. culture – from dance, theater and literature to visual arts and fashion.

But at the heart will always be the music. Leading up to the landmark anniversary, The Conversation reached out to hip-hop academics – it is a scholarly pursuit, too – to help provide context on how the genre has transformed modern culture, not just in the U.S. but around the world. Below is a selection of the resulting articles, introduced by a key track featured in their writing.

1. ‘Rapper’s Delight’ – The Sugarhill Gang

No history of hip-hop would be complete without this 1979 track by The Sugarhill Gang. But along with being an old-school classic, it also kick-started hip-hop’s global expansion.

As Eric Charry, a music professor at Wesleyan University, explained, within months of its being released, versions of “Rapper’s Delight” were being recorded in Brazil, Jamaica, Germany and the Netherlands. Within a year or so, the song’s DNA had spread to Japan and Nigeria.

“It marked the beginning of the globalization of rap music and the broader hip-hop culture in which it is embedded, which includes deejaying, break-dancing and graffiti-tagging,” Charry wrote. But this global spread created what Charry described as a paradox: “The Black American urban culture that birthed rap and hip-hop makes up its very fabric. But so does the core idea of representing one’s own experience and place.”

This led to questions of authenticity that global rappers have contended with ever since, with some digging into their own local culture to square the circle.

2. ‘Planet Rock’ – Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force

Despite building on samples and influences from the past, hip-hop as a genre has always pointed forward – as this 1981 track from Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force exemplifies. “Planet rock” also forms part of a tradition in which rappers lean on Afrofuturism – a mix of science fiction, politics and liberating fantasy – to “inform their lyrics and their look,” as Roy Whitaker, a scholar of Africana philosophy of religions at San Diego State University, explained.

“Hip-hop artists influenced by Afrofuturism have long been aware that American society made many Black, Indigenous and other people of color feel different – less than human, or even like aliens – and expressed this through their art. And like socially conscious hip-hop, Afrofuturism has always had a political element,” Whitaker wrote, noting the influence that Afrofuturism pioneers such as musicians Sun Ra and George Clinton and science fiction novelist Octavia Butler had on rap artists from Public Enemy and OutKast to Kendrick Lamar.

“All in all, Afrofuturism counsels marginalized peoples to reassess past wounds and present injustices, while reassuring them that there are possible futures where they can feel they belong,” Whitaker concluded.

3. ‘Stan’ – Eminem, Featuring Elton John

OK, this is a live performance from the 2001 Grammy Awards show and not a recorded track – though Eminem did release a version of “Stan” featuring British singer Dido a year earlier. But it was a pivotal moment in rap history: Eminem dueting with pop royalty Elton John underscored how hip-hop by the beginning of the 21st century had been accepted by the mainstream music industry.

Moreover, it came at a time when Eminem was deemed deeply controversial because of his use of anti-gay slurs in his tracks. Yet here he was being embraced – both figuratively and physically – by one of the world’s most famous openly gay men. The moment forms part of the hip-hop’s evolution on LGTBQ issues that University of Richmond sociologist Matthew Oware detailed in his article.

He noted that rappers are now having discussions over LGBTQ+ issues and apologizing for hateful speech in their earlier lyrics.

As rap music hits its 50th anniversary, “it is increasingly embracing challenges to – and debates about – homophobia,” Oware wrote. “That is, hip-hop has evolved to the point where anti-gay rhetoric invites condemnation from members of the culture. It is still present in some rap lyrics – as indeed is true of all genres, from pop to country – but hip-hop is changing because of more progressive cultural views and greater LGBTQ+ representation.”

4. ‘You Came Up’ – Big Pun

While hip-hop’s origins lie in Black American communities, Latino culture is also deeply woven into its story: from pioneers like Kid Frost and Big Pun to Bad Bunny, one of the most-streamed artists making music today.

The genre was “my first love,” wrote Alejandro Navaa religious studies professor at the University of Arizona. “Hip-hop had its finger on the pulse of Black and brown lives on the frayed edges of the Americas, lives like my father’s and his father’s before him.”

Big Pun, for example – raised in the South Bronx by his Puerto Rican family – alerted the world that “Latins goin’ platinum was destined to come.” Big Pun’s rhymes “spilled off his tongue in torrents of alliteration and assonance, rarely pausing to take a breath or gulp, as if he didn’t require as much oxygen as other humans,” Nava recalled.

From coast to coast, young Latinos “embraced hip-hop as an ingenious instrument of self-expression,” asserting their place in American culture – and often calling for social change.

5. ‘That’s What The Black Woman Is Like’ – Arianna Puello

Back in the day, as they still do now, rappers talked about their experiences on the margins of American society. Those social messages connected with Black and immigrant youths throughout Europe who themselves were searching for identity in countries where discrimination remains entrenched.

As a scholar of European studies and identity politics, Armin Langer wrote that modern-day European rappers, particularly Arianna PuelloBlack M and Eko Fresh, are challenging outdated European views of citizenship and reshaping public debate on racial and ethnic identity.

Throughout her career, for example, Puello has used her music to confront the racism that she has faced as a Black female migrant in Spain.

In this 2003 track, “Así es la negra,” or “That’s what the Black woman is like,” tells the “ignorant racist,” “You’re going to have to put up with me, If I am born again I want to be what I am now, of the same race, same sex and condition.”

“As migration from African, Caribbean and Middle Eastern countries to Europe continues to increase and European societies discuss questions of identity belonging, it’s my belief that hip-hop will continue to make significant contributions to ongoing public policy debates,” Langer wrote.

6. ‘Move The Crowd’ – Eric B. And Rakim

“Move the Crowd” by Eric B. and Rakim.

Of all the elements of hip-hop – which include deejaying, rapping, graffiti-writing and break-dancing – one that seems to get the least attention is the one referred to as hip-hop’s fifth element: “knowledge of self.”

Su'ad Abdul Khabeer, Associate Professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan, expounded on the significance of the phrase. She argued that it became “hip-hop’s consciousness, emphasizing an awareness of injustice and the imperative to address it through both personal and social transformation.”

One of the first rappers to use the phrase in lyrics was Rakim, who mentioned it in his 1987 song “Move the Crowd.” The song is a track on the “Paid in Full” album, which Rolling Stone once listed as No. 61 on its “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”

7. ‘LOUD’ – Wawa’s World

In 2005, U.S. rapper Warren “Wawa” Snipe coined the term “dip hop” to describe a burgeoning form of rap music in the Deaf community.

West Virginia University ethnomusicologist Katelyn Best has been following dip hop artists for over a decade. In that time, she’s witnessed dip hop artists achieve mainstream success – including Wawa, whose 2020 song “LOUD” became a top 20 dance track on iTunes.

Dip hop is unique, Best wrote, because “rappers lay down rhymes in sign languages and craft music informed by their experiences within the Deaf community.”

At the same time, the subgenre embodies hip-hop’s broader legacy: speaking – or signing – about experiences of marginalization, while shaking up preexisting notions of what can be considered music.

There is no one way to perform dip hop. Some artists speak and sign simultaneously so their music can be understood by hearing audiences, too. Others collaborate with interpreters, or prerecord vocal tracks that play in the background while they rap in sign language.

“Dip hop, like many styles of music, comes to life through live performance,” Best wrote. “Artists move across the stage with their hands flying through the air as audiences pulse to the rhythm of the blasting bass beat.”

“In the spirit of hip-hop,” Best added, “dip hop rebels both musically and socially against cultural norms, breaking the mold and expanding possibilities for musical artistry.”The Conversation

Howard Manly, Race + Equity Editor, The ConversationJamaal Abdul-Alim, Education Editor, The ConversationMatt Williams, Senior International Editor, The ConversationMolly Jackson, Religion and Ethics Editor, The Conversation, and Nick Lehr, Arts + Culture Editor, The Conversation

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

Hip-hop at 50: how the sights, sounds and moves of the music spread across the world

Rapper’s Delight was one of the first hip-hop tracks ever released. Granamour Weems Collection/Alamy
Adam de Paor-EvansUniversity of Plymouth

On August 11 1973, DJ Kool Herc and his sister Cindy threw the now legendary Back To School jam in the recreation room of 1520 Sedgewick Avenue in The Bronx, New York.

Herc’s party represented a coming together of music and the start of something new. The Bronx crowd did not want the dancehall sounds Herc had begun to play. They wanted soul and the tough percussion of funk. So, Herc changed up the sound and used the main switch for the lights like a strobe-light to add atmosphere. Little did they know, that his event would be commonly accepted by the hip-hop fraternity worldwide as the starting point of what was to become one of the most important creative movements of the last century.

This year, members of the hip-hop community, spanning several generations, will be celebrating the core elements of hip-hop culture: graffiti, breaking (or breakdancing), DJing and rapping that have thrived in the last 50 years.

Although 1973 is recognised as the year that gave birth to hip-hop, it was not until 1979 that the first rap records connected to hip-hop culture were recorded. Fatback’s King Tim III (Personality Jock) arrived in the spring of that year followed by Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight in the late summer. Over the next three years, a swathe of disco-oriented rap records followed, solidifying hip-hop culture through the medium of vinyl.

Hip-Hop’s Development

The six years between 1973 and 1979 are hugely significant to hip-hop’s development. Grandmaster Flash, DJ Mean Gene, GrandWizzard Theodore, DJ Breakout and DJ Baron from The Brothers Disco], Afrika Bambaataa and Kool Herc were each pioneering hip-hop jams in their respective Bronx neighbourhoods. MCs and rappers, such as Coke La Rock, Grandmaster Caz and M.C. G.L.O.B.E., also developed rap styles.

Breakers were also progressing breaking moves, styles and forms of dance in response to the breakbeat – the parts of the record where rhythm and percussion takes over. Kool Herc developed the Merry-Go-Round, a method of continuing the break by utilising two copies of the same record, thus providing a music space where breakers could dance longer and in more creative ways.

While all of this thrived in the US, it was almost a decade until hip-hop culture reached other shores.

The Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight and Kurtis Blow’s Christmas Rappin’ (1980) were chart hits overseas. Hip-hop’s identity was transported globally, however, by the visuals in punk impressario Malcolm McLaren and World’s Famous Supreme Team’s Buffalo Gals music video. It was also helped by The New York City Rap Tour in 1982.

Message Making

Throughout its history, hip-hop has been accused of not producing proper music. Its early incarnations of rhymes over records and studio band cover versions of funk and disco jams to programmed drum machine and digital sampling did not sit comfortably with the canon of 20th-century music.

MCs were charged with rapping because they couldn’t sing. Breaking was labelled passing fad that kids would grow out of, like yoyoing or jumping on pogo sticks. Hip-hop challenged the norms of mainstream music. Yet, here we are, rejoicing in a cultural movement which continues to develop.

Hip-hop’s significance is multifaceted, but one of the most important things about it is its ability to foster confidence, self-expression and forms of identity for its participants. Through the practices of the elements, hip-hop adopters learn new ways of making art. Formal education in visual art, dance and music is uneeded, it is not necessary to own musical instruments or have access to a dance or art studio.

Aspiring hip-hop artists learn from each other and the ethos of “each one teach one” – adapted from the African American proverb – applies across the culture. Relating to ideas of identity, hip-hop also brings teachings of Black history – histories that were traditionally not taught through conventional western school curriculum. This is often referred to as hip-hop’s fifth element.

In the late 80s, Public Enemy and the Native Tongues collective brought a level of social consciousness to rap music, but hip-hop has always maintained a political and critical edge.

Brother D’s How We Gonna Make The Black Nation Rise? from 1980 is perhaps the clearest example:

My people, people, people, can’t you see
What’s really goin’ on?
Unemployment’s high, the housing’s bad
And the schools are teaching wrong
Cancer from the water, pollution in the air
But you’re partying hard, like you just don’t care

But the more well-known Melle Mel recording with Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five took socially conscious lyrics to the mainstream with songs like New York, New York and The Message (cowritten with Duke Bootee).

The rise of socially-conscious hip-hop was crucial for listeners. Chuck D, his group Public enemy, and others like Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, made lyrical references to political Black figures such as Louis Farrakhan, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.

Hip-hop has always produced a counter-narrative to the mainstream, staying true to its underground ethos. You can hear it in the music of superstars like Kanye West whose early career lyrics keenly described American racial inequality. Take the song Never Let me Down off his debut album The College Dropout, where he raps about how his grandparents fought for civil rights, adding:

Racism still alive, they just be concealing it

Many of today’s rappers are also still using the form to expose inequality. Popular artists like Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott are telling evocative stories about racism, generational trauma, inequality and a broken culture. These mainstream artists are cut from the same cloth as the more underground rappers like Roughneck Jihad and Worms Ali.

With history 50 years deep and its continuing innovations, hip-hop can and should remain at the forefront of these conversations for the next 50 years.

Looking for something good? Cut through the noise with a carefully curated selection of the latest releases, live events and exhibitions, straight to your inbox every fortnight, on Fridays. Sign up here.The Conversation

Adam de Paor-Evans, Research Lead at Rhythm Obscura, University of Plymouth

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

Australia just won the netball world cup. Why isn’t there room for multiple women’s world cups in our sports media?

Kasey SymonsSwinburne University of Technology and Bess SchnioffskyRMIT University

With the Matlidas progressing to the quarter finals of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Australia’s sports media is focussed on this global mega event and the potential it has to change the women’s game.

Broadcast numbers are setting records, stadiums are packed, Matildas jerseys are flying off the shelves and the media is paying attention.

But why aren’t Australia’s netballers afforded the same media focus? On August 6, the Australian Diamonds won the Netball World Cup for the 12th time with a 61–45 victory over England in Cape Town.

While some Australians celebrated this moment in the early hours of Monday morning, many sports fans would have been unaware the final was even happening among the level of coverage the football is currently receiving.

One contributing factor was time zones. The recent netball world cup was held in South Africa, and Australian audiences suffered from an unpalatable time difference.

However the specific challenges traditional women’s sports encounter within the greater complexities of the women’s sports world cannot be ignored.

Barriers For Traditional Women’s Sports

Australian netball has seen recent growth in broadcast and ticket sales. The 2023 final of Australia’s professional netball league was the most watched Super Netball match ever on Foxtel. And yet the media attention afforded to netball pales in comparison to women’s sporting codes aligned with traditional men’s sports.

At the FIFA world cup, the sports media is showcasing the thriving and inclusive fan culture, the history of women’s football and stories from grassroots and community football.

These stories offer a point of difference to men’s football and highlight obstacles overcome compared to the men’s code.

The narratives of progress for women’s football demonstrate a “dream finally being realised” and a bridging of historical gaps.

For netball, there are no comparative narratives to tell. While there is men’s netball and a national men’s netball team in Australia, the history of netball as a sport designed for women provides a perception it does not experience the same challenges as other women’s sports playing “catch up”.

Netball is taken for granted and is largely out of mind for sports media.

Netball And Australian Sport Culture

Netball was historically designed for women and girls based on the original rules of basketball adapted to suit the “ideal qualities” placed on women in the late 19th century.

The sport removed dribbling to limit physical exertion and maintain appropriate dress standards, ensured no contact, restricted movement on the court and, at certain periods, enforced silence on participants.

Schoolgirls playing netball in 1923. State Library South Australia

Unlike the global game of football, netball remains popular only in a handful of Commonwealth countries.

Netball has the highest participation rate of any team sport for women and girls in is Australia. Most Australian women are directed to and encouraged to play netball at some point in their lives.

Despite this prevalence, there has been little research on netball, the game’s origins and cultural significance in Australian sporting culture.

Women’s Sports Media Coverage

Coverage for women in sport consistently makes up less than 10% of the overall sports media coverage in Australia.

Even with no live sport during the height of the COVID pandemic, men’s sport stories still dominated.

Despite netball’s popularity and high participation rates, a study of nine Australian newspapers’ coverage of the 2017 Super Netball season revealed only 4.58% of total sports media coverage was dedicated to the sport.

The most coverage the game generates is when it is in crisis: the 2020 controversy surrounding the competition’s only Indigenous player at the time, Jemma Mi Mi, not given court time in the league’s Indigenous round, despite featuring in the marketing; Netball Australia’s financial position and subsequent proposed sponsorship with Hancock Prospecting; and the folding of the Collingwood Super Netball Team.

The Australian domestic netball competition is arguably the best in the world and attracts the world’s best netballers. But if not for independent women’s sport and dedicated netball media platforms, passionate freelancers and champions driving netball coverage at their mainstream media mastheads, it’s sobering to think where that 4.6% of coverage would sit.

While more Matildas become household names, few could name the Diamonds co-captains, Steph Wood and Liz Watson, and know Wood has just retired from international competition .

Few are discussing the fact World Netball does not offer prize money, and what the current uncertainty of the Commonwealth Games means for athletes who do not have their sport included in the Olympics.

As we reflect on the exciting gains this global mega event can offer women’s football, and the stories which are being told about the barriers these players have faced in a traditionally male sport, we must also reflect on what barriers exist in other women’s sports.

Netball plays an incredibly powerful role in connecting many women to sport in Australia. Media coverage is important to continue to celebrate the athletes at both a grassroots and a professional level. But it also has an important role to play in calling attention to the challenges and change netball needs to continue to drive the code forward alongside other developing professional women’s sports.The Conversation

Kasey Symons, Postdoctoral research fellow, Swinburne University of Technology and Bess Schnioffsky, PhD Candidate, RMIT University

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

Connection, camaraderie and belonging: why the Matildas could be making you a sports fan for the very first time

Sarah TillottSouthern Cross University and Diarmuid HurleySouthern Cross University

With over seven million Australians hooked onto the world cup viewing, many who have never really been interested in sports have recently found themselves screaming at the TV, cheering in pubs and hugging complete strangers.

Have you found yourself in this new legion of sports fans, and wondering how you got here?

It is likely down to many factors. There is of course the incredible talent on display, the kindness players are showing on and off the field, and women and girls relating to players who look like them.

But it is also to do with the visibility and exposure of the game; the influence of our families and friends; the ways we are hardwired for connection; and the addictive nature of neurotransmitters.

Like many Australians, we will be sure to not miss tonight’s game when Australia plays England in the semifinal – but first, here’s a look at all of these new emotions you may be experiencing.

The Social Contagion

With Australia as a host nation – and the incredible success of the Matildas – there has never been more visibility and focus on women’s football in Australia.

Positive emotions and behaviours are contagious. Psychologists refer to “emotional contagion” or “social contagion”, which describes how emotions, attitudes and behaviours spread through groups and crowds.

In general, people just want to feel good! We enhance that feeling by forming positive social connections with other humans, sharing in a common experience, having a common goal and putting aside our differences.

Being on the same side means we have something to share and celebrate in and, more importantly, someone to do it with.

You’re likely feeling like you are part of something greater, and that has us all reaching for more by getting together to watch the next game.

Another reason you might find yourself getting behind the world cup is everyone loves a good story – and this competition has them in spades.

This world cup has had its share of ups and downs: superstar Sam Kerr’s injury; the crushing low of defeat to Nigeria; the high of the must-win-game against Canada; the electric edge-of-your-seat drama of the penalty shootout against France.

We all share in these highs and lows.

Sports can help create positive social cohesion by bringing people together. There is something very comforting about winning or losing as a group - whatever the result, we aren’t doing it alone!

Sports breaks down barriers, forms pro-social bonds and helps people unite through a common goal. We get lost and escape into a world of togetherness, which feels great!

The ability to laugh, cry or hold hands with people (both strangers and friends) in nervous moments is felt deep in our body. It is undeniable, palpable and reinforces our connectivity. These heightened emotions fast track our sense of belonging to a group.

Meanwhile, there is something very primitive going on deep in the brain that may explain this phenomenon.

Our brains are wired to work in groups or tribes. Historically, working together towards a common goal improved our ability to survive.

In a contemporary setting, when we belong to groups we unite through the notion of achieving a common vision. The “self” blends with the social. We evaluate our environment and look for links of commonality to achieve social harmony.

This comes back to the notion of feeling good. When you are sharing a sporting event – watching together or talking about it after – you are sharing a safe space you can relate, engage and belong to.

Shared Experiences

The reality of what sports can do to unite and change the way we connect is palpable through this world cup.

We are all sharing a common experience which enables us to talk to complete strangers at the bus stop, on the train and when we are ordering our coffees at the local café.

This shared experience enables us the confidence to strike up new conversations: sharing our pride, our fears and our emotions.

We fast track our connections with people through sharing our vulnerabilities. Connections that could generally take years to form are happening in seconds. The moments to form those connections are more frequent as the success of our team continues.

Matilda’s defender Claire Hunt spoke of the collective belief the team has in their abilities. This collective belief has spread out from the team and their diehard supporters to become a source of national pride.

We Belong

Sports creates a connection to something greater than yourself, an ability to ride the highs and lows of a team as you journey with them for the entire match!

Notice the feeling of your heart beating through your chest (and that feedback coming through your smart watch as the high pulse rate alert is screaming at you!); feeling like you want to vomit and cry from the anticipation; the tensing of your muscles during every attempt at goal.

Through Australia’s collective love, support and excitement behind the Matildas, we are in the process of forming our identity and becoming part of a family.

We relate to people, we connect to people, we belong.

These feelings have powerful effects on our wellbeing. Belonging enhances self-esteem, improves psychological and behavioural functioning, and improves the quality and meaning of our lives.

As our energy starts to rise, we begin to release positive endorphins such as serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline. Dopamine enhances our feelings of pleasure, satisfaction and motivation. Adrenaline makes you feel alive. These neurotransmitters increase our sense of wellbeing.

They are addictive and we are left feeling that we want more.

Even as a newly minted fan, you are now part of the Matilda’s family and they’re counting on the Aussie social contagion to push through those cramping muscles, tired bodies and sweaty palms.

You are about to be a part of history and those neurotransmitters won’t want to miss it for the world!The Conversation

Sarah Tillott, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Health, Southern Cross University and Diarmuid Hurley, Lecturer, Faculty of Health, Southern Cross University

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

A dramatic volcano eruption changed lives in Fiji 2,500 years ago. 100 generations have kept the story alive

Author providedCC BY-ND
Patrick D. NunnUniversity of the Sunshine Coast

Can you imagine a scientist who could neither read nor write, who spoke their wisdom in riddles, in tales of fantastic beings flying through the sky, fighting each another furiously and noisily, drinking the ocean dry, and throwing giant spears with force enough to leave massive holes in rocky headlands?

Our newly published research in the journal Oral Tradition shows memories of a volcanic eruption in Fiji some 2,500 years ago were encoded in oral traditions in precisely these ways.

They were never intended as fanciful stories, but rather as the pragmatic foundations of a system of local risk management.

Life-Changing Events

Around 2,500 years ago, at the western end of the island of Kadavu in the southern part of Fiji, the ground shook, the ocean became agitated, and clouds of billowing smoke and ash poured into the sky.

When the clouds cleared, the people saw a new mountain had formed, its shape resembling a mound of earth in which yams are grown. This gave the mountain its name – Nabukelevu, the giant yam mound. (It was renamed Mount Washington during Fiji’s colonial history.)

Photo of a flat-topped volcano with a beach in front, and a drawing of a similar mountain in the top left corner
Nabukelevu from the northeast, its top hidden in cloud. Inset: Nabukelevu from the west in 1827 after the drawing by the artist aboard the Astrolabe, the ship of French explorer Dumont d’Urville. It is an original lithograph by H. van der Burch after original artwork by Louis Auguste de Sainson. Wikimedia Commons; Australian National Maritime MuseumCC BY-SA

So dramatic, so life-changing were the events associated with this eruption, the people who witnessed it told stories about it. These stories have endured more than two millennia, faithfully passed on across roughly 100 generations to reach us today.

Scientists used to dismiss such stories as fictions, devalue them with labels like “myth” or “legend”. But the situation is changing.

Today, we are starting to recognise that many such “stories” are authentic memories of human pasts, encoded in oral traditions in ways that represent the worldviews of people from long ago.

In other words, these stories served the same purpose as scientific accounts, and the people who told them were trying to understand the natural world, much like scientists do today.

Battle Of The Vu

The most common story about the 2,500-year-old eruption of Nabukelevu is one involving a “god” (vu in Fijian) named Tanovo from the island of Ono, about 56km from the volcano.

Tanovo’s view of the sunset became blocked one day by this huge mountain. Our research identifies this as a volcanic dome that was created during the eruption, raising the height of the mountain several hundred feet.

Enraged, Tanovo flew to Nabukelevu and started to tear down the mountain, a process described by local residents as driva qele (stealing earth). This explains why even today the summit of Nabukelevu has a crater.

But Tanovo was interrupted by the “god” of Nabukelevu, named Tautaumolau. The pair started fighting. A chase ensued through the sky and, as the two twisted and turned, the earth being carried by Tanovo started falling to the ground, where it is said to have “created” islands.

We conclude that the sequence in which these islands are said to have been created is likely to represent the movement of the ash plume from the eruption, as shown on the map below.

A map showing a jagged landmass with an inset showing a plume of ash swirling across it
Smaller offshore islands named in seven versions of the Nabukelevu story as having formed following the Nabukelevu eruption. Inset shows the possible trace of the ash cloud based on the stories. Author providedCC BY-ND

‘Myths’ Based In Fact

Geologists would today find it exceedingly difficult to deduce such details of an ancient eruption. But here, in the oral traditions of Kadavu people, this information is readily available.

Another detail we would never know if we did not have the oral traditions is about the tsunami the eruption caused.

In some versions of the story, one of the “gods” is so frightened, he hides beneath the sea. But his rival comes along and drinks up all the water at that place, a detail our research interprets as a memory of the ocean withdrawing prior to tsunami impact.

Other details in the oral traditions recall how one god threw a massive spear at his rival but missed, leaving behind a huge hole in a rock. This is a good example of how landforms likely predating the eruption can be retrofitted to a narrative.

An orange rock jutting out of the water with a large hole within
The hole made when a spear was thrown by one god at the other, on the north coast of eastern Kadavu. Author providedCC BY-ND

Our study adds to the growing body of scientific research into “myths” and “legends”, showing that many have a basis in fact, and the details they contain add depth and breadth to our understanding of human pasts.

The Kadavu volcano stories discussed here also show ancient societies were no less risk aware and risk averse than ours are today. The imperative was to survive, greatly aided by keeping alive memories of all the hazards that existed in a particular place.

Australian First Peoples’ cultures are replete with similar stories.

Literate people, those who read and write, tend to be impressed by the extraordinary time depth of oral traditions, like those about the 2,500-year old eruption of Nabukelevu. But not everyone is.

In early 2019, I was sitting and chatting to Ratu Petero Uluinaceva in Waisomo Village, after he had finished relating the Ono people’s story of the eruption. I told him this particular story recalled events which occurred more than two millennia ago – and thought he might be impressed. But he wasn’t.

“We know our stories are that old, that they recall our ancient history,” he told me with a grin. “But we are glad you have now learned this too!”

Acknowledgements: The original research was conducted in collaboration with Loredana Lancini and Rita Compatangelo-Soussignan (University of Le Mans), Meli Nanuku and Kaliopate Tavola (Fiji Museum), Taniela Bolea (University of the Sunshine Coast) and Paul Geraghty (University of the South Pacific).The Conversation

Patrick D. Nunn, Professor of Geography, School of Law and Society, University of the Sunshine Coast

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

Arithmetic has a biological origin – it’s an expression in symbols of the ‘deep structure’ of our perception

Randolph GraceUniversity of Canterbury

Everyone knows that arithmetic is true: 2 + 2 = 4.

But surprisingly, we don’t know why it’s true.

By stepping outside the box of our usual way of thinking about numbers, my colleagues and I have recently shown that arithmetic has biological roots and is a natural consequence of how perception of the world around us is organised.

Our results explain why arithmetic is true and suggest that mathematics is a realisation in symbols of the fundamental nature and creativity of the mind.

Thus, the miraculous correspondence between mathematics and physical reality that has been a source of wonder from the ancient Greeks to the present — as explored in astrophysicist Mario Livio’s book Is God a mathematician? — suggests the mind and world are part of a common unity.

Why Is Arithmetic Universally True?

Humans have been making symbols for numbers for more than 5,500 years. More than 100 distinct notation systems are known to have been used by different civilisations, including Babylonian, Egyptian, Etruscan, Mayan and Khmer.

Several examples of number symbols from different cultures.
Different cultures have developed their own symbols for numbers, but they all use addition and multiplication. Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA

The remarkable fact is that despite the great diversity of symbols and cultures, all are based on addition and multiplication. For example, in our familiar Hindu-Arabic numerals: 1,434 = (1 x 1000) + (4 x 100) + (3 x 10) + (4 x 1).

Why have humans invented the same arithmetic, over and over again? Could arithmetic be a universal truth waiting to be discovered?

To unravel the mystery, we need to ask why addition and multiplication are its fundamental operations. We recently posed this question and found that no satisfactory answer – one that met standards of scientific rigour – was available from philosophy, mathematics or the cognitive sciences.

The fact that we don’t know why arithmetic is true is a critical gap in our knowledge. Arithmetic is the foundation for higher mathematics, which is indispensable for science.

Consider a thought experiment. Physicists in the future have achieved the goal of a “theory of everything” or “God equation”. Even if such a theory could correctly predict all physical phenomena in the universe, it would not be able to explain where arithmetic itself comes from or why it is universally true.

Answering these questions is necessary for us to fully understand the role of mathematics in science.

Bees Provide A Clue

We proposed a new approach based on the assumption that arithmetic has a biological origin.

Many non-human species, including insects, show an ability for spatial navigation which seems to require the equivalent of algebraic computation. For example, bees can take a meandering journey to find nectar but then return by the most direct route, as if they can calculate the direction and distance home.

A graph that shows a bee's zig-zag flight and the direct route home.
Bees can integrate their zig-zag flight path to calculate the straightest route back to the hive. Nicola J. MortonCC BY-SA

How their miniature brain (about 960,000 neurons) achieves this is unknown. These calculations might be the non-symbolic precursors of addition and multiplication, honed by natural selection as the optimal solution for navigation.

Arithmetic may be based on biology and special in some way because of evolution’s fine-tuning.

Stepping Outside The Box

To probe more deeply into arithmetic, we need to go beyond our habitual, concrete understanding and think in more general and abstract terms. Arithmetic consists of a set of elements and operations that combine two elements to give another element.

In the universe of possibilities, why are the elements represented as numbers and the operations as addition and multiplication? This is a meta-mathematical question – a question about mathematics itself that can be addressed using mathematical methods.

In our research, we proved that four assumptions – monotonicity, convexity, continuity and isomorphism – were sufficient to uniquely identify arithmetic (addition and multiplication over the real numbers) from the universe of possibilities.

  • Monotonicity is the intuition of “order preserving” and helps us keep track of our place in the world, so that when we approach an object it looms larger but smaller when we move away.

  • Convexity is grounded in intuitions of “betweenness”. For example, the four corners of a football pitch define the playing field even without boundary lines connecting them.

  • Continuity describes the smoothness with which objects seem to move in space and time.

  • Isomorphism is the idea of sameness or analogy. It’s what allows us to recognise that a cat is more similar to a dog than to a rock.

Thus, arithmetic is special because it is a consequence of these purely qualitative conditions. We argue that these conditions are principles of perceptual organisation that shape how we and other animals experience the world – a kind of “deep structure” in perception with roots in evolutionary history.

In our proof, they act as constraints to eliminate all possibilities except arithmetic – a bit like how a sculptor’s work reveals a statue hidden in a block of stone.

What Is Mathematics?

Taken together, these four principles structure our perception of the world so that our experience is ordered and cognitively manageable. They are like coloured spectacles that shape and constrain our experience in particular ways.

When we peer through these spectacles at the abstract universe of possibilities, we “see” numbers and arithmetic.

A figure illustrating the four principles of monotonicity, convexity, continuity and isomorphism.
These four principles structure our perception of the world and, collectively, point to arithmetic as an abstract symbol system that reflects that structure. Psychological ReviewCC BY-SA

Thus, our results show that arithmetic is biologically-based and a natural consequence of how our perception is structured.

Although this structure is shared with other animals, only humans have invented mathematics. It is humanity’s most intimate creation, a realisation in symbols of the fundamental nature and creativity of the mind.

In this sense, mathematics is both invented (uniquely human) and discovered (biologically-based). The seemingly miraculous success of mathematics in the physical sciences hints that our mind and the world are not separate, but part of a common unity.

The arc of mathematics and science points toward non-dualism, a philosophical concept that describes how the mind and the universe as a whole are connected, and that any sense of separation is an illusion. This is consistent with many spiritual traditions (Taoism, Buddhism) and Indigenous knowledge systems such as mātauranga Māori.The Conversation

Randolph Grace, Professor of Psychology, University of Canterbury

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

Can human moderators ever really rein in harmful online content? New research says yes

Bert B / Unsplash
Marian-Andrei RizoiuUniversity of Technology Sydney and Philipp SchneiderEPFL – École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne

Social media platforms have become the “digital town squares” of our time, enabling communication and the exchange of ideas on a global scale. However, the unregulated nature of these platforms has allowed the proliferation of harmful content such as misinformation, disinformation and hate speech.

Regulating the online world has proven difficult, but one promising avenue is suggested by the European Union’s Digital Services Act, passed in November 2022. This legislation mandates “trusted flaggers” to identify certain kinds of problematic content to platforms, who must then remove it within 24 hours.

Will it work, given the fast pace and complex viral dynamics of social media environments? To find out, we modelled the effect of the new rule, in research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Our results show this approach can indeed reduce the spread of harmful content. We also suggest some insights into how the rules can be implemented in the most effective way.

Understanding The Spread Of Harmful Content

We used a mathematical model of information spread to analyse how harmful content is disseminated through social networks.

In the model, each harmful post is treated as a “self-exciting point process”. This means it draws more people into the discussion over time and generates further harmful posts, similar to a word-of-mouth process.

The intensity of a post’s self-propagation decreases over time. However, if left unchecked, its “offspring” can generate more offspring, leading to exponential growth.

A constellation of lights in a dark room, with a group of people silhouetted against the light.
Social media posts spread online through a process much like word of mouth. Robynne Hu / Unsplash

The Potential For Harm Reduction

In our study, we used two key measures to assess the effectiveness of the kind of moderation set out in the Digital Services Act: potential harm and content half-life.

A post’s potential harm represents the number of harmful offspring it generates. Content half-life denotes the amount of time required for half of all the post’s offspring to be generated.

We found moderation by the rules of the Digital Services Act can effectively reduce harm, even on platforms with short content half-lives, such as X (formerly known as Twitter). While faster moderation is always more effective, we found that moderating even after 24 hours could still reduce the number of harmful offspring by up to 50%.

The Role Of Reaction Time And Harm Reduction

The reaction time required for effective content moderation increases with both the content half-life and potential harm. To put it another way, for content that is longer-lived and generates large numbers of harmful offspring, intervening later can still prevent many harmful subsequent posts.

This suggests the approach of the Digital Services Act can effectively combat harmful content, even on fast-paced platforms like X.

We also found the amount of harm reduction increases for content with greater potential harm. While apparently counterintuitive, this indicates moderation is effective when it targets the offspring of offspring generation – that is, when it breaks the word-of-mouth cycle.

Making The Most Of Moderation Efforts

Prior research has shown tools based on artificial intelligence struggle to detect online harmful content. The authors of such content are aware of the detection tools, and adapt their language to avoid detection.

The Digital Services Act moderation approach relies on manual tagging of posts by “trusted flaggers”, who will have limited time and resources.

To make the most of their efforts, flaggers should focus their efforts on content with high potential harm for which our research shows that moderation is most effective. We estimate the potential harm of a post at its creation by extrapolating its expected number of offspring from previously observed discussions.

Implementing The Digital Services Act

Social media platforms already employ content moderation teams, and our research suggests the major platforms at least already have enough staff to enforce the Digital Services Act legislation. There are, however, questions about the cultural awareness of the existing staff as some of these teams are based in different countries to the majority of content posters they are moderating.

The success of the legislation will lie in appointing trusted flaggers with sufficient cultural and language knowledge, developing practical reporting tools for harmful content, and ensuring timely moderation.

Our study’s framework will provide policymakers with valuable guidance in drafting mechanisms for content moderation that prioritise efforts and reaction times effectively.

A Healthier And Safer Digital Public Square

As social media platforms continue to shape public discourse, addressing the challenges posed by harmful content is crucial. Our research on the effectiveness of moderating harmful online content offers valuable insights for policymakers.

By understanding the dynamics of content spread, optimising moderation efforts, and implementing regulations like the Digital Services Act, we can strive for a healthier and safer digital public square where harmful content is mitigated, and constructive dialogue thrives.The Conversation

Marian-Andrei Rizoiu, Senior Lecturer in Behavioral Data Science, University of Technology Sydney and Philipp Schneider, Doctoral Student, EPFL – École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne

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

Friday essay: what do publishers’ revisions and content warnings say about the moral purpose of literature?

Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway and Agatha Christie. Wikimedia Commons
Dan DixonUniversity of Sydney

This year, there has been some controversy about the rewriting of passages from authors such as Roald DahlEnid BlytonIan Fleming and Agatha Christie with the aim of removing potentially offensive material. Some publishers have also adopted the precautionary measure of adding content warnings and disclaimers to books by Ernest HemingwayVirginia WoolfRaymond Chandler and P.G. Wodehouse.

Critics of these bowdlerisations and disclaimers have come from across the political spectrum and seem to vastly outnumber those defending the practice. It is some time since I have noticed a literary topic come up as frequently as this one in conversation with those outside the literary culture. And while, as an academic, it is heartening to see people worked up about books and their value, it is disheartening to see books recruited as culture-war fodder.

Conservative publications have tended to frame these developments as evidence of “wokeness” (a word, in this context, vacant of meaning). Others have offered more nuanced, less loaded critiques, arguing that such measures fail to account for our obligation to attend to and preserve history, rather than ignore or erase it. In the case of children’s books, the argument has been made for the role of adults as responsible literary guides.

Much has been said on the issue of rewriting writers that I don’t want to relitigate, but it is worth examining the nature of the debate itself and the fact of its prominence. In an era when literature sits on the cultural margins, why does a story like this break through to the mainstream? What are the stakes that have conjured so much talk?

Moral Questions

A literary story is taken up by the media most enthusiastically, it seems, when it can be connected to moral concerns. Those who would clean up the classics, and their conservative opponents, are entangled in a moral battle which encourages the application of the same ethical criteria to books that might be apply to elected officials or ministers of religion.

Skimming any contemporary writers’ festival program will demonstrate that we struggle to talk about books on any other terms. Yet if book-talk most easily rises to the level of public discussion when it involves a simple moral controversy, then we are inexorably incorporating literature into the sepia mass of monetised cultural gruel of which our society appears increasingly to comprise.

Two questions motivate this latest argument. The first entails uncertainty about what constitutes literary censorship. Is rewriting a sentence to expurgate an offensive term a form of vandalism, or is it no different from (or at least comparable to), say, translation?

The second is a much debated and oft-reformulated inquiry, familiar within and without literary studies: is there a necessary connection between a work’s literary value and its moral quality? When we read a book do we expect a degree of moral instruction, as to how we should or should not live?

These are worthwhile questions, but they are not the only ones. Literature is extraordinary, in part, because it cannot be reduced to such questions.

Moral debates arise easily because they tend to encourage definitive judgements, which are both gratifying and compatible with an increasingly commodified world. In particular, a moral judgement has the power to bestow a final endorsement or condemnation, meaning one can avoid what Keats described as negative capability: “being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”.

A capacity to cope with the unpleasantness of irresolution could be taken as a mark of maturity. The desire for certainty, for a world of unambiguously demarcated ethical boundaries of the kind found in much young adult fiction, could be described as a reassuring childish fantasy.

There might be good reasons for removing offensive language from a text, but we should be suspicious of the impulse to polish literature for modern sensibilities, to make writing newly palatable and inoffensive. To treat books as objects that can be modified to suit the mood of the times is to risk ushering them into the category of pure commodity, optimised according to market desires.

Ernest and Pauline Hemingway in Paris, 1927. Wikimedia Commons

The urge to keep Dahl agreeable, for example, is a consequence of a corporation desiring to profit from Roald Dahl the brand. Children’s author Philip Pullman suggested that, rather than revising Dahl, it would be preferable to let him go out of print. This is inconceivable. Dahl’s estate is simply worth too much.

It is in the interest of the Roald Dahl Story Company, purchased by Netflix in 2021, to make Dahl as widely acceptable as possible. Thus the effort to sand off his edges. Brands must be slick, inoffensive, inhuman.

No sensible person would defend Dahl’s character. He was a professed antisemite. In the 1970s, he was forced by the advocacy of the civil rights organisation NAACP to change Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Oompa Loompas, who were originally depicted as pygmies brought from Africa to work in the chocolate factory unpaid.

These facts may repulse you to such an extent you can never read Dahl again – or perhaps you might prefer to evaluate his books on their own terms, detaching them from the author’s beliefs. Either response is possible and understandable. But the texts cannot be entirely revalued or made morally sound by meddling with a few sentences or replacing them with clunky alternatives.

Roald Dahl in 1982. Hans van Dijk/Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA

Literature has always been influenced by the marketplace. Historically, it has evolved through systems of patronage and copyright, gatekeeping publishers and nepotistic periodicals. But to reduce an author to a brand is to obliterate what makes literature a meaningful category. Art distinguishes itself from commerce by pushing back against these capitalist formations and, consequently, being incompatible with reductive moralism.

This is obvious when we consider how we treat books differently to other purchasable items. If you buy a vacuum cleaner that fails to suck dust from your carpet, you should be able to return it. This is because vacuum cleaners are meant to perform a clearly identifiable, unambiguous function.

If you purchase a book that does not work as expected, it would be perverse to attempt to return it to the bookshop and say:

I found the prose too dense; the characters were meaner than I wanted them to be; I thought I was reading a detective story, but halfway through it became a revenge tragedy.

The nourishment offered by reading depends, in fact, on our not knowing how the experience of a book will unfold until we are reading it. The value is revealed in the act of reading. Even when rereading, we find pleasure in noticing patterns or aspects of a work that did not come into view during the previous encounter. We never quite know what we are in for.

The best literature can be spiky, ambiguous, difficult, cruel, strange, unpredictable, hectoring and unpleasant. It is not the job of a book to ease the life of its reader. Reading a good book might mean having a terrible day, a day in which you are scared, sad, distressed.

It is rare (if not unheard of) that we pay to undergo unpleasant experiences that teach us nothing. But literature does not have an obligation to be useful; we do not have to learn anything from it. It need not produce anything except a readerly response. The alternative is that we are paying to be numbed.

A Reasonable Reaction?

What, then, is a reasonable reaction to a book that offends? And by what mechanisms are thresholds of offence and moral transgression established?

There are social norms arrived at more or less by consensus which few would dispute. There are certainly examples of books that necessitate judicious editing if they are to continue being published. To return to the original title of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, for example, would make the book unsellable. (Conversely, it could be argued that concealing the author’s choice so as to prolong a book’s life unfairly deceives readers.)

In most circumstances, there is nothing wrong with trying to avoid offence. When teaching a text that students may find difficult, I am happy to provide a content warning. It is not obvious to me that forcing a student to encounter shocking material, perhaps material they find personally painful, is necessarily edifying or educational.

In fact, any social interaction requires us to calculate what it is permissible to say, and there are many remarks we refrain from making for fear they might hurt. In the case of this current controversy, however, attention must be paid to how and why the decisions about what constitutes unacceptable material are being made.

In an ordinary setting, a reader who finds a book disagreeable can put that book down, or not pick it up in the first place. An author might also consider such consequences when writing a book.

But if the moral authority to make these decisions on behalf of an audience is sourced from the imperative to keep a property such as James Bond or Willy Wonka marketable, the literature is degraded. While it may be in the interest of art to leave its audience in distress, it will never be in the interest of capital to upset a potential consumer.

To defend literature entirely on moral grounds is to cede important territory. Of course, literature can make you a better person; it can also make you a worse one. It is most likely to do neither. Of course, a reader can find a book morally offensive or morally instructive, but that might be only one thread in a complex array of responses.

Any argument that treats literature as fundamentally therapeutic, self-improving or society-improving, risks reducing literature to self-help – a genre that promises to improve its reader’s character. To approach literature as a machine for self-improvement is to share ground with the bad-faith arguments of those who justify their bigoted moralising by referring to the cultural achievements of Western civilisation.

The shared perspective is that the value of books depends on the readers they produce. To read broadly and deeply is a marvellous thing that can make us alert to the wide-ranging varieties of being. But no book will condemn or redeem us. This is because books do not exist without readers, and each reader is an unpredictable variable. While it is appealing to believe that a person’s aesthetic judgement is a reliable indication of their moral character, these traits are only tenuously connected.

So, if not on moral terms, how might we defend literature? We can liken it to conversation. A conversation can be morally nourishing or deadening. It is neither good nor bad. Conversations are surely responsible for some of history’s worst atrocities, along with its most wondrous achievements. And clearly we cannot stop having conversations, whether we wish to or not.

In this and other ways, reading resembles conversation. It is an ongoing exchange between reader and writer, one that will continue to change with the times, enlivening us for its own sake.The Conversation

Dan Dixon, Adjunct Lecturer, University of Sydney

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

How Joaquín Sorolla’s paintings shed light on social realities

A happy day, by Joaquín Sorolla. Museo Sorolla/Facebook
María Rodríguez VelascoUniversidad CEU San Pablo

Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) is one of the great masters of painting. He has gone down in history for the way he captured the light in his paintings and depicting the differences between Mediterranean and Cantabrian luminosity in moments of everyday life.

There has been much debate as to whether or not he belonged to the impressionist tendency, from which he always wanted to distance himself in order to create his own personal pictorial language. His chromatic richness and luminosity have often blurred his beginnings, when he was trying to make his way at the San Carlos School of Fine Arts in his native Valencia, where he entered in 1878.

And we forget that in his first steps he was a great renovator in his approach to social realism, the prevailing trend at the end of the 19th century.

Eighteenth-century academia was interested, in art, in themes created around heroes. A century later, these gave way to anonymous men and women living simple lives, depicted with great nobility and drama.

Sorolla was not left out of this trend. It was also relevant that these themes gradually became more widely accepted in official competitions, which the painter entered in search of an endorsement at the beginning of his career.

The culmination of these events came in 1895, when Sorolla won the first medal at the Spanish National Exhibition with And They Still Say Fish is Expensive!. Sorolla was convinced that “prizes do not make good painters”. But the fact is that he wrote a letter to his wife Clotilde on 15 June 1895 to inform her that he had won the coveted prize with this work.

The Hardness Of The Sea

Two men leaning over another unconscious man on the deck of a wooden boat.
And They Still Say Fish is Expensive!, by Joaquín Sorolla. Museo del Prado

Using a palette of earthy colours, the painter places before our eyes the hard life of the fishermen. The idyllic sea to which we are accustomed in his paintings gives way to social realism.

He was probably inspired by the literature of his friend Vicente Blasco Ibañez, who in his novel Flor de Mayo (1895) had recounted the accident of a group of sailors at sea and the death of the youngest, Pascualet, on the Valencian beach of Cabañal.

Sorolla’s brushstrokes also capture with profound humanity the helplessness of two experienced sailors before the figure of the injured young man. This is a theme that explains the expressive intensity of the faces, weathered by the sun, and the gestures of the hands worn by work. Sorolla, with a unique pictorial language, conveys the drama of the moment, exalting the simplicity of the anonymous fishermen. The vibration of his brushstrokes generates a veracity capable of competing with late 19th-century photography.

Before tackling the considerable dimensions of this painting (151.5 x 204 cm), Sorolla carried out two preparatory studies to study its scenography: Bodega de una embarcación. Valencia and Interior of a boat.

These works, painted on canvas and cardboard, recreate the interior of boats with their motifs almost in the manner of still-lifes, with a notable differentiation of textures: the roughness of the rope, the wood of the barrel and the shine of the fish scales, strongly illuminated by the light that enters through the boat’s hatch.

Seafaring Psychology

Painting of a man peeling potatoes seated on the deck of a boat.
Peeling Potatoes, by Joaquin Sorolla. Wikimedia Commons

The unity, technical mastery and psychological capture of his characters can be seen in other lesser-known paintings from Sorolla’s early period. In Peeling Potatoes (1891) a solitary fisherman prepares his daily sustenance. And in The Blessing of the Boat on Cabañal Beach (1895), the gaze of a young fisherman invites us to take part in the solemn ceremony.

The sober chromatic palette that colours the clothes in the foreground contrasts with the luminosity of the Mediterranean, where a barely sketched sailboat contrasts the harshness of the fishermen’s work with the joyful image of the sea in leisure time, a perception that would dominate in Sorolla’s later images.

Religious overtones also play a leading role in social realism in The Happy Day (1892). Here, with a gesture of great tenderness, a girl who has received her first communion goes to a fishermen’s hut to receive her blind and sick grandfather’s blessing.

In this case, too, Sorolla prepared his composition with preliminary drawings and sketches to submit it to the National Exhibition of 1892, declaring it to be one of his favourite works. It includes a view of the Mediterranean through the open door of the room. The artist uses the light shed inside the hut to make a study of chiaroscuro in the definition of the space.

Inequalities On Land

A woman sitting on a wooden bench in a train carriage, dressed in black, gazes at the ground under the watchful eye of a civil guard.
Another Marguerite!, by Joaquín Sorolla. Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum

The denunciation of social inequalities in this early period of Sorolla’s work goes beyond the maritime sphere. The harsh reality is also present in Another Marguerite! (1892), in which a woman travels from Valencia to Madrid handcuffed and guarded by the Benemérita for having killed her son.

Sorolla was inspired by an image he himself saw on a train journey to evoke the Marguerite of one of the best dramas of the 19th century: Goethe’s Fausto. In it, Marguerite, mad with love for the protagonist, is imprisoned for killing the illegitimate child she has with him.

A poor carriage is repeated as the spatial setting for White Slave Trade (1894), with four young prostitutes accompanied by their procuress, with a look of deep concern on her face.

In a train compartment, several women dressed as peasants rest under the gaze of an elderly lady who watches them, dressed in black.
White Slave Trade, by Joaquín Sorolla. Museo Sorolla

In these works Sorolla shows himself as a painter of the human being in his essence, and this provokes the special emotion of the spectator, which led to the recognition he enjoyed during his lifetime, becoming a point of reference in the Spanish culture of his time.

This admiration endures to this day, as the exhibitions held on the occasion of his centenary. Sorolla, in his tireless and versatile productivity, is the painter of light and colour, of the innocence of children, the beach, the family, pain, illness…. And he is also the painter of social realism, capturing with his brushes the precariousness of life to the point of “glorifying the pain of living of the most humble”.The Conversation

María Rodríguez Velasco, Profesora de Historia del Arte, Universidad CEU San Pablo

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

Discrimination, internment camps, then deportation: the end of the second world war did not mean peace for Japanese-Australians

Interned Japanese having lunch at their camp at Woolenook Bend, South Australia, 1944. State Library South Australia
Tets KimuraFlinders University

For most of the world’s population, the end of the second world war was a glorious day. This was not necessarily the case for Japanese-Australians, who faced repatriation to Japan after being interned by their home country, Australia.

Shortly after Japan entered the war in December 1941, 1,141 Japanese people living in Australia were seized and transferred to “enemy” camps – accounting for 98% of the total Japanese population in Australia. This was much higher than the proportion of Italians and Germans sent to Australian internment camps.

At the camps, such as those located in Loveday in South Australia, Tatura in Victoria and Hay and Cowra in New South Wales, Japanese internees were treated by Australian guards according to the Geneva Convention. But there was little contemporary Australian press coverage of these camps, and many Australians did not know about them – even if they lived locally.

In my newly published research, I have been exploring the forgotten experiences of Japanese-Australians during the second world war.

The Cowra Breakout

Headline: war prisoners escape from camp, wide search by troops, police
The Daily Telegraph report on the breakout. Trove

One of the only pieces of contemporary news reporting on the internment of Japanese people followed the Cowra breakout in August 1944, when captured prisoners of war tried to escape. Four Australians and 231 Japanese soldiers were killed.

Even after the war, most of the media coverage focused on these POWs rather than the interred Australian residents.

Japanese POWs followed the Senjinkun military code, by which “a soldier was expected not to survive to suffer the dishonour of capture”.

This was encouraged by cultural critiques, artists and poets, exemplified by a surviving poem by Sonosuke Sato. Japanese soldiers were brainwashed to believe the chance to die was an honour.

A poem about the Senjinkun military code. Digital Collection Database of 我樂多齋:鄭世璠文庫日治藝文期刊 (Wo Le Duo Zhai: Zheng Shi Fan Wen Ku Ri Zhi Yi Wen Qi Kan), Special Collections Center, National Chengchi University Libraries, Taiwan

Common to Australian media publications on this breakout is a tendency to treat the Japanese as “others”. A clear distinction exists between “us” and “them”. It was difficult for Australians to understand the motives of the fatal military decision to escape the camp where they had been treated humanely.

In contrast, media reports did not mention the experiences of the civilian Japanese living in Australia and therefore free from the Japanese military mindset.


In pre-war Australia, many Japanese-Australians were working as pearl divers. There were also a hundred or so Japanese elites working for banks and trading companies in Sydney and Melbourne.

Many Japanese had departed Australia in the 1930s when an unofficial trade war erupted between Australia and Japan. More left as the threat of war grew and Japanese residents faced increasing discrimination and fewer business opportunities.

Coffin, mother, children.
Funeral of Yasukichi Murakami at Tatura Camp, Victoria, June 1944. Libraries & Archives NT

Not every Australian with a Japanese background associated themselves with the community, or identified strongly with their heritage. But when Japan joined the war, Australia captured the “Japanese”, even those who had lived in the country for decades or were born in Australia.

They were joined in camps by Japanese people shipped from nearby allied territories such as New Zealand, the Pacific and Indonesia.

One of them was Cairns-born Samuel Nakashiba, raised as an Australian without Japanese language fluency. Nevertheless, he was captured and imprisoned as “Japanese”.

Nakashiba lodged his first application for release in June 1942. He was not released until May 1945, when the relevant authority found a job for him in an isolated place in Queensland.

Men sawing a tree
Samuel Nakashiba was interned at the Loveday Camp, pictured, in South Australia. Red Cross Audiovisual Archive

Yet Nakashiba was still lucky. He was one of only around 200 Japanese permitted to remain in Australia after the war. The rest were deported to Japan, even those with no or few ties to the country.

Repatriation To Japan

Hikotaro Wada, a laundryman, was arrested in Kalgoorlie in December 1941.

Arriving in Australia in 1891 when he was 21, he briefly visited Japan in the 1920s, when he discovered he had no family left there and immediately came back.

He applied for release during the war but was unsuccessful. He was sent back to Japan in 1946 after having lived in Australia for 50 years. His fate after repatriation is unknown.

Shigeru Yamaguchi, born in Broome, was listed as “Australian-born Japanese” in the official camp record. He stayed in the camp until the end of war and was then repatriated to Japan.

Prior to his arrest in January 1942, Yamaguchi had made a life as the owner of a vegetable garden in Geraldton, Western Australia. After the war, a major at Loveday camp “advised” him to leave for Japan, believing his prospects would be better there.

In 1947, while serving as an interpreter for the Allied Forces in Tokyo, Yamaguchi requested a re-entry permit to Australia. He was not granted permission to return. His fate after 1947 is also unknown.

In the 1950s, some Japanese divers who had worked in pre-war Broome returned to Australia. As a farmer, Yamaguchi was unlikely to have been in this party. My research on Yamaguchi ended here; Japan has highly restrictive privacy laws that block access to official individual records by anyone other than direct offspring.

The American Redress Movement

During the United States’ involvement in the war, 112,000 “Japanese” were placed in internment camps. Some chose to move to Japan after the ill treatment by the US government.

Japanese-Americans began the redress movement in the 1960s. President Ronald Reagan signed an act to grant reparations for the internment of Japanese-Americans in 1988. In 1991, President George Bush senior stated: “The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated.”

Men women and children.
Japanese internees in Tatura, Victoria, lining up for a dental parade 1943. Australian War Memorial

By contrast, in Australia no apology has been made to the “Japanese” people who were captured or repatriated, even when Australia was their home.

In the same way stories of diggers and soldiers are Australian stories, experiences of the Japanese-Australians who were unfairly labelled as enemy aliens at our own internment camps should also be regarded as Australian stories.

Have we listened to their stories? And can we say sorry?The Conversation

Tets Kimura, Adjunct Lecturer, Creative Arts, Flinders University

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

Vale Mary-Louise McLaws: Researcher And Global Advocate In Infectious Diseases And Public Health

UNSW Sydney has paid tribute to Professor Emeritus Mary-Louise McLaws AO, who worked tirelessly as a world-leading epidemiologist with expertise in hospital infection and infectious diseases control. She played a hugely influential role in spearheading major widespread improvements in infection control, helping save innumerable lives over the last 30-plus years.  

In her most recent position as Professor of Epidemiology, Healthcare Infection and Infectious Diseases Control in UNSW Medicine & Health, Prof. McLaws became a household name during the COVID-19 pandemic. She provided considered, calm and life-saving information through countless media interviews for television, radio and newspapers in Australia and across the globe. Viewers became accustomed to seeing her perfectly symmetrical bookcase against a bright blue wall and her stylish eyewear on the evening news. Her expertise and advice were also sought by the world’s leading health organisations.

UNSW Chancellor David Gonski AC said, “We mourn the passing of a UNSW academic who was locally grown and became a superstar while remaining tenacious, humble, hardworking and caring. We are grateful for all she did for UNSW and Australia, she will not be forgotten”.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull expressed his admiration for Prof. McLaws.

“You spoke truth, you took on the pandemic of disinformation, you helped keep us safe, for that we owe you so much.”

UNSW Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Attila Brungs said Prof. McLaws was outstanding in her contribution to public health in Australia and globally.

“Her wealth of knowledge and experience was invaluable during the recent COVID-19 pandemic when she tirelessly responded to media enquiries and became such a trusted voice.

“She was also a highly valued member of the UNSW community and will be deeply missed by her students and colleagues.”

Professor Vlado Perkovic, Dean of UNSW Medicine & Health and Acting Provost – Faculties, said Prof. McLaws was a formidable force and will be dearly missed.

“Her 36 years in UNSW Medicine & Health were marked by her ground-breaking research, unwavering dedication and a relentless pursuit of improvements in infection control helping save innumerable lives. While the world got to know her as a scientific and informed expert, here at UNSW, we were so fortunate to call her a colleague, mentor and educator. I thank her for her enormous achievements and contributions, and extend my deepest condolences to her family, friends and community.”

Mary-Louise McLaws at UNSW
In mid-December 2022, Prof. McLaws joined more than 100 guests who gathered at UNSW to celebrate her lifetime of achievements and contributions.

Nine inspiring speakers, including Mr Turnbull, Dr Kerry Chant AO, NSW’s Chief Health Officer and Deputy Secretary, Population and Public Health, UNSW’s Chancellor and video messages from colleagues around the world, including from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Israel, as well as some of her PhD students, spoke about her pioneering infection control expertise.

Mr Gonski announced the UNSW Mary-Louise McLaws AO Clinical Education Rooms, a teaching and education space in UNSW’s eastern extension of the new Prince of Wales Acute Services Building. Prof. McLaws was thrilled with the space, chosen for its proximity to the hospital’s new infectious disease unit.

UNSW announced the Mary-Louise McLaws AO Research Student Support Award to help students achieve a PhD in the School of Population Health. In recognition of her distinguished service to academic work and the development of the University, Mr Gonski also announced the award of Professor Emeritus to Prof. McLaws.

Joining UNSW during her PhD candidature in the mid-80s, Prof. McLaws continued as an academic in the faculty of Medicine & Health. She attributed much of her drive and success to her PhD supervisor and mentor, the late Professor David Cooper AC. He was in the process of setting up his research laboratory when the two met in 1986 and he was quick to recognise her potential. Prof. Cooper invited Prof. McLaws to work for him.

Prof. McLaws’s motivation to enrich the UNSW community and society at large appeared to be inexhaustible. Her contributions to teaching in the School of Population Health showed great dedication, energy and drive towards her students. She excelled in her role as a mentor and advisor. Prof. McLaws proudly supported PhD candidates throughout her career and focused on infection control in many countries including Cambodia, China, Bangladesh, Mali, Indonesia, Iran, Vietnam, Taiwan and Turkey.

One of Prof. McLaws’s former PhD students Dr Kathy Dempsey now works at NSW Health Clinical Excellence Commission.

“Words can’t express the loss, yet words were her wisdom. She was an amazing, accomplished and giving woman who has left a mark on so many. Mary-Louise was inspirational, setting new boundaries for infection prevention and control," Dr Dempsey said.

“It is almost unbelievable she is gone, but she will not be forgotten. Our collective hearts go out to all who knew her and, of course, to her loving family.”
Another former PhD student Dr Susan Jain, also at NSW Health Clinical Excellence Commission, said her life fundamentally changed after meeting Prof. McLaws.

“The concepts she taught enriched my understanding, while also allowing for a deeper appreciation of who I am. I have been inspired by her enthusiasm for teaching, and her inclusivity of different ethnicities and cultures that allows for meaningful connection,” Dr Jain said.

“I find myself trying to follow in her footsteps, adopting her manner of teaching to accommodate diverse learning styles, pioneering evidence generation and its dissemination. I know I won’t be able to compare to her and her legacy, wisdom and knowledge, however, I will try my best to be amazing and creative as she asked on a recent catch-up.”

During her time at UNSW Medicine & Health, Prof. McLaws balanced her university commitments with travelling around the world, advising governments, health professionals and NGOs. She was an influential member of the World Health Organization (WHO) Health Emergencies Program Experts Advisory Panel for Infection Prevention and Control Preparedness, Readiness and Response to COVID-19 and member of the NSW Clinical Excellence Commission COVID Infection Prevention and Control taskforce. She was a focal point for WHO at UNSW.

Prof. McLaws wrote 180 scientific papers, advancing understanding, debate and the methods of research on infection control in Australia. She was on the boards of numerous associations and professional publications and, in 2017, she became a member of the UNSW Academic Board.

In June 2022, Prof. McLaws was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in the General Division “for distinguished service to medical research, particularly to epidemiology and infection prevention, to tertiary education, and to health administration” in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Prof. McLaws was diagnosed with brain cancer in January 2022. She died on 12 August, aged 70.

9 signs you have inflammation in your body. Could an anti-inflammatory diet help?

Lauren BallThe University of Queensland and Emily BurchSouthern Cross University

There is a lot of health buzz around the term “inflammation” right now. From new scientific discoveries to celebrities and social media influencers, it seems like everyone is talking about this important bodily process and its potential impact on our health.

Inflammaging” is a specific term you may also have seen. It’s an age-related increase in persistent, low-grade inflammation in blood and tissue, which is a strong risk factor for many conditions and diseases.

So, can an anti-inflammatory diet help reduce inflammation? Let’s take a look.

What Is Inflammation?

When our body becomes injured or encounters an infection, it activates defence mechanisms to protect itself. It does this by instructing our cells to fight off the invader. This fighting process causes inflammation, which often presents as swelling, redness and pain.

In the short-term, inflammation is a sign your body is healing, whether from a grazed knee or a cold.

If inflammation persists for a longer time it’s called “chronic”. That can indicate a health problem such as arthritisheart diseasediabetesdementia or other autoimmune disorders.

The signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation may be present from several months to years and include:

  1. persistent pain
  2. chronic fatigue or insomnia
  3. joint stiffness
  4. skin problems
  5. elevated blood markers (such as C-reactive protein)
  6. gastrointestinal issues (constipation, diarrhoea, acid reflux)
  7. depression, anxiety and mood disorders
  8. unintended weight gain or loss
  9. frequent colds or flu.

What Role Does Diet Play?

The relationship between food and inflammation is well recognised. Overall, some food components may activate the immune system by producing pro-inflammatory cytokines (small proteins important in cell signaling) or reducing the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines.

A “pro-inflammatory diet” may increase inflammation in the body over the long term. Such diets are usually low in fresh produce like fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, and high in commercially baked goods, fried foods, added sugars and red and processed meats.

In contrast, an “anti-inflammatory” diet is associated with less inflammation in the body. There is no single anti-inflammatory diet. Two well-recognised, evidence-backed examples are the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.

Anti-inflammatory diets typically include the following elements:

1. high in antioxidants. These compounds help the body fight free radicals or unstable atoms, that in high quantities are linked to illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. The best way to consume antioxidants is by eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Research shows frozen, dried and canned fruits and vegetables can be just as good as fresh

2. high in “healthy”, unsaturated fatty acids. Monounsaturated fats and omega-3-fatty acids are found in fish (sardines, mackerel, salmon and tuna), seeds, nuts, and plant-based oils (olive oil and flaxseed oil)

3. high in fibre and prebiotics. Carrots, cauliflower, broccoli and leafy greens are good sources of fibre. Prebiotics promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in our intestines and can come from onions, leeks, asparagus, garlic, bananas, lentils and legumes

4. low in processed foods. These contain refined carbohydrates (pastries, pies, sugar-sweetened beverages, deep-fried foods and processed meats).

Woman cuts tomato at bench
You can’t really go wrong by including more fruit and vegetables in your diet. Pexels

Rheumatoid Arthritis, Dementia, Depression

There is mixed evidence for the role of anti-inflammatory diets in rheumatoid arthritis pain management. A recent 2021 systematic review (where researchers carefully group and examine the available evidence on a topic) found eating an anti-inflammatory diet likely leads to significantly lower pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis when compared with other diets.

However, the 12 studies included in the review had a high risk of bias – likely because people knew they were eating healthy foods – so the confidence in the evidence was low.

Inflammation is strongly implicated in the development of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia and evidence suggests anti-inflammatory diets might help to protect the brain.

2016 review showed an anti-inflammatory diet may be protective against cognitive impairment and dementia, but that further large randomised controlled trials are needed. A 2021 study followed 1,059 people for three years and observed their diet. They reported those with a greater pro-inflammatory diet had an increased risk of developing dementia.

Inflammation has also been linked with mental health, with people eating a pro-inflammatory diet reporting more symptoms of depression. Diet is the fundamental element of lifestyle approaches to managing anxiety and mental health.

More broadly, a 2021 review paper examined recent research related to anti-inflammatory diets and their effect on reducing inflammation associated with ageing. It found compounds commonly found in anti-inflammatory diets could help alleviate the inflammatory process derived from diseases and unhealthy diets.

What About Turmeric?

A favourite on social media and vitamin shelves, turmeric is promoted as having anti-inflammatory benefits. These are linked to a specific compound called curcumin, which gives turmeric its distinctive yellow colour.

Bowl of yellow turmeric spice and roots on bench
Turmeric – and the curcumin it contains – is often touted as anti-inflammatory. Shutterstock

Research suggests curcumin might act as an anti-inflammatory agent in the body but high-quality clinical trials in humans are lacking. Most of the existing studies have been conducted in lab settings using cells or in animals. So it’s unclear how much curcumin is needed to see anti-inflammatory benefits or how well we absorb it.

Overall, adding turmeric to your food may provide your body with some health benefits, but don’t rely on it to prevent or treat disease on its own.

Safe Eating

Inflammation is a major factor in the link between diet and many health conditions.

Eating an anti-inflammatory diet is considered safe, likely to support health and to prevent future chronic conditions. If you are looking for tailored dietary advice or an anti-inflammatory meal plan, it’s best to speak with an accredited practising dietitian.The Conversation

Lauren Ball, Professor of Community Health and Wellbeing, The University of Queensland and Emily Burch, Dietitian, Researcher & Lecturer, Southern Cross University

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

Surf group found safe after days at sea in Indonesia. A sea survival expert on what it takes to survive being lost at sea

Mike TiptonUniversity of Portsmouth

News that four Australians and two Indonesian crew members have been found alive after going missing on Sunday from a boat trip off the coast of Aceh in Indonesia has made headlines around the world.

The group, which was on a surfing trip, was found “bobbing around on their surfboards”, according to media reports quoting the father of one of the Australian surfers.

Our research in the Extreme Environments Laboratory at the University of Portsmouth focuses on how humans survive and respond to adverse environments.

So what does it take to survive such gruelling conditions?

A Hierarchy Of Survival

There is an established hierarchy of survival.

Without air you only survive for a matter of minutes. Without sufficient warmth you only survive hours. Without sufficient drinking water you can survive up to six or seven days in a maritime environment. Without food you can survive 40–60 days.

So, those who survive more than a few hours are almost always in warm air or water.

Because you can eventually cool even in water that is relatively warm, you are better off out of the water than in it. Being on top of a surfboard is a step in the right direction.

Dealing With Dehydration

When the water and air are warm, the primary problem is dehydration.

Death due to dehydration occurs when you lose about 15–20% of your body weight in fluid.

Even at 5% dehydration you can get headaches, become irritable and feel lightheaded. At 10% you may be dizzy, feel faint, have a rapid pulse and rapid shallow breathing. Thereafter, hallucinations and delirium are common.

To survive longer than six or seven days, when dehydration is your major threat, you must do two important things.

First, try to find fresh water. The absolute minimum you need to find is 110–220 millilitres a day, although 400mL per day is safer.

If you were prepared, you may have taken water with you as you embarked on your survival voyage.

If you are lucky, it might rain and you may be able to collect some rainwater in suitable, uncontaminated containers.

Surfers are unlikely to have devices such as a solar still or a reverse osmosis pump available to purify water for safe drinking. But other sources of useful fluids include fish “lymph” squeezed from the flesh of fish. This has about the same salt concentration as human body fluid (0.9%), so is only helpful if you are very dehydrated.

Fish eyes, spinal fluid and turtle blood can also help when desperate.

What you must not do, despite what becomes an overwhelming urge, is drink the seawater that surrounds you.

Seawater has an average salt concentration of 3.5%, so drinking it adds to the salt load of the body.

You should also not drink urine in this situation, because it will also contribute to salt building up in your body.

Surfers float around in the ocean
Bobbing around on a surf board is better than paddling in it and getting hot and sweaty. Shutterstock

Conserving Fluids

The second important factor is to conserve body fluid.

The body of a 75kg person contains nearly 50 litres of water, and in a survival situation where dehydration is your greatest threat, conserving this water is crucial.

The body helps. With a body fluid loss of 1% of body weight and consequent decrease in blood volume and increase in salt concentration, the body increases the production of the anti-diuretic hormone that lowers urine production by the kidneys.

You can provoke this response by drinking nothing in the first 24 hours of a survival voyage.

At the same time, it is important to do as little as possible. Try to minimise heat production by the body, which will mean less sweating.

So “bobbing around” on a surfboard is better than paddling it and getting hot and sweaty.

Normally, you would seek or make shade on your survival craft and rest during the hottest parts of the day. This is not possible on a surfboard, but periodic wetting from waves may keep you cool and help reduce sunburn (which can impair your ability to control your body temperature) by cooling the skin and covering it periodically.

The longer-term challenge is starvation – but this is a less pressing problem than dehydration.

aerial view of beach coast
Waters off Aceh Province, Indonesia. Unsplash

Staying Calm In A Crisis

Survival at sea depends on knowing how your body works and what it needs, and then doing the right things.

Experience helps. Being used to the sea means you remain more relaxed in a crisis and are less likely to become seasick (which can accelerate dehydration, impair body temperature regulation and destroy morale).

Being with others helps morale and decision-making. Young and fit people, such as many surfers, are less likely to have other health-related problems that may compromise their survival prospects. The Conversation

Mike Tipton, Professor of Human and Applied Physiology, University of Portsmouth

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

1 in 6 women are diagnosed with gestational diabetes. But this diagnosis may not benefit them or their babies

Paul GlasziouBond University and Jenny DoustThe University of Queensland

When Sophie was pregnant with her first baby, she had an oral glucose tolerance blood test. A few days later, the hospital phoned telling her she had gestational diabetes.

Despite having only a slightly raised glucose (blood sugar) level, Sophie describes being diagnosed as affecting her pregnancy tremendously. She tested her blood glucose levels four times a day, kept food diaries and had extra appointments with doctors and dietitians.

She was advised to have an induction because of the risk of having a large baby. At 39 weeks her son was born, weighing a very average 3.5kg. But he was separated from Sophie for four hours so his glucose levels could be monitored.

Sophie is not alone. About one in six pregnant women in Australia are now diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

That was not always so. New criteria were developed in 2010 which dropped an initial screening test and lowered the diagnostic set-points. Gestational diabetes diagnoses have since more than doubled.

Gestational diabetes rates more than doubled after the threshold changed. AIHWAuthor provided

But recent studies cast doubt on the ways we diagnose and manage gestational diabetes, especially for women like Sophie with only mildly elevated glucose. Here’s what’s wrong with gestational diabetes screening.

The Glucose Test Is Unreliable

The test used to diagnose gestational diabetes – the oral glucose tolerance test – has poor reproducibility. This means subsequent tests may give a different result.

In a recent Australian trial of earlier testing in pregnancy, one-third of the women initially classified as having gestational diabetes (but neither told nor treated) did not have gestational diabetes when retested later in pregnancy. That is a problem.

Usually when a test has poor reproducibility – for example, blood pressure or cholesterol – we repeat the test to confirm before making a diagnosis.

Much of the increase in the incidence of gestational diabetes after the introduction of new diagnostic criteria was due to the switch from using two tests to only using a single test for diagnosis.

Pregnant woman cooks dinner with her child
Women with only mildly elevated glucose levels are being diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Shutterstock

The Thresholds Are Too Low

Despite little evidence of benefit for either women or babies, the current Australian criteria diagnose women with only mildly abnormal results as having “gestational diabetes”.

Recent studies have shown this doesn’t benefit women and may cause harms. A New Zealand trial of more than 4,000 women randomly assigned women to be assessed based on the current Australian thresholds or to higher threshold levels (similar to the pre-2010 criteria).

The trial found no additional benefit from using the current low threshold levels, with overall no difference in the proportion of infants born large for gestational age.

However, the trial found several harms, including more neonatal hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar in newborns), induction of labour, use of diabetic medications including insulin injections, and use of health services.

The study authors also looked at the subgroup of women who were diagnosed with glucose levels between the higher and lower thresholds. In this subgroup, there was some reduction in large babies, and in shoulder problems at delivery.

But there was also an increase in small babies. This is of concern because being small for gestational age can also have consequences for babies, including long-term health consequences.

NEJMAuthor provided

Testing Too Early

Some centres have begun testing women at higher risk of gestational diabetes earlier in the pregnancy (between 12 and 20 weeks).

However, a recent trial showed no clear benefit compared with testing at the usual 24–28 weeks: possibly fewer large babies, but again matched by more small babies.

There was a reduction in transient “respiratory distress” – needing extra oxygen for a few hours – but not in serious clinical events.

Impact On Women With Gestational Diabetes

For women diagnosed using the higher glucose thresholds, dietary advice, glucose monitoring and, where necessary, insulin therapy has been shown to reduce complications during delivery and the post-natal period.

However, current models of care can also cause harm. Women with gestational diabetes are often denied their preferred model of care – for example, midwifery continuity of carer. In rural areas, they may have to transfer to a larger hospital, requiring longer travel to antenatal visits and moving to a larger centre for their birth – away from their families and support networks for several weeks.

Women say the diagnosis often dominates their antenatal care and their whole experience of pregnancy, reducing time for other issues or concerns.

Women from culturally and linguistically diverse communities find it difficult to reconcile the advice given about diet and exercise with their own cultural practices and beliefs about pregnancy.

Some women with gestational diabetes become extremely anxious about their eating and undertake extensive calorie restrictions or disordered eating habits.

Woman stands in garden looking at her pregnant belly
Some pregnant women become extremely anxious after being diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Unsplash/Jordan Bauer

Time To Reassess The Advice

Recent evidence from both randomised controlled trials and from qualitative studies with women diagnosed with gestational diabetes suggest we need to reassess how we currently diagnose and manage gestational diabetes, particularly for women with only slightly elevated levels.

It is time for a review to consider all the problems described above. This review should include the views of all those impacted by these decisions: women in childbearing years, and the GPs, dietitians, diabetes educators, midwives and obstetricians who care for them.

This article was co-authored by maternity services consumer advocate Leah Hardiman.The Conversation

Paul Glasziou, Professor of Medicine, Bond University and Jenny Doust, Clinical Professorial Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

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

3D-Printed Vegan Seafood Could Someday Be What's For Dinner

August 14, 2023
In the refrigerated grocery store aisle, meat alternatives greatly outnumber plant-based seafoods. But more mock seafood options are needed because of unsustainable fishing and aquaculture practices, which can deplete the supply and harm the environment. Today, researchers present a new approach for creating desirable vegan seafood mimics that taste good, while maintaining the healthful profile of real fish. They 3D-printed an ink made from microalgae protein and mung bean protein, and their proof-of-concept calamari rings can even be air-fried for a quick, tasty snack.

The researchers will present their results at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

"I think it's imminent that the seafood supply could be very limited in the future," adds Poornima Vijayan, a graduate student who is presenting the work at the meeting. "We need to be prepared from an alternative protein point of view, especially here in Singapore, where over 90% of the fish is imported."

People around the world eat a lot of seafood, but the oceans are not an infinite resource. Overfishing has depleted many wild fish populations. That lack of sustainability, combined with heavy-metal and microplastic contamination, as well as ethical concerns, have pushed some consumers toward plant-based mimics. But such alternatives are still difficult for seafood lovers to find.

While some mock seafood products -- such as imitation crabmeat made from minced and reshaped pollock or other white fish -- are already on the market, making mimics from plants has been a challenge. It's hard to achieve the nutritional content, unique textures and mild flavours of cooked fish meat using vegetables or fungi. "Plant-based seafood mimics are out there, but the ingredients don't usually include protein. We wanted to make protein-based products that are nutritionally equivalent to or better than real seafood and address food sustainability," says Dejian Huang, Ph.D., the principal investigator of this research.

Recently, Huang and his research group at the National University of Singapore used legume protein to develop better seafood mimics. And they replicated the flakiness and mouth feel of real fish by 3D printing a protein-based ink with a food-grade 3D printer. Depositing the edible ink layer by layer created different textures, some fatty and smooth and others fibrous and chewy, in a single product.

"We printed salmon filets with protein from red lentils because of the protein's colour, and we've printed shrimp," says Huang. "Now, we wanted to print something else interesting with the potential for commercialization -- calamari rings."

In this work, the team tested two sustainable, high-protein plant sources: microalgae and mung beans. Some microalgae already have a "fishy" taste, which Vijayan says made them a good candidate to use in the squid-ring analogue. And mung bean protein is an underutilized waste product from manufacturing starch noodles, also called cellophane or glass noodles, which are a popular ingredient in many Asian dishes.
The researchers extracted microalgae and legume proteins in the lab and combined them with plant-based oils containing omega-3 fatty acids. In the end, the nutritional profile of the high-protein vegan paste was similar to that of calamari rings from squid. Then, the paste was subjected to temperature changes, allowing it to be easily squeezed out of a 3D printer's nozzles and layered into rings. Finally, the team assessed the finished rings' taste, smell and appearance.

3D printing gave the seafood mimic structure and texture, but consumers will still want to bake, fry or sauté it, just like they do with real squid, says Huang. So, in an initial cooking test, Vijayan air-fried some of the samples as they would be prepared for a snack. The researchers tried the plant-based calamari, remarking on their acceptable taste and promising texture properties.

Before conducting consumer tests, though, Vijayan wants to optimize the product. "The goal is to get the same texture and elastic properties as the calamari rings that are commercially available," she says. "I'm still seeing how the composition impacts the product's elasticity and the final sensory properties."

And while this plant-based mimic might provide a seafood fix for people with allergies to molluscs, which includes squid, Huang isn't sure whether people could be sensitive to its ingredients. "I don't think that there are many known cases of allergies to microalgae proteins or mung bean proteins. But we don't know yet because it's still a new combination," he says.

In the near future, the team plans to develop many prototypes and assess how easily they can be developed for large-scale food manufacturing. Huang expects that in the next few years these calamari-like products could be available in fine-dining restaurants or specialty outlets. "I think people will like our plant-based mimic. From a novelty perspective, it has that seafood taste but comes from only sustainable plant-based sources," concludes Vijayan.

Air-frying a 3D-printed plant-based calamari ring resulted in a quick, tasty snack. Photo: Poornima Vijayan

Arterial Stiffness May Cause And Worsen Heart Damage Among Adolescents By Increasing Blood Pressure And Insulin Resistance

August 15, 2023
Arterial stiffness is a novel cause of premature heart damage among adolescents, according to a new follow-up study. The study was conducted in collaboration between Texas Children's Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine in the US, the University of Bristol in the UK, the University of Exeter in the UK, and the University of Eastern Finland, and the results were published in Atherosclerosis.

Left ventricular hypertrophy and left diastolic dysfunction are measures of structural and functional heart damage, which have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular-related death in adults. These cardiac measures are also used in the paediatric population as indicators of premature heart damage.

Arterial stiffness estimated from carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity has been discovered as a novel cause of increased blood pressure, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome in adolescents and young adults. It was also recently shown that increased blood pressure in adolescence may cause premature heart damage, but it is not known whether arterial stiffness could independently cause structural and functional damage to the heart.

The current study was conducted among 1,856 adolescents of whom 1,011 were female. The adolescents were 17 years old at baseline, and they were followed up for 7 years until young adulthood at age 24 years. Arterial stiffness, carotid intima-media thickness, and evidence of heart damage were assessed at baseline and follow-up. Signs of heart structure damage are left ventricular hypertrophy and high relative wall thickness, whereas signs of heart function damage are left ventricular diastolic dysfunction and increased left ventricular filling pressure.

During the 7-year follow-up period, the prevalence of heart structural damage among adolescents doubled. With extensive control for fat mass, muscle mass, glucose, insulin, blood pressure, lipids, smoking status, sedentary time, physical activity, socio-economic status, and family history of cardiovascular disease, and using adults' cut points for diagnosing heart damage, it was observed that adolescents in the highest tertile category of arterial stiffness and carotid intima-media thickness had a 23 -- 27% increased risk of progressively worsening structural heart damage.

Only arterial stiffness appears to independently cause both structural and functional heart damage, whereas increased carotid wall thickness does not seem to have a causal role. Increased carotid wall thickness is an early indicator of atherosclerosis, whereas increased arterial stiffness describes arteriosclerosis. The study further reported that arterial stiffness caused heart damage by increasing blood pressure and insulin resistance. The increase in blood pressure explained 34% of the heart damage caused by arterial stiffness. Moreover, insulin resistance explained 15% of the heart damage caused by arterial stiffness.

"We are seeing for the first time that arterial stiffness is a novel cause of several diseases such as hypertension, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and heart damage in the young population. Among adults, arterial stiffness is currently being established as a cause of type 2 diabetes. We discovered that approximately 50% of the deleterious role of arterial stiffness in causing heart damage is enhanced by the mechanism of increased blood pressure and insulin resistance. Thus, preventing and lowering blood pressure and insulin resistance may potentially diminish the negative impact of arterial stiffness on the heart, by up to half," says Andrew Agbaje, a physician and clinical epidemiologist at the University of Eastern Finland.

"Experimental and clinical intervention studies are urgently needed on comprehensive approaches to treating and reversing arterial stiffness from adolescence. At least, targeting blood pressure and insulin resistance leaves the problem half-solved," Agbaje continues.

Dr Agbaje's research group (urFIT-child) is supported by research grants from Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation, the Finnish Cultural Foundation Central Fund, the Finnish Cultural Foundation North Savo Regional Fund, the Orion Research Foundation, the Aarne Koskelo Foundation, the Antti and Tyyne Soininen Foundation, the Paulo Foundation, the Yrjö Jahnsson Foundation, the Paavo Nurmi Foundation, the Finnish Foundation for Cardiovascular Research, Ida Montin Foundation, Eino Räsänen Fund, Matti and Vappu Maukonen Fund, and the Foundation for Paediatric Research.

Andrew O. Agbaje, Justin P. Zachariah, Tomi-Pekka Tuomainen. Arterial stiffness but not carotid intima-media thickness progression precedes premature structural and functional cardiac damage in youth: A 7-year temporal and mediation longitudinal study. Atherosclerosis, 2023; 380: 117197 DOI: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2023.117197

China's Oldest Water Pipes Were A Communal Effort

August 14, 2023
A system of ancient ceramic water pipes, the oldest ever unearthed in China, shows that neolithic people were capable of complex engineering feats without the need for a centralised state authority, finds a new study by UCL researchers.

In a study published in Nature Water, the archaeological team describe a network of ceramic water pipes and drainage ditches at the Chinese walled site of Pingliangtai dating back 4,000 years to a time known as the Longshan period. The network shows cooperation amongst the community to build and maintain the drainage system, though no evidence of a centralised power or authority.

Dr Yijie Zhuang (UCL Institute of Archaeology), senior and corresponding author on the paper, said: "The discovery of this ceramic water pipe network is remarkable because the people of Pingliangtai were able to build and maintain this advanced water management system with stone age tools and without the organisation of a central power structure. This system would have required a significant level of community-wide planning and coordination, and it was all done communally."

The ceramic water pipes make up a drainage system which is the oldest complete system ever discovered in China. Made by interconnecting individual segments, the water pipes run along roads and walls to divert rainwater and show an advanced level of central planning at the neolithic site.

What's surprising to researchers is that the settlement of Pingliangtai shows little evidence of social hierarchy. Its houses were uniformly small and show no signs of social stratification or significant inequality amongst the population. Excavations at the town's cemetery likewise found no evidence of a social hierarchy in burials, a marked difference from excavations at other nearby towns of the same era.

But, despite the apparent lack of a centralised authority, the town's population came together and undertook the careful coordination needed to produce the ceramic pipes, plan their layout, install and maintain them, a project which likely took a great deal of effort from much of the community.

The level of complexity associated with these pipes refutes an earlier understanding in archaeological fields that holds that only a centralised state power with governing elites would be able to muster the organisation and resources to build a complex water management system. While other ancient societies with advanced water systems tended to have a stronger, more centralised governance, or even despotism, Pingliangtai demonstrates that was not always needed, and more egalitarian and communal societies were capable of these kinds of engineering feats as well.
Co-author Dr Hai Zhang of Peking University said: "Pingliangtai is an extraordinary site. The network of water pipes shows an advanced understanding of engineering and hydrology that was previously only thought possible in more hierarchical societies."

Pingliangtai is located in what is now the Huaiyang District of Zhoukou City in central China. During neolithic times, the town was home to about 500 people with protective earthen walls and a surrounding moat. Situated on the Upper Huai River Plain on the vast Huanghuaihai Plain, the area's climate 4,000 years ago was marked by big seasonal climate shifts, where summer monsoons would commonly dump half a metre of rain on the region monthly.

Managing these deluges was important to prevent floodwaters from overwhelming the region's communities. To help mitigate the excessive rainwater during the rainy seasons, the people of Pingliangtai built and operated a two-tier drainage system that was unlike any other seen at the time. They built simple but coordinated lines of drainage ditches that ran parallel to their rows of houses in order to divert water from the residential area to a series of ceramic water pipes that carried the water into the surrounding moat, and away from the village.

These ceramic water pipes represented an advanced level of technology for the time. While there was some variety in decoration and styles, each pipe segment was about 20 to 30 centimetres in diameter and about 30 to 40 centimetres long. Numerous segments were slotted into each other to transport water over long distances.

Researchers cannot say specifically how the people of Pingliangtai organised and divided the labour amongst themselves to build and maintain this type of infrastructure. This kind of communal coordination would also have been necessary to build the earthen walls and moat surrounding the village as well.

The Pingliangtai drainage system is unique from water systems elsewhere in the world at the time. Its purpose to drain rain and flood water from monsoons differs from other neolithic systems in the world, many of which were used for sewerage water drainage or other purposes.

Funding was provided by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Newton Advanced Fellowship of the British Academy.

Chunxia Li, Yanpeng Cao, Chi Zhang, Ling Qin, Zhenhua Deng, Yan Chen, Shuzheng Zhu, Wei Li, Junping Yuan, Hai Zhang, Yijie Zhuang. Earliest ceramic drainage system and the formation of hydro-sociality in monsoonal East Asia. Nature Water, 2023; DOI: 10.1038/s44221-023-00114-4

A segment of ceramic water pipe excavated from Pingliangtai, now displayed at Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in Huaiyang. Credit: Yanpeng Cao

We can and should keep unemployment below 4%, says our survey of top economists

Peter MartinCrawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Australia’s leading economists believe Australia can sustain an unemployment rate as low as 3.75% – much lower than the latest Reserve Bank estimate of 4.25% and the Treasury’s latest estimate of 4.5%.

This finding, in an Economic Society of Australia poll of 51 leading economists selected by their peers, comes ahead of next month’s release of a government employment white paper, and an expected direction from Treasurer Jim Chalmers that the Reserve Bank quantify its official employment target.

Asked what unemployment rate was most consistent with “full employment” under present policy settings, the 46 respondents who were prepared to pick a number or range picked an average rate of 3.75%.

The median (middle) response was higher, but still below official estimates – an unemployment rate of 4%.

Significantly, only two of the economists surveyed picked an unemployment rate of 5% or higher, which is where Australia’s unemployment rate has been for most of the past five decades.

The 3.75% average implies either that the Reserve Bank and government have lacked ambition on employment for much of the past half-century, or that the sustainable unemployment rate has fallen.

Australia’s unemployment rate dived to 3.5% in mid-2022 and has remained close to that long-term low since.

The survey result suggests the government can lock in the present historic low and need not – and should not – allow unemployment to climb too far from its present rate.

Many of the experts surveyed questioned the idea of a “magic number” or non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (NAIRU) used by the Treasury and the Reserve Bank as a guide to how low unemployment can go without feeding inflation.

Former OECD official Adrian Blundell-Wignall said the concept was not helpful “even in the short run, and certainly not the long run” because NAIRU kept changing depending on what else was going on in the domestic and global economy.

Any rate of unemployment would have a different implication for inflation depending on what the government was doing with tax and spending policy.

Geopolitical events and climate change have probably pushed up the rate of inflation to be expected from any given domestic unemployment rate.

3.5% Unemployment, Yet Falling Inflation

Craig Emerson, a former minister in the Rudd and Gillard governments, said NAIRU was best described as the lowest unemployment rate consistent with inflation not taking off. Given Australia’s inflation rate is now coming down, NAIRU is clearly below the present unemployment rate of 3.5%, he argued.

The University of Queensland’s John Quiggin said Australia can be considered to have full employment when the number of job vacancies matches the number of unemployed people. This is the case at present, suggesting “full employment” means an unemployment rate of 3.5%.

Alison Preston from the University of Western Australia said industrial relations changes have given workers much less power to obtain higher wages than before, suggesting the “non-inflation accelerating rate of unemployment” was either lower than before or an irrelevant concept.

Curtin University’s Harry Bloch says there will always be a mismatch between the jobs on offer and the skills available – an academic can’t do the work of a plumber, or vice versa, for instance. But even so, he says it ought to be possible to get unemployment down to the 2% achieved repeatedly during the 1950s and 1960s.

Consulting economist Rana Roy says in normal times “full employment” probably meant an unemployment rate near 1%, but the business cycle meant there would always be brief – “and I stress brief” – periods when governments might have to accept an unemployment rate of nearer 2%.

Fix Education, Job-Matching And Childcare

Asked to select the three measures from a list of 11 that would do the most to bring down the sustainable rate of unemployment, the 51 experts overwhelmingly backed improving the quality of school education (55%), followed by improving employment services (39%) and cutting out-of-pocket childcare costs (39%).

There was also strong support for relaxing industrial relations to give employers greater flexibility (33%) and winding back taxes and regulations facing businesses (24%) as well as boosting enrolments in tertiary education (27%).

There was very little support for cutting immigration or the JobSeeker payment.

Labour market specialist Sue Richardson said a high-quality job-matching service would both reduce unemployment and boost productivity because Australians would be matched to jobs for which they were best suited.

The unemployed who would benefit the most would be those further down the queue who were the least successful in finding jobs.

Industry economist Julie Toth said digital technologies and working from home were already making it easier to match Australians with jobs across a range of industries, and it was important to preserve these recent gains.

One of the panellists, Peter Tulip from the Centre for Independent Studies, rejected all the options offered for lowering the achievable unemployment rate, and said the only one that might have some effect was restraint when increasing minimum wages.

Another, Brian Dollery from the University of New England, said much of Australia’s unemployment had been generated by unemployment benefits that were too high.

Together, the results of the survey call for the government and the Reserve Bank to be ambitious about unemployment, and not to accept a rate above 4%.

The government’s employment white paper is due by the end of September.

Individual responses. Click to open:

The Conversation

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

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

Urban sprawl is ‘not a dirty word’? If the priority is to meet all kids’ needs, it should be

Hulya GilbertLa Trobe University and Ian WoodcockUniversity of Sydney

Amid Australia’s housing crisis, land-supply slogans are once again dominating discussions about the solutions. Governments and private developers often blame housing crises on lack of land for new housing. Their solution? Rezone farmland for housing on the suburban fringe.

Earlier this year, the South Australian government announced the state’s largest ever release of land for housing. Some 23,700 houses are to be built on the fringe of Adelaide. SA Premier Peter Malinauskas has even said urban sprawl “is not a dirty word”.

Support for the creation of fringe suburbs, while still business as usual in Australia, reflects outdated views. [Evidence] of the need to halt urban sprawl is now overwhelming. The spruiking of these greenfield developments as affordable and good for young families with children is at odds with their experiences of these developments.

What Life Is Actually Like On The Suburban Fringe

Greenfield developments are often attractive to young families due to the perception of affordable housing and promises of local schools, childcare, shops and public transport. However, these neighbourhoods rarely live up to such expectations. Instead, they often entrench disadvantage due to the neglect of transport costs when assessing how affordable suburban housing is.

Families in Truganina and Tarneit in Melbourne’s west exemplify the daily struggles of outer suburban life. Nearly a decade after moving in, the promises of local schools and public transport had failed to materialise.

Likewise, in the outer suburbs of Western SydneyBrisbane and Adelaide, families with children struggle to get to the services they need without a car. In South Australia, the Thrive by Five alliance cites transport as the second-biggest barrier (after attendance costs) to early learning.

These suburbs all provide stark reminders to governments of the problems associated with the suburban sprawl they have encouraged.

fenced grassland in front of a new housing development
Long after moving into their new houses, Tarneit residents are paying the price for the lack of promised services. Shutterstock

Suburban Sprawl And Car Dependence Go Hand In Hand

The defining feature of suburban sprawl is car dependence. It’s linked with most of the social and economic downsides of sprawl. Continuing with such developments signals an acceptance of car dependence and the growing social and economic burdens it imposes on future generations.

Life on the fringe without a private car is particularly difficult for families with children due to their complex travel patterns. For example, trip chaining between children’s schools, extra-curricular activities and parents’ workplaces is common.

The harmful impacts of these car-centric suburbs disproportionally affect children.

To start with, road deaths are the leading cause of death for children and young adults globally. It’s easily one of the most underestimated issues in our world.

Concerns for children’s safety in car-dominated neighbourhoods and other accessibility issues make the private car “a must use tool” in outer suburbs. We know the rest: the vicious cycle of car dependence and more and more driving.

So suburban sprawl leads to more high-speed roads, longer distances between centres of daily activity and more time in cars. All these factors increase the risk of road deaths and injuries.

Car-dependent neighbourhoods deprive children of opportunities essential for their health and wellbeing. They miss out on physical activity, unstructured play, social interaction and developing social networks. In addition, traffic noise and air pollution expose them to a wide range of environmental and health problems.

Having A Backyard Doesn’t Meet All Children’s Needs

What does a truly child-friendly neighbourhood look like? It allows for safe and convenient active travel – walking, cycling and “wheeling” (using mobility devices) – as well as public transport, to conduct daily activities. Child-friendliness is embedded in the everyday places, in streets, parks, square and public transport.

But all too often children’s play opportunities are reduced to the tiny backyards that are now common in fringe suburbs. These suburban restrictions are at odds with globally recognised principles of child-friendliness. Backyards alone cannot make up for the lack of access to child care, schools, shops, recreation and health services.

How can we develop better planning policies to create neighbourhoods that properly meet families’ needs? Some policies already exist, such as 15-minute or 20-minute neighbourhoods, to reduce private car use for daily activities. But these policies get sidelined when governments promote suburban sprawl and build more freeways.

These governments should not dismiss the suitability of higher-density living in well-serviced neighbourhoods for families with children. Yes, some densification policies have been blind to the needs of children and their families. However, when done well, high-density settings can be wonderful communities for such families.

With careful planning, many more families could be housed in established areas without having to significantly increase building heights.

Car-Centric Planning Has Failed Families

Car-centric planning dates back to the 1950s. Since then, Australian suburban fringe development has largely failed to create child-friendly neighbourhoods. Given the pro-sprawl political advocacy, the prospects of Adelaide’s largest ever greenfield development being good for children are rather poor, despite some encouraging steps by the government to ensure the new suburbs get adequate infrastructure.

Using aspirations of families with children to justify suburban sprawl is exploitative and misleading. It’s an approach that ignores the real-life challenges residents experience and distracts from government’s responsibility for proper planning.

If governments are serious about the needs of families with children, they could start by acknowledging children’s needs and rights to be able to get to their daily destinations without a car. To deliver neighbourhoods that make this possible, governments need to be bold and decisive in their planning.

Suburban sprawl and car dependence go hand in hand. Our politicians must commit to urban planning where cars are no longer privileged. Otherwise we deny our children basic rights to learn, play and socialise safely in their own neighbourhoods. The Conversation

Hulya Gilbert, Lecturer in Planning and Human Geography, La Trobe University and Ian Woodcock, Senior Lecturer in Urbanism, University of Sydney

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

Source Of Hidden Consciousness In 'Comatose' Brain Injury Patients Found

August 15, 2023
Columbia researchers have identified brain injuries that may underlie hidden consciousness, a puzzling phenomenon in which brain-injured patients are unable to respond to simple commands, making them appear unconscious despite having some level of awareness.

"Our study suggests that patients with hidden consciousness can hear and comprehend verbal commands, but they cannot carry out those commands because of injuries in brain circuits that relay instructions from the brain to the muscles," says study leader Jan Claassen, MD, associate professor of neurology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and chief of critical care and hospitalist neurology at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

The findings could help physicians more quickly identify brain-injured patients who might have hidden consciousness and better predict which patients are likely to recover with rehabilitation.

Brain circuits disrupted in patients with hidden consciousness

Hidden consciousness, also known as cognitive motor dissociation (CMD), occurs in about 15% to 25% of patients with brain injuries stemming from head trauma, brain hemorrhage, or cardiac arrest.

In previous research, Claassen and colleagues found that subtle brainwaves detectable with EEG are the strongest predictor of hidden consciousness and eventual recovery for unresponsive brain-injured patients.

But the precise pathways in the brain that become disrupted in this condition were unknown.
In the new study, the researchers used EEG to examine 107 brain injury patients. The technique can determine when patients are trying, though unable, to respond to a command such as "keep opening and closing your right hand."

The analysis detected CMD in 21 of the patients.

The researchers then analysed structural MRI scans from all of the patients.

"Using a technique we developed called bi-clustering analysis, we were able to identify patterns of brain injury that are shared among patients with CMD and contrast to those without CMD," says co-lead author Qi Shen, PhD, associate research scientist in the Claassen lab and an expert in signal processing, machine learning, and biostatistics.

The researchers found that all of the CMD patients had intact brain structures related to arousal and command comprehension, supporting the notion that these patients were hearing and understanding the commands but were unable to carry them out.

"We saw that all of the CMD patients had deficits in brain regions responsible for integrating comprehended motor commands with motor output, preventing CMD patients from acting on verbal commands," says Claassen.

The findings may allow researchers to better understand which brain injury patients have CMD, which will be useful for clinical trials that support recovery of consciousness.

More research is required before these approaches can be applied to clinical practice. "However, our study shows that it may be possible to screen for hidden consciousness using widely available structural brain imaging, moving the detection of CMD one step closer to general clinical use," Claassen says.

"Not every critical care unit may have resources and staff that is trained in using EEG to detect hidden consciousness, so MRI may offer a simple way to identify patients who require further screening and diagnosis."
Eva Franzova, Qi Shen, Kevin Doyle, Justine M Chen, Jennifer Egbebike, Athina Vrosgou, Jerina C Carmona, Lauren Grobois, Gregory A Heinonen, Angela Velazquez, Ian Jerome Gonzales, Satoshi Egawa, Sachin Agarwal, David Roh, Soojin Park, E Sander Connolly, Jan Claassen. Injury patterns associated with cognitive motor dissociation. Brain, 2023; DOI: 10.1093/brain/awad197

NSW Government's BASIX Pause To Help Home Buyers And Builders

August 15, 2023
The NSW Government today announced it had committed to reduce the financial burden of increased building standards for nine months for those who have already signed contracts.

Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Paul Scully said new homes already under contract before Sunday 1 October 2023 would be exempt from new sustainable building (BASIX) standards until 30 June 2024.

“We’re in a housing crisis, but the construction and development industry are doing it tough with ongoing weather delays, rising materials costs and skill shortages,” Mr Scully said.

“The government has responded by making new homes where a contract has been signed before 1 October 2023 exempt from increased BASIX standards until 30 June 2024.

“While we remain committed to the introduction of BASIX from 1 October 2023, the transitional arrangements will reduce the financial impact of increased standards on home buyers who have already signed building contracts under the current BASIX requirements, which includes some 6000 contracts in Western Sydney alone,” he said.

Mr Scully said that homeowners in this group may still adopt the new BASIX standards should they choose, to help manage future energy bills.

BASIX standards were introduced in 2004, and increased in 2017, to improve the energy and thermal performance of homes, providing better comfort, and energy and water efficiencies.

The new standard cuts thermal energy use by at least 20% and will save homeowners on power bills. The changes can save considerable amounts of energy helping to make new homes more comfortable, particularly in the hotter areas of the state during summer.

Minister Scully said the temporary exemption would bring NSW in line with other states including Victoria.

“BASIX standards are critical. They mean housing stock in NSW is built with improved energy efficiency – making housing cooler in summer and warmer in winter with better windows and insulation.

“We also need to keep housing supply moving and these transitional arrangements will take some of the pressure off builders and buyers who want the certainty.

“Commencing in October, a BASIX certificate lasts for 3 months. So, the exemption effectively extends the transition period to 12 months for those with contracts signed by 1 October 2023,” Mr Scully said.

Industry has had more than 12 months to prepare for the introduction of changes to BASIX. The transition period provides additional time to adjust.

For more information, visit the NSW Planning Portal.

Disclaimer: These articles are not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.  Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Pittwater Online News or its staff.