Category Archives: Australia

Sakura festival…in Melbourne!

Despite loving all things Japanese, I’ve never been to Japan, but now I can say I’ve been to a Sakura [Cherry Blossom] festival. Ta dah:

[Apologies for the size of the photos. I wanted them to be as lovely as possible]

These are ornamental cherry trees gifted to Melbourne by the government of Japan. The grove was planted in Banksia Park, which is situated on the boundary between the suburbs of Heidelberg and Bulleen.

Not all of the cherry trees survived the harsh, Australian conditions, so the Japanese community in Melbourne took the fledgling grove under its wing, saving as many trees as possible and caring for the whole grove. The photo below shows one of the cherry trees that was saved:

You can see how close this poor tree came to dying.

Thanks to the efforts of the Japanese community, people like me can now enjoy a little taste of Japan without having to leave home.

Arigato gozaimasu!

Meeks

 


Warrandyte, bushfires & PALs

It’s only half way through September, and the grass is still green, but scratch an inch or two below the surface, and the ground is bone dry. Or at least it is in hilly Warrandyte where the rain flows off long before it can properly soak in.

So, I’m worried about the fast approaching bushfire season. East Gippsland is said to be most at risk this year, but the Green Wedge in Nillumbik Shire can’t be too far behind. And we have more people living in the shire:

‘The Nillumbik Shire Estimated Resident Population for 2017 is 64,626, with a population density of 1.50 persons per hectare.’

That’s a lot of people, but when you look at where most of them live, the figures take on a deeper meaning:

The area outlined on the map is the Shire of Nillumbik. If you read the legend to the right of the map, you’ll see that most of our population clusters in the pink and red areas to the south [the pink area circled in orange is my area, North Warrandyte].

An important feature not shown on the map is that much of the southern part of the Shire is intersected by the Yarra River.

The two areas circle in orange represent the two bridges that are the only way of crossing the Yarra from my side of the Shire.

The Offspring and I live on the north side of the Yarra, so we have to cross the Warrandyte bridge to get into Warrandyte Village, and from there to somewhere further south.

That bridge is currently being extended from 2 lanes to 3, but it’s not finished, and access is even worse than normal. Going in the other direction, we have to go through Eltham and cross a second, 2 lane bridge to get south of the river.

Guess which direction the worst bushfires come from! Clever you, yes, the north. Caught between fire and water, lovely.

Now, let’s have a look at the terrain around Nth Warrandyte. This is an aerial view of the area around the bridge:

The blue line is obviously the river. The red bit is the bridge in the middle of the orange bullseye. Up from the bridge is Nth Warrandyte. Down from the bridge is Warrandyte village, a popular tourist spot on weekends.

A feature you can’t see from that aerial photo is the terrain. Up hill and down dale describes it pretty well. The perfect playground for bushfires that love racing up hill.

All that dark green stuff? Gum trees and scrub, all of it native and all of it evolved to burn. My block is  relatively open, but further from the main road the blocks are densely treed and the only way in or out is often via dirt roads.

I have every fire protection under the sun. Most of the houses in my area have nothing. Even the pre-school and CFA fire station are nestled in amongst the trees with no in-ground water tanks, roof sprinklers or fire-resistant shutters. The area is a bushfire disaster waiting to happen, and Nillumbik Shire Council has done nothing to mitigate the risk, for years and years and years. If you’re interested, here’s a post from May, 2017 that looks at the Council’s budget for bushfire mitigation. Yup, they really take it seriously…

So, I’m worried, but this year there may just be a bit of hope on the horizon. Two years ago, an organisation called Pro-active Landowners [PALs] became a force to be reckoned with, and the Council elected in 2016…changed.

The following recommendations are taken from a recent PALs submission to Council:

Essentially, PALs is recommending that the bushfire danger in the Shire [which is huge] be managed.

It sounds so simply, yet for decades, Council has done anything but. I don’t know whether the interest group within the Council felt that nothing could be done to manage the risk – i.e. act of god etc. Or they were so determined not to let big, bad developers ‘ruin the green wedge’ that they were happy to see it all burn instead.

Council mitigated nothing while tying the hands of the CFA [the Country Fire Authority is supposed to save us from bushfires]. Worse, Council stopped landowners from protecting themselves either. You have no idea how good it feels to finally have a voice.

If the PALs recommendations bear fruit, we will finally be able to reduce the fuel load in the Shire. Fuel load is the leaf litter, twigs, branches and undergrowth that feeds a bushfire, and Warrandyte has masses of it. But even if every resident of Warrandyte cleaned up religiously, there are great swathes of public land that are virtually untouched because the previous Council wanted to keep things ‘natural’.

The irony is that the Green Wedge is anything but natural.

Pre-settlement, the Aboriginals used to manage the land by doing many, small, cool burns. These cool burns created a patchwork of burnt and unburnt land so that the native fauna had somewhere to escape to. The net result was that the fuel loads never grew too high.

In areas not managed by the Aboriginals, nature itself managed the land with lightning strikes. Lightning would start small bushfires that would run until they finally died out. Again, because these small bushfires happened so regularly, the fuel load did not have a chance to become truly dangerous.

And then the white man came along with his English farming practices. Farmed land had to be protected, so bushfires had to be put out before they could do much damage. The net result was that parts of the land were over managed – i.e. the farms – and great big areas were left completely unmanaged, allowing the fuel loads to grow. The character of the land changed, and the bushfires turned vicious. 1939 was a very bad year, and so was 2009.

2009 was the year in which ‘…173 people tragically lost their lives, 414 were injured, more than a million wild and domesticated animals were lost and 450,000 hectares of land were burned’ in the Black Saturday bushfires.

If you’ve ever built a camp fire, or an open fire in a hearth, you’ll know that fire needs just two things to burn – fuel and oxygen. That’s why you build a teepee of twigs and dry kindling to start the fire. The open structure allows air in to feed the flames. After the fire is going though, the kindling is no longer needed because hot air rises, sucking in cooler air from below.

A bushfire does much the same, and the bigger the fire the more powerful it becomes, preheating the fuel ahead of it so it will burn even faster. The Black Saturday fire was so powerful, it generated its own weather.

No amount of human technology could have stopped the Black Saturday fires once they started. But a bit of wisdom might have stopped them from starting, or at least reduced the loss of life. But we weren’t wise.

Two acknowledged experts in bushfire behaviour submitted reports to Nillumbik Council prior to Black Saturday. Both reports warned about the dangerous levels of fuel in the Shire. Both reports were ignored. 9 years on, the lessons still have not been learned: when it comes to bushfires, fuel load is the only thing we can actually control.

The Black Saturday Royal Commission recommended mandatory prescribed burns of 5% to public lands each year. They haven’t happened, and part of the reason they haven’t happened is because of the bureaucratic red-tape that’s required before a burn can take place. Sadly, the weather rarely keeps these kinds of ‘appointments’ so either burns are cancelled because the conditions are all wrong – rain or high winds – or they go ahead in less than optimal conditions. And sometimes they get out of control. So even less incentive to do burns.

I’m no expert on bushfire management, but I can’t help wondering why we can’t let the CFA do mini burns every single day that the weather conditions are suitable? Why do burns have to be these big, dangerous things?

When I burn off, I do lots of smaller piles rather than one huge one. It makes sense to me. Mini burns, often. It would work, why can’t we at least try it?

The PALs submission to Nillumbik Shire Council may not solve all our bush fire woes but it would be a huge step in the right direction. Fingers and toes crossed that commonsense finally prevails in the Shire of Nillumbik.

Meeks

 

 


Jennifer Scoullar – Rural Australian Romance

Some of you may remember a review I wrote for Jennifer’s first novel – Brumby’s Run. Even though Romance isn’t really my genre, I loved Jen’s writing, her characters, and the way she brought country Australia alive on the page.

Jen is a traditionally published author [Penguin], but like us Indies, she has to help with marketing. To that end, she’s asking her readers for help to establish a ‘launch team’. That’s where I come in coz Jen’s a mate. This is a bit from her post:

‘A launch team consists of a select group of fans and supporters, who will help build some buzz around a new title. The main way they can help is by writing reviews, particularly on Amazon. Nothing boosts a book’s chances like having a solid number of online reviews shortly after its release. This can be achieved by letting people read your book early…….So in light of this, I’m enlisting interested people to join my marketing team by giving away a digital advanced readers’ copy of my upcoming release. The Lost Valley is Book 2 in my Tasmanian Tales trilogy, that began last year with the publication of Fortune’s Son.’

I can assure you that Jen’s writing is superb, and you will enjoy the ARC [advanced reader copy], especially if you have any interest in Australia. If you go to Jen’s website, you’ll see that she’s the real deal. She lives in the country and is mad about horses. 🙂

https://jenniferscoullar.com/2018/06/15/building-a-launch-team-the-lost-valley/#comment-15534

If you can give Jen a hand, please visit her site and take it from there.

Thank-god-it’s-Friday!

Meeks


Kookaburras – update

Some of you had trouble with the laughing kookaburra video so I’ve found one that should work better. Sorry about that!

One of the many things I love about Warrandyte are the kookaburras. Have a look at the little guy who came to visit the other day. As always, apologies for the poor quality of the pics:

Tell me he wasn’t posing!

And for those, like me, who didn’t know that kookaburras are part of the kingfisher family, here’s some info. from wiki:

Kookaburras are terrestrial tree kingfishers of the genus Dacelo native to Australia and New Guinea, which grow to between 28–42 cm in length. The name is a loanword from Wiradjuri guuguubarra, onomatopoeic of its call. The loud distinctive call of the laughing kookaburra is widely used as a stock sound effect in situations that involve an Australian bush setting.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kookaburra

And finally, that laugh:

I’ve included one last video to show kookaburras in their natural setting, more or less. One, in particular, exhibits some of their instinctive behaviours. It bashes its ‘prey’ against a ‘branch’ to kill it before swallowing. Don’t worry, the bits of meat aren’t alive!

If you’ve ever read the original ‘Dot and the Kangaroo’, you may remember that in one scene, a kookaburra saves Dot by diving down, grabbing the snake that’s threatening her and bashing it against a branch to kill it.  I’m not sure if a real kookaburra would be strong enough to handle a full sized snake like that, but the image has stuck with me since I first read the book. If you haven’t read about Dot, you really are missing something special. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 

 

 


Coal vs solar? No contest in China

The world is quickly abandoning coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels. But that’s not the end of the road for coal mines—in many countries they’re coming back to life as solar farms. Over the weekend, the world’s biggest floating solar project began operating in the eastern Chinese city of Huainan, which accounted for nearly 20%…

via Dead coal mines everywhere are being reincarnated as solar farms — Quartz


Elon Musk wins his bet in South Australia!

As a long time fan of renewable energy, the latest news about Elon Musk fills me with glee. He bet that he could install a megabattery in South Australia in 100 days, and he’s come in ahead of schedule!

The story began last year when South Australia suffered a massive storm that destroyed infrastructure meant to allow Australian states to ‘share’ energy on a huge network. Due to some market manipulation on pricing, and a toothless watchdog asleep at its post [yes, AEMO I’m looking at you] South Australia suffered crippling blackouts, off and on, for weeks.

As the South Australia government is Labor and had invested heavily in wind farms, the Liberals in the national government went on a renewable energy bashing spree without offering up one, single practical solution. And then Elon Musk spoke up and shamed them all. He said that he could create a mammoth battery capable of storing the energy from the wind farms until needed. Then he bet the cost of the battery – $50 million dollars – that he could make good on his promise in 100 days. If he lost, he would carry the cost of the project.

Well guess what? -big grin- South Australia has a $50 million dollar bill to pay!

More importantly, all the dinosaurs in our government advocating for dirty coal power stations have been silenced, at least for a while.

You can read the whole story here:

https://futurism.com/elon-musk-megabattery-australia/

Today really has been a good day. Thank you, Elon Musk. 🙂

cheers

Meeks


Warrandyte – burning off in the rain

That pile of ash and charcoal is all that’s left of a huge pile of dead branches, windfall and prunings that I’ve been collecting all winter.

I know it doesn’t look like much now, but that pile was becoming a real danger so, it had to go. And what better time to burn it off than when everything’s nice and wet!

“But isn’t it too wet to burn?” you ask.

Nope. It rained quite heavily early this morning and at 7:00 am, everything was quite wet, including the outer layer of the pile. Inside, however, that pile was dry and ready to burn. I crumpled up a few sheets of scrap paper and shoved them underneath the pile. Then I put a couple of firelighters on top of the paper and set it alight. In an hour, the original pile and huge armfuls of very wet windfall were all gone.

I suspect most of you know where I’m going with this; branch and leaf litter burn extraordinarily well, so if you live in and around Warrandyte, clean up your property now, before everything dries out and the whole area turns into a tinderbox.

Okay, now I’m going to collapse and not move for a while. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 

 


Nillumbik budget ‘highlights’, 2017-18

I live in North Warrandyte. That means I’m stuck with Nillumbik Shire Council. This is the most expensive council in Victoria. We pay an obscene amount in rates. This year, the council boasts that it won’t raise rates. Yay.

This is also the same council that wants Residents to embed their houses in the bush despite the bushfire danger. Clearly, they don’t believe that Black Saturday can ever happen again. The proof is in the priority they place on bushfire mitigation. The following figures are taken directly from ‘Living in the landscape’, the Nillumbik Shire Council newsletter. The only change I’ve made is to sort the table by the cost. Have a look at this council’s priorities:

As you can see, $1,100,000 is considered more than enough for ’emergency management’ while a sporting redevelopment deserves almost twice as much at $1,795,000. I guess they figure that when a massive bushfire comes through again, we’ll all be dead and won’t be able to complain about their disregard for our health and safety.

Meeks


Email to the PM re #Adani

I just sent this email to the Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull:

Just for the record, I do not know the PM, but I did ‘chat’ with him by email after he lost to Tony Abbott, way back when. At the time, I wanted to congratulation him on being a man of integrity, even if he was a Liberal. I still receive updates from his staff.

And that brings me to the second point I want to clarify: I know the PM won’t read this email of mine. It is quite possible that his staffers won’t read it either. In all likelihood, the subject line of ‘Adani’ will be more than enough to get it binned sight unseen.

But…

I know Climate Change is real.

I know its caused by us, and

I know that our long-term survival requires that we do something about it.

Digging up more coal is not the answer. And neither is paying a ridiculous amount of money to gain a very few jobs in Queensland. The 10,000 jobs bandied about were never a reality. The truth is that if Adani goes ahead, we’ll be lucky to get 1500 jobs.

$900,000,000 [the cost of the rail link] divided by 1500 equals $600,000.

Think about it, one job will cost us 600,000 dollars.

I’m no mathematician, but that doesn’t seem like a very good deal to me.

If you agree, please pass this on. The more Australians who know what’s really involved, and get angry, the better our chances of actually stopping this madness. Trickledown economics has never worked, especially when it comes via the Cayman Island tax haven. We really are smarter than this.

Meeks


New genetic modification techniques – Australia

The following is a quote from an email I received today regarding the approval of new GM tech in Australia:

Next week Dr Michael Antoniou, Reader in Molecular Genetics at King’s College London School of Life Sciences will be visiting Melbourne. He is here to discuss his concerns with a range of new genetic engineering techniques that the Federal Government is currently proposing not to regulate.
If the Government deregulates these techniques anyone from amateur biohackers – to industry – would be free to use them to genetically modify plants, animals and microbes. And they could enter our food chain and our environment with no safety testing and no labelling. The results could be catastrophic.

The key phrase is ‘proposing not to regulate‘, closely followed by ‘no safety testing‘ and ‘no labelling‘.

Genetic modification is here to stay and we have to accept that, but we do not have to accept a wild, wild west style free-for-all. Surely an ethical approach is not too much to ask from our government, even the Liberals?

The ‘GM 2.0: What the Government isn’t telling you’ forum is being held next Monday:
6.30 (for a 7pm start) – 9pm, Monday 20th March
William Angliss Institute: Rm. A337, Building A, 555 La Trobe St., Melbourne

Please email Louise Sales <louise.sale@foe.org.au> for a ticket if you can attend [they’re free].

If not, please get people talking about this issue. Isn’t it time our opinions were heard? Corporations may stand to make a lot of money out of this, but you and I will be the bunnies who have to live with it.

cheers

Meeks


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