Friday, July 29, 2011

Clancy of the Overflow

A great Australian poem by Banjo Paterson is "Clancy of the Overflow". If you'd have asked me anything about this poem I would have remembered the name of the poem, that an Australian movie in the 80s was based on it, but nothing else.

On borrowing a children's book with this poem in it, it has re-ignited my interest in the poem. I have felt very connected with the poem and despite being written in the late 19th century still has much appeal and realism to it. Thought I would share the poem with you all to see whether it brings back some childhood memories or stirs something from within.

"I had written him a letter which I had found, for want of better knowledge, 
sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago, 
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him, 
Just 'on spec', addressed as follows, 'Clancy, of the Overflow'. 
And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected, 
(And I think the same was written with a thumb-nail dipped in tar) 
"Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
'Clancy's gone to Queensland droving, and we don't know where he are.' 
In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
Gone-a-droving 'down the Cooper' where the Western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing, 
For the drover's life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.
And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended, 
And at night the wond'rous glory of the everlasting stars. 
I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy 
Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall, 
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city
Through the open window floating spreads it foulness over all
And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
Of the tramways and the 'buses making hurry down the street, 
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting, 
Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet. 
And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste, 
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy, 
For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to wast.
And I somehow rather fancy that I'd like to change with Clancy,
Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go, 
While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal --
But I doubt he'd suit the office, Clancy, of 'The Overflow'."  Pin It

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The importance of fire

Here in Australia much of our vegetation is dependent on fire. I'm sure those of you who grew up here in Australia have heard of this, but what does it mean? Basically, the plants in Australia have evolved over a long time (for at least the last 40,000 years) in conjunction with fire. These fire events are both natural, as a result of lighting strikes, and as a result of human modification of the environment, with Aboriginal people using fire as a land management strategy.

What does this co-evolution of our Australian flora and fire mean for our vegetation communities in these modern times? Some our most popular native species, such as banksias and hakeas, are dependent on fire to produce the next generation. Such species must  experience a fire event before they will release seed from their seed pods. Other plants have adaptive 'behaviours' that assist them to survive in a fire event. For example, eucalypts produce epicormic growth (growth from under the bark which is stimulated when there is significant damage to the crown or the top of the tree) and these are then utilised as a survival technique after a fire event allowing the plant to continue photosynthesizing and obtaining energy and food. Fire in itself is also a way for the environment to manage fuel loads. More frequent and less intense fire events control fuel loads and reduce the risk of high temperatures and severe fires that we have witnessed and experienced in the southern areas of Australia in recent years.

Overall, it is therefore important to recognise the usefulness of fire and the importance of fire to some of the vegetation communities here in Australia. When well managed, undertaken in appropriate conditions and implemented in the right place fire is a useful land management tool. Pin It

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Do you pay too much for your clothes?

Up until recently I was always one to boast about how cheap the items of clothing I had purchased were. I have also obviously gained a bit of a reputation for this as well, as my mum said to me the other day "you would be so proud of how much I paid for this piece of clothing". Meaning it was quite cheap. Previously, I could rarely justify spending over $100 for any one single item of clothing and now looking at clothes in many mainstream women's clothing shops it is in fact quite difficult to buy any single item for less than about $80. But what is the true value of the clothing that you wear?

About 12 years ago I worked in a ski clothing "factory". They imported clothing made in China that they designed here in Australia. The original cost of these items were markedly different to the direct manufacture cost, which I am not sure whether most people are keenly aware of. For example, a beanie that you would pay $20 for, costs the shop only $10 to purchase from the Australian designer. The Australian designer would have only actually paid the manufacturer about $2- 4 for the item, covering the costs of material and manufacture (including labour). To me I can't understand how this price covers a person's wage and all the other bits and pieces required to make the original item in another country.

With the real cost of clothing revealed, are we paying the right people the right amount of money? I believe not. The person that actually physically makes most of the clothing items available in Australian stores are likely to work in poor conditions, be that physical, financial or mental and generally under-valued for their input. Sure these people need employment and these industries employ them but I believe that we in developed nations can make significant contributions to improving their working conditions and the industry as a whole. We as the consumers are a very powerful group of people.

This issue is not a simple one by any stretch of the imagination, but another way to ensure that you are paying the right person for a quality product is to invest in local manufacturers or individuals, as I have discussed in previous posts. If you seek out the right types of clothing, you can ensure that the base materials are appropriately and ethically produced, the clothing is then manufactured in a manner that is environmentally and socially responsible, has a smaller environmental footprint, appropriately priced and has provided the right people with appropriate compensation for their work and goods. They can be produced anywhere in the world (carbon footprint aside) but the fundamentals of a fair price for an ethically and environmentally produced item of clothing is the outcome being sought.

I know this is a bit leap and I certainly haven't made the leap yet with any great success, but I am certainly investigating the alternate options to clothing available in traditional stores. As a result I have found some interesting local designers and manufacturers and fair trade clothing groups sourcing clothing products from developing nations, which provide their workers with ethical working conditions and appropriate compensation.  Pin It

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Did you know NZ has an emissions trading system?

Today I found out that New Zealand established an emissions trading scheme last year (July 2010). This is fantastic news as it shows a first world economy still functioning successfully after the implementation such a system. The NZ scheme incorporates agriculture, industry, energy, liquid fossil fuels, fishing, synthetic gases, forestry, waste and horticulture sectors of their economy and aims to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by putting a price on these emissions. Currently the price for each NZ unit is NZ$25. However, the NZ government only requires one unit be surrendered for every two tonnes of carbon emitted during the transition period, thus effectively pricing each unit at $12.50.

I have heard the level of impact that this system has had on the NZ economy has been almost unrecognisable. There does however, need to be recognition that there have been serious challenges to their economy as a result of the natural disasters that have occurred in their country over the past 12 months. Thus, the level impact that this new trading scheme has had has been potentially dwarfed by these other situations. Nevertheless, it is positive news that such a trading scheme, of similar nature to the proposed carbon tax here in Australia, has been successfully implemented without flattening their economy or causing significant hardships for families and households. Hopefully, this provides some comfort to regular Australians. Further, the NZ system includes fuel (petrol/diesel) in their system, which has been explicitly excluded from the Australian situation, thus further buffering Australian households during our transition period.    

Further information about the NZ government's perspective on their emissions trading scheme can be found on their Ministry for the Environment's website.

It is important to note that I looked, not just the positive, but also the negatives that could be associated with the NZ emission trading scheme. I didn't manage to find any significant negative impacts vocalised by reputable sources from a brief review (20 mins) of a couple of Internet search engines. This may be because the scheme is only new and investigations into it haven't been complete. But I definitely thought I would at least find scores of groups/people that were opposed to the scheme prior to its introduction saying 'I told you so', but almost none of this. Hopefully this situation will be the same here in Australia after the introduction of the carbon tax.   Pin It

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What is renewable and non-renewable energy?

Recently with all the talk of the proposed carbon tax there has been a lot of discussion about renewable versus non-renewable energy. Perhaps introducing some of the basic concepts behind this topic might be useful for people.

What are the current forms of non-renewable energy?
Presently, the main sources of non-renewable energy are fossil fuels. These include coal, petroleum, natural gas and nuclear power which is based on uranium. These energy sources are considered non-renewable because they are based on materials that are finite in nature and cannot be replenished in the Earth's environment over a short time scale.

Currently here in Australia we rely heavily on coal-fire power stations to provide us with electricity and are also significantly connected to petrol for use in our cars.

What are renewable sources of energy?
Wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, hydroelectricity, tidal power and biogas are all typically considered to be renewable sources of energy and are considered as such because they can regenerate naturally. There are even some finite resources such as timber and some metal resources which can produce renewable energy because the resource can either be regenerated (in the case of timber) or recycled (some metals).

Australia has started to invest in some of these energies on a commercial scale, yet the proportion of these types of energy providing electricity to our household is still quite small.  There is however the option for you to pay a premium for electricity to obtain"green power", bringing about consumer demand for further investment in these energy types. Alternatively, putting some solar panels onto your roof and then being plugged into the electricity grid has also resulted in an increase in renewable energy available here in Australia. Pin It

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Local am I going?

In a post earlier this year, I discussed the concept of obtaining my food from within 250km of my house. So, how I am going? Well I haven't tried very hard, but started at least to make some conscious decisions when I am in my local grocery store (independent brand) and at the local "farmers'" markets.

What have I been successful in obtaining within this area?
  • strawberries
  • bread
  • mandarins
  • chicken
  • yoghurt
  • milk
  • mushrooms
  • fish (whiting)
  • pesto
  • honey
  • eggs
This list doesn't look extensive to me anyway. Have a look at your shopping trolley next time you're unpacking it into your car and see where your grocery items are coming from. Are local products readily available from your store?
    The obvious flaw with the bread (which has been consistently raised with me) and the pesto, is that I don't know where the basic ingredients are sourced from (basil in pesto is local, but don't know about the other ingredients). This fact could actually lead to an increase in my carbon footprint as a result of extra transportation of primary ingredients to the location of manufacture, but at least I have considered one step in my food chain and this is what I consider a step in the right direction. 

    I have other local products available fairly readily but have not required them to date and I also have sourced herbs from my garden, mostly parsley at this stage and therefore don't have any transportation impacts on these. 

    Where to from here? Further investigations into the availability of many of the staple products in my pantry would be useful.  Quizzing the sellers at the farmers' market where the products they are selling are coming from would also help and only buying what is seasonally available. All of these steps will assist in purchasing only products available from my local (250km) area. 

    Have you tried and what success are you having? 
    Pin It

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011


    Have you heard of Landshare? Its basically a dating agency for people wanting to grow their own food but don't have any land and those that have land on which the first group could grow their food. What a fantastic concept! I have seen so many parcels of empty land begging from someone to use it for something other than a never-ending mowing circuit.

    Landshare's website allows you to express an interest in either sharing your land or get connected with someone with some spare land. The website includes some useful tools, such as sample legal agreements ensuring the protection of everyone's rights. There are also case studies showing some successes and nothing more useful than planting guides for different regions in Australia and recipes for produce available from your landshare garden.  

    Currently there are just over 1100 members and growing rapidly. What an effort for something that was only started four months ago. Have a look at their map indicating locations of people wanting land and people offering land and see whether there is someone you can match up with in your area. Pin It

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    Climate change science

    One of my biggest concerns is the way in which people are obtaining their information about human-induced climate change. Presently my understanding is that most Australians are generating their opinions on this matter entirely from information available from mainstream media outlets. Currently these sources are generally not providing enough factual and scientific information for people to truly understand what is happening to our planet and its climate as a result of human activities.

    I personally have read more broadly on human-induced climate change than just the mainstream media. However, I am still guilty of not sourcing the original science or reports that rely heavily on the scientific material available (in a form that I could easily refer back to the original science). As such I have decided to start my personal journey to obtain some more of the facts and research by reviewing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment. The most recent reports are the 2007 reports, with a newer report with updated information and conclusions due in the not too distant future. The 2007 reports, including a summary report, are available on the IPCC's publication page of their website.

    Why review these reports? Basically, the IPCC's reports are the best summary of climate change science available to me without reading every scientific paper published on the issue. Someone else (a group of well-trained, conservative scientists) has reviewed the scientific literature and has then written a fully referenced report explaining in plain English what is happening to the planet's climate and specifically how it is changing.

    I also consider these reports to be the easiest way to access the peer-reviewed scientific information on this issue. Much of the scientific literature, unless your part of a tertiary institution or a relevant government or research body, is hard to obtain, with most journals requiring subscriptions. These subscriptions can be significantly costly for a member of the general public, a Council library or an individual. An alternate model to obtain the science would be for me to take the time finding all of the relevant research on the internet and then contact each of the authors directly to obtain a copy of their papers. This would be an extremely timely, cumbersome and inaccurate process. So off I go to wade through the IPCC reports.  

    I will post relevant and useful information as I plough through them. I would love to hear anyone else's experience of these reports. Pin It

    Sunday, July 17, 2011

    Backyards are important for native birds too!

    Some of you in suburbia may not realise the life or death situation the type of plants you have in your backyard can create for native birds in these areas. As more and more people change or landscape their gardens with non-native plants in highly urbanised environments or just replace gardens with more house and a little bit of grass the number of native birds is being reduced (in both number and types of native birds). You may have noticed there are one or two common species in your garden, maybe magpies, noisy miners, crows or lorikeets. These are all species that have been able to adapt to the resources generally available in the suburbs. There are however scores of species missing from these areas that were once prevalent, even in recent years, and many more moving towards extinction in the major centres.

    Birds in Backyards has a great program where you can record the types of birds in your backyards. This helps scientist obtain information about changes in population and species across time and space in urban settings without having to do extensive survey works themselves. The site also provides advice on how to encourage native birds back back into your gardens with the help of useful guidelines for all types of urban gardens and for all types of groups and people, as well as a great diversity of other resources. The guidelines currently available on the Birds In Backyards website are:

    • domestic gardens
    • schools
    • bushland managers
    • councils and planners
    • landscape architects
    • street tree planners
    • open space managers. 
    Using and having native plant species and a broad diversity of these in your garden provides resources for native birds. The types of resources they provide include food, nesting and roosting opportunities for all sorts of native animals including birds. Trees will provide nesting spaces in their branches and foraging (food) resources with their fruits, flowers and insects that they also attract. Small shrubs provide the same types of resources but are likely to return smaller, less aggressive bird species to your garden.

    The more people that provide resources for birds and native animals in suburbia the more likely native birds species will be retained in these areas. Also don't be turned off because you don't live directly adjacent to a native bushland or your neighbour doesn't plant native trees, birds are highly mobile species and will find your garden in the matrix of suburbia. 

    Another positive to having native gardens is that they don't have to be expensive to establish or maintain. Native nurseries are becoming more prevalent in major centres and often sell much of their plants as tubestock (smaller, younger plants). Because such plants are less mature and haven't had as much "looking after" they are regularly cheaper than standard nursery stock, meaning you don't have to take out a second mortgage to get a significant number of these types of plants into your garden. Also because native plants are from the area you live (if you buy the right kinds) they are use to the conditions and thus require less inputs and maintenance to keep them alive and looking good. 

    Consider the resources available to you through websites such as Birds in Backyards to inform you about what is right for you, your area and the birds that are and could be in your backyard, as well as the wealth of knowledge native and local specialised nurseries can provide to you about growing and maintaining appropriate native plants. And overall the benefits you and your local area's biodiversity will gain from maintaining or re-introducing native birds back into your area.
    Pin It

    Thursday, July 14, 2011


    I have had a couple of recipes in my weekly dinner plan that have basil in them for the last couple of weeks. I chose these recipes a little while ago and added basil to my shopping list. My basil plant in my garden wasn't doing so well, wilted leaves, large seed heads and bitter-tasting leaves (picture was taken when the basil was in its prime). I just thought this was a result of the poor soil it is currently planted in, being in terribly non-neutral (pH) mushroom compost in a bath tub.

    However, from my continual search for basil in the shops and farmers' market and its lack of presence on the shelves I have come to the conclusion that basil is out of season.  And due to its complete lack of presence in the supermarket I assume it is a herb that is too fragile to transport over large distances for any reasonable price.

    Once again, lesson learnt, no basil in winter and will start to think about sorting my recipe book into suitable seasons in which to cook them rather than under categories such as 'pasta', 'meat', 'chicken' and so on.

    The lesson: shop seasonally for fruit and vegetables and also herbs and you will shop for less and have less impact on the planet through reduced transportation impacts/costs. Pin It

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011

    Carbon tax, how much will it cost you?

    A friend of mine and I were discussing the impacts of the carbon tax on individuals in Australia. In her research she had come across an estimator which calculates what the carbon tax will cost your family each year and what compensation the government will provide to you. This estimator is available on the Cleaner Energy Future website.

    The website asks you a number of questions and bases its calculations on some typical scenarios, which the site explains, then providing you with an estimate of the cost to your family on an annual basis after the application of the carbon tax. After filling in the questionnaire I discovered my family will be approximately $700 worse off before compensation and after governmental compensation I will be out of pocket about $350 each year.

    To me this isn't the end of the world and I personally believe this financial burden in the short-term will in the long-term be reduced with investment into alternative technologies, etc likely to reduce costs to me over time and if I am also not buying products from the companies that are being taxed I will also reduce the likelihood of my financial burden in this market driven disincentive.

    Why don't you try this and see what the impact will be on your family? Let me know how you go and see what we can do together to reduce the impacts of this much-needed measure on our families. Pin It

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    A short summary on the Australian carbon tax

    Get Up's short video providing a great summary of how the Australian government's proposed carbon tax will work.

    Share the message and stop big business spreading false rumours! Pin It

    Sunday, July 10, 2011

    The future for our species?

    I am amazed at how many people are turning their back on the science of climate change. Whether the current situation is man-made or natural the climate will eventually change....the earth's history shows us this and you would think as a selfish species (and we all know we are) we would look to be protecting our existence on this planet as best we can. I can't believe people are so blind-sighted by their current passion, interest, lifestyle, etc, etc that the idea of enabling our species to persist on earth is such a foreign concept. That is really what everything boils down to. The issue isn't whether you believe climate change will wipe out the human species or another large asteroid or a volcanic explosion, the bigger picture is the long-term survival of our species.

    So if you really want to make a difference for your kids, your kids' kids and so on, think about how much of a difference you can make for future generations, be that in the form of supporting a carbon tax, adding some solar panels to your roof or whatever measure that you think make a difference. I know such pragmatism doesn't appeal to all people, but you would think that it would appeal to the majority of people since we keep breeding and wanting more and more for our children.    

    There are so many things that people believe in that can't be perceived by science or visualised and yet people continue to show their faith in these. Why can't people therefore believe the proven science of human-induced climate change which can clearly be demonstrated and shown to be future of planet earth if we remain on the current track we are following. Do your bit to make a difference and ensure the long-term survival of our species, including our children's children! Pin It

    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    Permaculture and the concept of edges

    I have been looking into permaculture recently and it seems to be a very interesting concept for a person interested in producing their own food in a sustainable manner. I do however have some issue with the permaculture principle of increasing edges within your system. My understanding is that edges in nature are highly diverse and productive and therefore if you introduce edges into say your veggie patch you potentially have more microclimates and potential to have more species, meaning more food in your garden.

    However, I come from a ecological background where edges in disturbed environments are the bad. They are the areas where weeds occur, water evaporates, winds increase, pests are present, etc, etc. As such, I fear the introduction of significant amounts of edges into a garden will in fact create issues for your garden and may in fact bring weedy species into your space, taking over other spaces that could be utilised for specialised species, increase evaporation and winds. I am also concerned about the weedy species that might become successful in your garden, may also become successful in adjacent areas, be that your neighbour's garden or a pristine environment.

    People I have listened to about the principle of permaculture edges indicate that edges are a natural system. My thoughts on this matter are not quite the same as what I perceive to be a black and white representation of the natural environment. Edges are in fact quite rare, transition spaces are in fact more common resultant from gradual changes in soils, geology, climate, species and so on. I would appreciate if anyone could either further explain or clarify this principle in permaculture. Until such time I am hesitant to adopt this principle in my garden with any vigour. Pin It

    Monday, July 4, 2011

    Quandamooka people successful in achieving Native Title recognition

    The Quandamooka people were today recognised as the native title custodians of "4,408 hectares of land and water on and surrounding North Stradbroke Island, including areas of national parks, reserves, unallocated State land and other leases." The Native Title Tribunal (NNT) has additional information on the determination in a media release on their website. According to the NNT, this determination recognises the Quandamooka peoples' exclusive rights to 2,264 hectares and non-exclusive rights to 22,639 hectares. The recognition of Native Title rights to the Quandamooka people does not however extend onto freehold land or many types of leasehold tenures.

    The Native Title claim was over the Quandamooka people's traditional land and seas, known as Minjerribah on North Stradbroke Island. The recognition of the "rights" to these lands is an amazing step forward and one that has been a long-time coming.

    The determination also extends to the inclusion of an Indigenous Land Use Agreement, which provides the Quandamooka with economic and employment opportunities. Overall, the agreement recognises the Quandamooka's rights as custodians and managers and protects environmental and cultural values.  The Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) has additional information about the agreement and the custodian role that the Quandamooka people on their website.

    Congratulations to all those that participated in the negotiation of this outcome and I am so glad that there is finally recognition of the Quandamooka peoples' land rights. Pin It

    Alternate finance model - encouraging green outcomes

    I heard a suggestion the other day that would implement a completely different model of borrowing money from financial organisations, with the aim of achieving more sustainable housing options for individuals. The idea was that financial institutions offer low interest rate and very long-term (60+ years) home loans/support loans to be utilised to finance sustainable technologies and practices. 

    You would be able to obtain a low interest and long term loan for things such as photovoltaic cells (solar panels), water tanks, insulation, etc and then for the traditional building materials and methods you would attract the normal home loan rate and term. Thereby ending up with two home loan products on your property. 

    As you are unlikely to live for the  length of your long-term loan period that loan is actually attached to the title of the property and that loan would transfer to the new owners when you or someone on your behalf sells the property.  

    Such loans would make the investment into alternative and sustainable technologies more affordable with recognition that the practicalities of investing in good technology can potentially be expensive for individuals, particularly for some of these emerging technologies. Such loans would encourage personal investment in sustainable housing options and technologies, with the incentive of long-term and low interest rates but would also mean such technologies over time would become cheaper and more efficient with increased investment in research and delivery of these technologies. Win-win situation.

    What a brilliant and alternate model to imagine! If there are any bankers listening, perhaps a model to try?
    Pin It

    Saturday, July 2, 2011

    Unique clothing/Hand-made things

    Last year I did a post on sewing your own clothes. I realise that most people don't have the time, patience, interest, machinery or skill to do this, including me on most days. So how can you can avoid mass produced clothing, household "luxury" items or gifts? Look on-line for websites and groups that support individuals that produce such items in a manner that supports their individual talent, unique products, excellent working conditions and low carbon footprint distribution (if made local to you). Alternatively, look for boutiques or designers within your area and support these people and this form of trade.

    A couple of well known hand-made websites are Made It and Etsy. The latter is an international site, but does have Australian designers/producers on it. I am also lucky in my local town (which is a hinterland town in south-east Queensland) to have a designer/dress-maker boutique shop which always has very unique clothing pieces. If you're not lucky enough to have such people within your town just do a internet search for the product you are looking for and the region you live within and you will definitely be surprised who is located in your broader region. Just look out and make sure the people you find aren't just distributors for products mass-produced in a sweat shop somewhere overseas.

    Support your local talent and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time. Pin It