December 30, 2014

Flying home for christmas

The great escape… from heat and humidity and terrific storms.

Taxi at 9 pm.
A no-wait, painless check-in at Brisbane's International terminal: reassuringly normal service from Singapore Air.
But a new rule: a strict weight limit on hand luggage. Since the G20, they said. Carry your laptop separately, they said.
Departure just about midnight. Strange time to fly anywhere.
A full meal is served: I am not hungry but I eat. I get hungry on planes despite doing nothing. And not being in control of my next meal makes me anxious.
Timelessness: night or day will be largely irrelevant for 24 hours.

A couple of hours' disrupted sleep. Then bright lights, hot flannels and breakfast. Still two hours out from Singapore.
Smooth landing at Changi. Still dark.
Coffee, shops, half-hour massage.
Slight delay to board our Airbus A380.
We had reserved seats A and C in the vain hope of an empty one between us. The intruder is an Asian lady who doesn't want the window seat. I won't give up the aisle, so my friend and I sit apart for the duration.

Thirteen hours and 40 minutes to LHR…
Sudoku, a second breakfast, 100 pages of Richard Flanagan (The Narrow Road to the Deep North), a little sleep, a film (The Hundred-Foot Journey), lunch, another 100 pages of Flanagan, a second film (Tracks), a further sleep.
My new policy: sleep when the need arises.
Flight-path wiggle north of Delhi. To avoid a storm? I ask why but never get an answer. They're busy.
Unusual route over Europe, not across the Aral Sea and almost as far north as Moscow. Where is Ukraine?
Stacked over Essex. Twenty minutes late landing.

Terminal 2 dysfunction. The longest walk to immigration. Vast queues. Passport scanner doesn't work for me. I am directed to a short queue for scanning failures.
Massive baggage reclaim hall but not all carousels are in use. Our flight sharing with another. Cases being taken off by airport staff and piled on the floor. Not easy to monitor piles and conveyor belt.
No signage. Where are car rentals? Where are the buses to car rentals?
Lovely Turneresque wintry sunset.
Bus ride to Avis complete with cheeky-chappy-Cockney chatterer.
My friend's name is not on the Preferred list ready for pickup. The car is brought to us. Small, sporty and only comfortable enough for two. Aggressive red. Tiny boot; cases on the back seat.

How do we get out of here? Wrong way along the Perimeter Road. The M25 seems crazy-fast after Australia. But no variations in the maximum speed limit, yay.

About half an hour later we arrive at our destination. Dorking, Surrey. Beep-beep-beep. Big hugs.

It is 6 pm. That's 30 hours door to door.

December 13, 2014


Tweets using the understated hashtag #auspol trended the most on Twitter in Australia during 2014. Which just goes to show that, despite masses of disillusionment, disinterest and downright cynicism among Aussies about their pollies, in certain circles politics is still a hot topic. Having decried Twitter for years, I find it useful, now I'm on it, for several reasons, but especially for venting during a week such as the last one, which was a truly extraordinary newsweek.

Jeff Seeney channels King Canute (#climateactionnow)
The Deputy Premier of Queensland has ordered Moreton Bay Council to remove all mention of 'theoretical' climate-change-related sea level rises from their regional planning documents. This must be the most obvious denial of climate change in a while. Usually, LNP anti-science disinformers shroud their scepticism in woolly, action-evading witterings. While there is nothing to indicate that steadily increasing human-generated carbon emissions are not having an impact on the climate, there is a whole stash of evidence suggesting the opposite. So beware, those of you planning your dream home on the Bay: you will have to do your own research about the risks of ever-higher tidal reaches in future.

You might like to consult a draft CSIRO discussion paper*, details of which were revealed by the ABC this week. It warns about the high costs of damage done by extreme weather events. Its concern is that poor – or perhaps head-in-the-sand – planning will leave Australia increasingly exposed to bushfires, inland flooding and coastal inundation in a warming world.

The New South Wales government is not guided solely by dogma rather than science, however. There is a Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, and they have collaborated with the NSW and Australian Capitol Territory governments in detailed climate modelling**. Parts of northwest New South Wales – places such as Bourke and Moree, where we were in August – are expected to experience as many as 40 more days a year of temperatures reaching 35 degrees, by 2070.

Australia is Fossil of the Day, again and again and again… (#idiotabbott)
Following on from its G20 embarrassment, Australia garnered yet more international opprobrium in Lima at the COP20 climate change talks. Awarded by the Climate Action Network (CAN) – consisting of about 800 international environmental and climate justice organisations – the Fossil is given to those countries considered to have done most to block the progress of negotiations. This coincided with the Climate Change Performance Index 2014† rating Australia the worst-performing country on a list comparing the 58 nations that together are responsible for 90 per cent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.

The Sydney Morning Herald revealed that 'Six out of ten of [sic] Australians think Tony Abbott's Direct Action policy has left the country with an inadequate response to the problem of global warming, according to the latest Fairfax Ipsos poll.' This preceded a new analysis†† by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) claiming that Australia's current programme for future emissions will come nowhere near enabling the pledge it made in Copenhagen to cut five per cent of its 2000 level of emissions by 2020.

The branding of the Queensland Police Service (#hereweJohagain)
Above-average temperatures in southeast Queensland have produced serious storms in the last couple of weeks. But nothing like as ferocious as the outrage let loose on social media once the cat was out of the bag about Queensland police cars bearing the logo of big mining company Santos.
They may well have been part of an Outback road safety campaign, and there may have been only two police vehicles involved, and other commercial partners as well as the company putting essential water supplies at risk in the Channel Country of Far West Queensland, but Minister for Police Jack Dempsey completely missed the point as he defended the indefensible, hugely perturbing issue for anyone with half a brain. So, if you get pulled over on the Bulloo Developmental Road by a police car that may be principally engaged in Outback road safety but isn't going to ignore motorists infringing traffic laws, what do you think when you see Santos emblazoned on the vehicle? I know what I'd think. That the police might be influenced by the interests of their sponsors, that's what.

Imagine: 'Officer, I was just stopped at the side of the road taking a photograph (of a gas well, for my travel blog). Oh, I see you have the name of the gas company on your car…Are you the state police or do you work for the company…?'

Political hypocrisy knows no bounds (#liesandhypocrisy)
I vividly remember the extent of the Opposition's indignation and vitriolic criticism of Julia Gillard's introduction of carbon pricing, having famously announced prior to the 2010 federal election that there would be no carbon tax on her watch. Expediency soon ruled the day and she had to make deals with minority parties and independents in order to govern.

I also well remember Tony Abbott selling himself in the lead-up to last year's election: no broken promises; grown-up government, and a list of policies safe in LNP hands. His assertion that there would be no cuts to the ABC was the tripwire in his case. He has finally had to eat humble pie, although at first he had downgraded the ABC promise compared with repealing the carbon tax and stopping the boats. Cutting funding to the much-loved and highly valued ABC was necessary for balancing the budget, the final component of Abbott's retrospective big three promises. Expediency struck again, but it cuts both ways. Either it is acceptable for politicians, regardless of their political colour, to change their minds and policies as befitting altered circumstances, or it is not.

The damage has been done, however. Abbot simply cannot be trusted. He misjudged the popular support for the ABC and no amount of grovelling can redeem him now. He had no mandate to slash their funds, just as he had no mandate to take his climate change denialism to the extent of rendering Australia an international embarrassment, first at the G20 and now in Lima. So hopefully he's #onetermtony.

Not enough has been made of his gross hypocrisy, however. I don't suppose it will be by a massively right-leaning press (top). But this week he has added to the charges while defending his chief of staff, Peta Credlin. There is much disquiet in Canberra about the extent of her powers. I have noticed her sitting with him in places you would not expect, from Parliament to the United Nations, which is disconcerting. Abbott has criticised her critics by attributing their motivation to sexism. Do you remember how he reviled Gillard for playing 'the gender card'?

The beauty of hashtags is that, used wisely, they can be concise and incisive, witty and amusing. A Twitter 'storm' certainly makes the people's feelings felt. Sometimes, however, hashtags are dropped in far too liberally, in a #childlike fashion. Then they become #simple #irritating and a complete #wasteoftime.

As for the nature of the news this week, observe the writing on the wall. #youhavebeenwarned.
† and

December 9, 2014

Your planet or your lifestyle?

The other day I read a piece in an online magazine written by a woman whose life, she claims, has been ruined by coal seam gas. She and her family live in the Darling Downs west of Brisbane. There are several gas wells on her property, and many more within a couple of kilometres. On her land and all around is gas infrastructure – holding ponds, vents, pipelines, compressor stations, roads. The family's health has steadily declined, but she cannot prove it is because of the gas.

She signed an agreement with QCG (Queensland Gas Company) for the first well nearly ten years ago. She alleges thereafter she was bullied into accepting more. She can't sell up because she would never again be able to afford such a big house (10 bedrooms), and it's where she and her husband run their business.

I have heard a lot about the ill-effects of living in a gas field. Your family gets sick, physically and psychologically; there is constant disturbance of one kind or another; the financial reward is not commensurate with the inconvenience; there is little recourse to government at any level; and the comeback is virtually non-existent. I have no doubt it presents a grim outlook.

My sympathy for this woman was short-lived, however. She has 11 children, eight of whom are still living at home. She bought this property so they could roam free, riding their motorbikes, going fishing, etc. If I were to meet this woman I would have to ask, before I enquired about her daughter's headaches or her son's nosebleeds, whatever had possessed her to produce so many children. Does she not believe in birth control? Does she not understand how to use it? Is she on a personal mission to populate this largely empty continent? Does she not consider it morally reprehensible to blatantly disregard global population pressures?

Australia's birthrate is currently fewer than two babies per woman, below replacement level. This means a contracting workforce to support an ageing population. Women have more options than ever with regard to controlling reproduction and realising ambition in the workplace: many of them are choosing to have fewer children. Large numbers of immigrants, however, helped Australia's population to top 23 million in 2013.

Like many industrialised countries, Australia experienced a baby boom following World War 2 and the fertility rate increased to about 3.5. Then the contraceptive pill in the 1960s brought about a decline that continued gradually until the turn of the century: it was as low as 1.73 in 2001. In 2002 came the 'baby bonus', a tax rebate for first-time mums. This may have been attractive to younger, lower-paid women, but it is uncertain exactly how much impact it had on the birth rate, which increased to 1.93 by 2008, after which it began to fall again. In 2004, Peter Costello, Treasurer in John Howard's government, famously encouraged Australians to have at least three children – 'one for mum, one for dad, and one for the country'. But who listened to him?

Well, someone in the Darling Downs seems to have done. She perhaps wasn't aware that, if everyone on earth lived life like an Australian, more than three planets' worth of resources would be required to produce the jet skis and boats and household gadgets and monster 4WD trucks and airconditioners and clothes driers and patio heaters and leaf blowers and home entertainment systems and smart phones and gaming consoles, and so on.

Let's assume her children don't follow her example, and produce a modest two or three children each. Within 15-20 years she could have 25-30 grandchildren. Let's hope most of them are solar-power generating vegetarians with an environmental conscience, for the planet's and their children's sake.

I have noticed a reverence here for women who produce lots of babies. On talkback radio, blogging parents and Aussie battlers alike proudly boast they've got four or five children or whatever, and are almost congratulated or at least accorded a lot of respect, as if they're doing it for a higher cause than themselves.

And let's not forget the shameful treatment received by this country's first female leader at the hands of the Murdoch media and the Opposition that included being chided for her childlessness.

I wonder a lot about our priorities. Do you?

December 7, 2014

2014 in pictures

Obi Obi Valley, Queensland
Bribie Island, QLD
Springbrook National Park, QLD
Ratua Island, Vanuatu
Coconut plantation, Ratua Island
Botanic Gardens, Mt Coot-tha, Brisbane
GOMA, Brisbane* 
Brisbane River
Glass House Mountains, QLD 
Springwood Station, near Rolleston, QLD
Bimblebox Nature Refuge, QLD
Julian Rocks, Byron Bay, New South Wales
Byron Bay, NSW
Nightcap National Park, NSW
'Forgotten Songs', Angel Pl, Sydney
Sydney Harbour
Paddington, Sydney
Queensland Bottle Tree, near Alpha
Age of Dinosaurs, Winton, QLD
View from Scrammy Lookout, Bladensburg NP, QLD
Bladensburg Homestead
Elderslie Street, Winton, QLD
Middleton, Far West Queensland
Kennedy Development Road, Far West Queensland
Diamantina Gates, Diamantina NP, QLD 
Synchronised fishing, Diamantina NP
Boulia, Far West Queensland
Diamantina Developmental Road, Far West Queensland
Royal Spoonbill and Whistling Kite,
Cuttaburra Crossing, Far West QLD
Waddi tree, near Birdsville, QLD
Cowboy, Birdsville Hotel
Sturt's Desert Pea
Birdsville Lagoon, QLD
Goyder Lagoon, northeast South Australia
Diamantina floodplain, northeast SA 
Birdsville Track, SA
QAA track, Simpson Desert, QLD
Little Corellas and Galahs, Sturt Stony Desert, SA
Bowra Sanctuary, near Cunnamulla, QLD
Major Mitchell Cockatoos, NSW
Darling River at Bourke, NSW
Bark in Bulimba, Brisbane
Riverbend Books, Bulimba, Brisbane
Banksia flower, Byron Bay, NSW
North Stradbroke Island Koala
Pied Oystercatcher, Main Beach, North Stradbroke Island
Main Beach, North Stradbroke Island 
Main Beach from Gorge Walk, Point Lookout, Straddie
Port Douglas, Far North Queensland
Kuranda, Far North Queensland
Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
Cat Cafe, Melbourne
Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne
* Falling Back to Earth by Cai Guo-Qiang