“When there are only 50 left, every koala counts,” – Chris Allen, NSW OEH

The Wapengo koala found yesterday (Oct 17) clinging to an oyster lease. Photo: Chris Allen
The Wapengo koala found yesterday (Oct 17) clinging to an oyster lease, now in care at Potaroo Palace. Photo: Chris Allen

Small, fragile, and very precious communities of koalas scattered in the forests between Bermagui and Tathra are not only opening doors to their own survival but also the survival of their cousins around our continent.

Bega’s Chris Allen has been keeping watch over local populations since 1996, and since 2001 has coordinated a survey and research program through the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

“Because it’s such a small population, and really widely scattered, maybe 50 koalas over something like 30,000 hectares, it’s been a very difficult project,” Chris says.

Bunga Pinch Road marks the northern edge of this key habitat, then extending 10km south to Smith’s Road and Tea Ridge Road, and west to Lizard Road is the main area of koala activity.

“But there are other important patches,” Chris says.

“Into Mimosa Rocks National Park, in the Nelsons Catchment, there’s good evidence of koalas.”

One of these koalas ‘went viral’ last month, locals on Facebook delighted in seeing a strong, healthy looking specimen tramping along the side of the Bermagui – Tathra Road at Aragunnu.

This little fellow was spotted near aragunnu this morning

Posted by Catherine Clarke on Sunday, 24 September 2017

 

“Oh it’s just lovely, it’s a beautiful bit of footage, lovely that people are able to see it,” Chris smiles.

“I chatted with that person [who took the video] and in fact, it was just near the Aragunnu turn-off.

“He was just driving along the Bermi – Tathra Road, six o’clock in the morning, and here was this koala,” he says.

East of this spot is Mimosa Rocks National Park, on the western side there’s a bit of private property, then the newly created Murrah Flora Reserve.

According to Chris, there have been four or five sightings in this area, with one koala in poor condition rescued and returned to the wild healthy.

“That is one of the few points where koalas are crossing the road,” Chris says.

“Probably dispersing eastwards from the maternal home ranges we have identified in the Reserves.”

This is a really important stretch of road if this small population has any chance to grow in numbers, as Chris says, – “Every animal counts.”

“Slow down a bit, particularly at night,” Chris pleads.

Since that video emerged (and as I write this) another close encounter koala experience has emerged.

The Bega District News is reporting that a koala was found floating on an oyster bag at a lease in Wapango Lake, south of Bermagui yesterday morning.

Oyster farmers Coral and Brian Orr told the BDN they went out to flip their oyster bags when they spotted the koala’s head floating just above the water.

They pulled the bag in and the koala hurried under the hull of the boat to take shelter, the BDN reported.

Speaking to About Regional, Chris Allen says the koala is now resting at the Potoroo Palace wildlife sanctuary near Merimbula and will be monitored for a few days.

“It’s a young male, dehydrated and a bit skinny, but otherwise seems ok,” Chris says.

While koalas have been making the news lately it doesn’t mean the population is growing. Numbers are still small, in his 7o odd years, Chris says he has only seen five or six.

Our growing knowledge…

The fact that we know about these koalas and that management practices and response protocols are in place is a testament to a community-based effort that has a sense of magic about it.

Part of the initial drive to investigate this population came from forestry workers and local residents.

Since 2007 people from a range of agencies and backgrounds have literally been on their hands and knees on the forest floor looking for koala evidence – scats (droppings) mainly.

“I get terribly excited about finding koala poo,” Chris laughs.

Koala scat, AKA poo. Photo: Ian Campbell
Koala scat, AKA poo. Photo: Ian Campbell

That work has triggered higher level scientific research that is shaping future koala management in South East New South Wales and beyond.

“Since the 1960’s koala numbers in these coastal forests have been shrinking, and shrinking from the north,” Chris says.

“There were koalas north of the Bermagui – Cobargo Road, in Wallaga Lake National Park and Naira Creek, and on the northern side of Bermagui River, and gradually those numbers declined.”

Research has suggested that the decline has continued southwards – until you hit the Murrah River. South of the river that ‘hands and knees’ bush survey work points to a population that is at least stable and has been so over the last decade.

Sydney University has added its weight to the investigation looking into the secrets of this southern population.

“The way that’s done is that any time we find fresh koala poo we send it off to Sydney Uni and they are able to extract DNA,” Chris explains.

Genetic mapping is a part of the information recorded but so too is a snapshot of disease.

“What has come out of that research is that to the north of the Murrah River animals are carrying chlamydia but to the south – they’re not,” Chris says.

Explaining how and why that is the case remains unresolved, the results of this work are very preliminary.

“The koala is described as a chlamydia rich organism, the population is often carrying several different strains,” Chris says.

“Clearly some populations have a higher level of resilience.”

Chris believes the isolation of this southern population might be a factor in its survival which makes the management of their landscape more critical.

“We’ve picked up evidence of four perhaps five females breeding, we know where their home range areas are, ” Chris says.

Wildfire and climate change the big threats…

Habitat destruction has been one of the issues facing koalas across Australia, these particular Bega Valley marsupials received some respite from the NSW Government in March 2016 when the forests they were living in were protected from further logging with the creation of the Murrah Flora Reserves – taking in what was the Murrah, Tanja, and Mumbulla State Forests, and the southern section of the Bermagui State Forest.

“Almost certainly the greatest threat this population faces now is a major wildfire,” Chris says.

Managing that risk now drives a collaboration between the Rural Fire Service, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, local residents, and the Aboriginal community.

“We’ve been through a research project with the University of Melbourne where they’ve run what’s called fire simulation modeling,” Chris says.

The results highlight the likely progression of fire through this landscape, pinpointing areas for fuel reduction work. In turn, the threat to koalas as well as human life and property is reduced and the capacity of an effective response in the event of a wildfire is improved.

“Koalas can be very good neighbours,” Chris laughs.

The board managing the Biamanga National Park, which is made up of traditional owners, are keen to take on that key role of reducing the fire risk.

“For many years they have wanted to introduce a cultural burning program and I strongly support this,” Chris says.

“The way they see it is on two levels, one is to make an ecological contribution and [two] to provide opportunities for Aboriginal people to be working back on country.

“Within it [cultural burning] is the idea of small, low-intensity, patch burns, small terms just working over a long period of time,” Chris says.

Aside from fire, climate change is the other looming threat to these precious creatures – it’s change that is literally turning the koala’s stomach.

“It’s fairly clear that increased carbon dioxide levels are actually reducing the palatability of eucalypt foliage,” Chris says.

The fear is that the pressure of climate change on local forests will cut the number of suitable feed trees available.

“These koalas are widely scattered because there are only relativity few trees providing adequate nutrition,” Chris believes.

Increasing the number of suitable species like Woollybuott is another ‘rod in the fire’ of this conservation project.

“Woollybuot is really struggling to regenerate,” Chris says.

Thirty small research plots have been established throughout koala country where a range of bush regeneration techniques are being trialled – one of them is the use of seed balls.

“Seed balls are made up of the seed of the target species, clay is mixed with peat mulch and Cayenne pepper,” Chris smiles.

“The Cayenne pepper is the magic ingredient that stops ants and other critters eating the seed.”

A solid clay ball is the result which sits in the bush waiting for good rain.

“Now it’s a question of monitoring and seeing what is most effective in encouraging the regeneration of Woollybuot and other preferred browse species,” Chris says.

Using this research in conjunction with cultural burning; regenerating burnt areas is the long game.

The future…

This relatively small forest holds big potential, not just for the survival of the koala according to Chris but so many other species.

“If we can’t hang on to our koala populations we are in big trouble,” Chris says.

“This population is a real litmus test as to what we can do about koala conservation nationally, this is a nationally significant effort.

“This is not just about koalas, the conservation initiatives that flow around the management of koala populations are conserving a whole lot more,” he says.

The success of this work so far has been the amount of knowledge collected and cooperation around better and more careful management of these forests.

It’s understood that the NSW Government will release its NSW Koala Strategy before the end of November.

A whole-of-government approach Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton hopes will stabilise and start to increase koala numbers around the state.

The work of Chris Allen and dozens of other locals have contributed to that process – advice that gives the koala a fighting chance.

While the survival of the koala is the main game, this locally based 10-year project has already had a big win. Its magic has seen a coming together of community will, good science, and politics.

“This is a population on the brink, it’s the last one we’ve got here in the coastal forests of the Bega Valley, let’s do what we can, we owe it to them given their history,” Chris says.

Koala in the Murrah Flora Reserve near Mumbulla. Photo: Dave Gallen
Koala in the Murrah Flora Reserve near Mumbulla. Photo: Dave Gallen

About Regional content is supported by the contribution of members – thanks to Julie Rutherford Real Estate Bermagui, Tathra Beach House Apartments, Claire Blewett, Neroli Dickson, Jeanette Westmore, and Nigel Catchlove.

Eurobodalla and Bega Valley locals say “Stop Adani”

Eurobodalla locals gather on Congo Beach near Moruya. Photo: supplied
Eurobodalla locals gather on Congo Beach near Moruya. Photo: supplied

South East locals have been part of national protest action against the Adani coal mine proposed for North Queensland.

Protesters turned out in forty-five locations from Adelaide to Bondi to Bunbury over the weekend.

Locally, Eurobodalla 350 estimates around 250 people attended their protest at Congo Beach on Saturday, holding placards to spell out #STOP ADANI.

“We demand the federal government halt Adani’s enormous proposed coal mine,” spokesperson Allan Rees says.

In Bega, a colourful group marched through town on Friday and gathered in Littleton Gardens.

Organiser Sue Andrew sees the Adani mine as a litmus paper issue for a globe preparing for a climate change future.

“I feel now more than ever we have to unite to stand up against the fossil fuel industries and other extractive industries if we are serious about addressing climate change,” Ms Andrew says.

The Indian based Adani is seeking a billion dollar government loan to build a railway line linking its proposed Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin to the Abbot Point coal port on the Great Barrier Reef.

Once complete, Carmichael would be Australia’s largest coal mine, with six open-cut pits and up to five underground mines, with a lifespan of between 25 and 60 years.

Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told the ABC the project will bring new jobs to communities like Rockhampton, Towsnville, Charters Towers, Mackay, and Claremont.

“You only have to travel to regional Queensland to understand what this project means to thousands of families out there that will be employed through this project,” she told the ABC

The Queensland Premier is also confident environmental concerns have been heard.

“At the end of the day we have the toughest environmental conditions attached to that mine,” she said.

Allan Rees says those that gathered at Congo on Saturday are angry that taxpayer dollars might be used to subsidise something “so destructive”.

“Adani’s mine may be far away, but the Eurobodalla can’t escape the climate change caused by burning that coal,” Mr Rees says.

“Australia has enormous reserves of coal which we must keep in the ground if we are to halt climate change.

“Climate change is here and is harming our agriculture and fishing.

“Beekeepers tell us how gum trees are blossoming at the wrong time, orchardists have lost trees from extreme heat, graziers and fishing people tell us how the climate is changing and harming their livelihoods,” Mr Rees says.

Bega locals march thorugh town with their marine puppets. Photo: Ian Campbell
Bega locals march through town with their marine puppets. Photo: Ian Campbell

Local fears also extend to the future of the Great Barrier Reef itself if the mine goes ahead with Bega protesters carrying a series of handmade marine creatures along Carp Street and into the town’s civic space.

“We know the Great Barrier Reef is highly endangered already and any further development or shipping would only increase the destruction of this incredible ecosystem,” Sue Andrew believes.

The exact number of jobs the $22 billion Adani investment will create is disputed, Adani claims 10,000 however the Land Court of Queensland has put the number at closer to 2,600.

That same court deemed the development could go ahead but added a number of new environmental safeguards.

While accepting new jobs are important for regional communities Allan Rees suggests the jobs created by the mine are floored and points to new jobs in greener industries.

“We have to support communities which currently rely on coal to have new industries to employ people,” he says.

“State and federal governments must develop programs to change to wind and solar, batteries and hydro, as well as energy efficiency.

“Australia has to give up coal mining and change to a renewable energy economy,” Mr Rees says.

“We should be retrofitting homes and businesses with insulation and using better designs for new buildings.”

Debate has been renewed on the back of a Four Corners investigation that aired last week on ABC TV.

“Adani has been exposed on the ABC’s Four Corners program as damaging people’s health, the livelihoods of farmers and fishing people and the environment in India,” Mr Rees says.

“Adani is using foreign tax havens and has a corporate structure that would allow them to minimise tax paid in Australia.

“The former Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said that it was almost beyond belief that the Australian Government would look to provide concessional loans and other taxpayer support to facilitate Adani Group’s coal mining project,” he says.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sees huge potential in the mine going forward – should it be built.

“It will generate, over the course of its life, an enormous amount in taxes and in royalties, revenues for state and federal ­governments,” he told The Australian back in April.

Adani has suggested it will break ground on the mine site before the end of this month with the first coal produced in early 2020.

The billion dollar loan from the Federal Government’s National Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) remains undetermined.

However, News Limited has reported comments by Adani chairman Gautam Adani saying, “The project will be funded by internal accruals, NAIF and foreign banks.”

Bega’s Sue Andrew is positive people power will prevail.

“There is so much opposition. It is not viable; economically, ethically, or environmentally,” she says.

It is really a no-brainer, why not spend the proposed billion dollars from NAIF on building renewable energy infrastructure and thousands of sustainable jobs and show our commitment to our children’s future?”

Those behind the Eurobodalla and Bega Valley protests are committed to further action.

 

About Regional content is supported by the contributions of members. Thank you to Julie Klugman, Cathy Griff, Kate Liston-Mills, Shane O’Leary, Jenny Anderson, and Julie Rutherford Real Estate Bermagui.

Time shift: the wonder of Kosciuszko’s caves. By Kate Burke

Jersey Cave, Yarrangobilly, Kosciuszko National Park. Image: Kate Burke
Jersey Cave, Yarrangobilly, Kosciuszko National Park. Image: Kate Burke

In an already diverse landscape, Yarrangobilly Caves adds an x-factor to South East NSW that is rare and special.

Despite being brought up Catholic, I haven’t had religion for a long while. Still, I remember fondly the time spent in old, cool churches – the smell of stone, the peace, the sense of endless time.

The late folk singer Michael Kennedy described how nature’s beauty can evoke a spiritual response – “Ceiling clouds swirl, aisles of bloom curl round the wild cathedral.”

Natural spaces, like places of worship, can provide sanctuary and help us connect with who we really are.

During the recent school holidays, my family and I visited Yarrangobilly Caves in Kosciuszko National Park.

On the way from Cooma we drove through the epic and faltering landscape of Adaminaby and Kiandra, old goldfields with diggings and ditches full of snow.

Brumbies wander this country with majesty and bouncy playfulness. Their colours blend with the patchy wild scrub; despite being equine intruders, left over from last century and stranded in the wrong land, they’re elegant.

We paid our cave entry fees, and did a tour of Yarrangobilly’s Jersey Cave, which takes about an hour and half.

Beautiful, still rock pools are edged by limstone dams. Image: Kare Burke
Beautiful, still rock pools are edged by rimstone dams. Image: Kare Burke

I hadn’t been underground for years.

I used to do it a lot, at Wee Jasper and Wyanbene and Cooleman, as a teenage scamp who liked to wriggle through crawl spaces. This was much tamer, but an incredible experience nonetheless.

Caves are like slow, slow gardens.

It’s springtime, and I’ve been watching my sunflowers shoot up over the last few days. They manage a centimetre overnight, no worries.

The “cave straws” that reach down from the cave ceilings of Yarrangobilly – which look as you’d imagine – like straws, take 100 years to grow a single centimetre.

Many of the cave straws at Yarrangobilly are much longer – 20 or 30 centimetres; 2000 or 3000 years old.

My kids are 6 and 4, and they are surprisingly quiet and attentive (when they’re not wrestling each other for the torch).

They seem to understand the fragility of the formations. They know that the oil from their fingertips could stop them forming, and don’t reach for them. It’s surprising.

The names of cave formations are evocative – flowstones, shawls, pillars.

They’re all incomprehensibly ancient, but look like they could have grown through winter, like icicles or frozen waterfalls.

I’ve often felt as though caves are alive. Image: Kate Burke
I’ve often felt as though caves are alive. Image: Kate Burke

Beautiful, still rock pools are edged by rimstone dams and grow dogtooth spars – angular, squat crystals that cluster. These pools are otherworldly.

Some flowstones look like intricately woven fettuccine, cascading over metres.

All have formed as the fossil-rich limestone of the valley is dissolved by acidic rainwater, and redeposited as calcite.

According to National Parks, local Wolgalu people didn’t enter the caves much at all – formations survived thousands of years of indigenous custodianship.

But like so many caves, Jersey Cave was raided for souvenirs over the last 150 years. The cave is still stunning, but some caverns are stained darkly by the smoke from bygone kerosene lamps.

I’ve often felt as though caves are alive. Or that, at least, they can tell us something important about ourselves.

They tell us that we are small, transient, destructive, and peace-loving.

Some flowstones look like intricately woven fettucine, cascading over metres. Image: Kate Burke
Some flowstones look like intricately woven fettuccine, cascading over metres. Image: Kate Burke

We’re a confused bunch, and caves can provide a beautiful space to meditate and contemplate.

Perhaps we’ll always feel like impostors in such spaces. But thankfully these caves are now protected, and we can continue to visit and appreciate their lasting beauty.

Yarrangobilly Caves are open daily for you to explore and ‘feel’ for yourself.

Ranger talks really add to the experience as does a swim in the thermal pool!

Click here for more details

Kate Burke is a sought-after vocalist and musician based in Candelo and is completing her Masters in Science Communication at the Australian National University. This article originally appeared on ‘Raisin – Regional Science and Innovation’

Amazon suggests a ‘new type of farm’ for the Bega Valley

Teresa Carlson from Amazon and Liam O'Duibhir from 2pi with students from Lumen Christ Catholic College. Photo: AWS On Air
Teresa Carlson from Amazon and Liam O’Duibhir from 2pi with students from Lumen Christ Catholic College. Photo: AWS On Air

Young local tech heads have been recognised by one of the world’s biggest companies – Amazon.

The shout out from Teresa Carlson, Vice President of Amazon Web Services (AWS) came at a recent conference in Canberra and signals the start of a relationship between the 427 U.S billion dollar company and the Bega Valley.

Thirty-two IT students from Lumen Christi Catholic College at Pambula were in the audience to hear Ms Carlson suggest that the technology behind Amazon Web Services allowed a regional community like the Bega Valley to develop a ‘Silicon Valley’ element to the local economy.

“They [students] are so important, they are the most important aspect of what we all do day to day,” Ms Carlson said.

“Which is creating an environment for job creation, which at the same time creates economic development opportunities for local communities.”

Speaking directly to the busload from Pambula, Ms Carlson said she wanted them to get the skills and opportunities they needed to come and work for Amazon.

“Amazon paid for the bus to get the kids to Canberra, it was so fantastic,’ Liam O’Duibhir from 2pi Software says.

Amazon is now the worlds largest provider of ‘cloud computing’.

Bega based Liam explains that Amazon AWS allows big companies and agencies to manager high volumes of online traffic.

“Amazon started out selling books, in setting up the systems for that they become very good at what are called ‘server farms’ or ‘virtual data centres’,” he says.

“So if you get a spike in traffic you can have a thousand new virtual servers created in a couple of seconds, its elastic, it just expands as opposed to building your own physical stand-by servers ready to meet increased demand,” Liam says.

At the extreme end, the crash that happened around the 2016 Australian Census is a good example of the problem this technology helps avoid and manage.

Google, IBM, and Microsoft also operate in this space using similar technologies.

Liam and 2pi Software were in Canberra to share in the love from Amazon as part of their work with students at Lumen Christi.

The recognition came after a visit to the Bega Valley by Amazon in August, meeting with businesses and organisations like Bega Cheese, the University of Wollongong, Bega Valley Shire Council, and Federal MP Mike Kelly, exploring ways regional enterprise can take advantage of cloud computing.

“They didn’t assume we were dumber because we live in the country, they even came to the Into IT Code Night and met the kids,” Liam smiles.

The lifestyle and environment of the region is a key driver in the budding relationship between Amazon and the Bega Valley.

“Canberra based Amazon staff are already coming here to go fishing, they get it,” Liam says.

“But this isn’t a token affair, they see the Bega Valley as a showcase for what this technology can do for regional areas.

“Brian Senior,  from the AWS team in Canberra speaks strongly of their interest in exploring what can be done here, and if it is successful, replicating it in other parts of Australia, and potentially back in the US too.”

Time is now being invested working out how Amazon, 2pi, and local school students can build this Silicon Valley future in a landscape that has traditionally supported dairy and tourism.

Dairy has been the backbone of Bega Valley farming, Amazon is suggesting something new. Photo: Sapphire Coast Tourism
Dairy has been the backbone of Bega Valley farming, Amazon is suggesting something new. Photo: Sapphire Coast Tourism

One thousand local tech jobs in the Bega Valley by 2030 is the vision, which is supported by Into IT Sapphire Coast, a community based interest group supported by 2pi that holds weekly Coding Nights, Gamer Dev Jams, and Hackathons – as an outlet for local youth with a flair and passion for tech, computing and the creative arts.

“For the last seven years we’ve been building the skills and community needed to work in the Amazon AWS space locally,” Liam says.

Springing from the trip to Bega and conference in Canberra, more formal educational opportunities are now being investigated between TAFE, the University of Wollongong, and Amazon.

“These opportunities broaden the choices for our young people,” Liam says.

“This is not just about NAPLAN achieving students, in our industry its not always the person with first degree honours in computer science that drives it forward.

“It’s often the the guy or girl who failed their HSC who is so driven that nothing stops them,” Liam says.

Bega Valley based virtual server farms catering to global and local enterprises are the fruits of this growing relationship.

“We are looking to validate the rasion d’etre of Amazon, which is to free you from the tyranny of geography.”

“That’s a powerful message for regional Australia as a whole.”

Senior Amazon staff will visit the region again in October to take the discussion further.

“This a very good time in the Valley and we mustn’t let it stop,” Liam says

*About Regional membership supports local storytelling – thanks to The Bega Valley Regional Learning Centre, Wendy and Pete Gorton, Doug Reckord, and Linda Albertson.

 

 

 

Fire danger signs – Who changes them? What do they mean?

Fire Danger Ratting signs, part of the landscape in South East NSW. Photo: Ian Campbell
Fire Danger Rating signs, part of the landscape in South East NSW. Photo: Ian Campbell

The truth behind the workings of the region’s ‘Fire Danger Rating Signs‘ isn’t as colourful as I’d hoped.

However, it is another indicator of the commitment and dedication of the Rural Fire Service in South East NSW and a reminder of the devastating potential that exists in the environment we live in.

Where ever I travel these signs of green, blue, orange, and red catch my eye, a marker of dry times and wet times, and different geography. There is something universal about them, like a pot hole on the main street – every town has one.

And so simple, clear, effective – survivors in a high tech age.

When I started to see their arrows change and move up a notch or two with the changing season I was reminded of a long held mystery. Who changes them? How do they change? Never have I seen one being changed.

Asking that question of locals on Facebook prompted a range of creative answers.

Mixed with obvious affection for this service, it was suggested different mythical creatures, along with squads of ninjas, and ‘invisible people of the dark’ were all responsible for this very public but seldom seen work.

After at first suggesting goblins, trolls, and pixies changed the signs, one of the region’s fire chiefs revealed the secret.

Community Safety Officer, Marty Webster. Photo Ian Campbell
Community Safety Officer, Marty Webster. Photo Ian Campbell

Marty Webster is the Community Safety Officer with Far South Coast Rural Fire Service, he told About Regional that the signs change as a result of information from the Bureau of Meteorology.

“We get the ratings through and then we hit the pagers and one of our dedicated volunteers goes out and makes the change to the sign,” Marty explains.

“It happens when ever there is a change to the rating, typically over the winter months they’ll stay on low – moderate, moving into spring is when they start fluctuating, and over summer they can change daily.”

Marty says each RFS brigade is responsible for the signs in their patch, and often it’s the volunteer that lives closest to the sign who will go out, undo the padlock at the back of the pointer and move the sign accordingly.

Behind the Fire Danger Rating signs. Photo: Ian Campbell
Behind the Fire Danger Rating signs. Photo: Ian Campbell

When it comes to working out which of the six fire danger ratings the arrow will be stuck to, a range of factors are taken into account.

“Humidity, wind speed, temperature, and the state of the fuel – quite a complex algorithm that the Bureau does for us,” Marty says.

Each step along the way points to the predicted intensity of a bushfire if one was to start on that day.

“So at Low – Moderate, fires under those conditions will be fairly easy to contain,” Marty explains.

“At Very High, fires can be really unpredictable and there is a significant risk of house losses.

“Severe is where we hit Total Fire Ban, and then we move up to Extreme and Catastrophic, by the time we get to Catastrophic we are basically saying – no houses are designed or prepared well enough to withstand fire under those conditions,” he says.

What is of some comfort is that those days at the high end don’t come out of the blue and tend to be forecast days ahead.

“Certainly at Very High I’d be really encouraging people to look at their level of preparation,” Marty says.

The Community Safety Officer suggests that people use the fire danger rating signs as part of a Bush Fire Survival Plan.

“They are really valuable trigger points, so for example on a day of High Fire Danger people should start monitoring the RFS website more closely and as the fire danger rating increases or the situation changes other actions and decisions can be initiated,” Marty says.

The official bushfire season started on September 1 through the Bega Valley and Eurobodalla meaning fire permits are now needed. Landholders on the Monaro and in the Snowy Mountains have until October 1 before permits are needed.

Call your Local Fire Control Centre for advice.

 

*Another local story made with the contribution of About Regional members, thanks to Maria Linkenbagh, Tabitha Bilaniwskyi-Zarins, Jeanette Westmore, Fiona Cullen, and Kiah Wilderness Tours.

Quirky questions and burning curiosity, why science is great for kids. By Kate Burke

Kate Burke, in 2002 finishing her Geology Degree.
Kate Burke, in 2002 finishing her Geology Degree.

As a kid growing up in the leafy, benign suburbs of Canberra, there was time to dream. Sure, I was supposed to be training as a child prodigy pianist, but when I wasn’t wandering the Brutalist halls of the Canberra School of Music, I was doing what every kid does – reading books, imagining, wondering.

Why can’t I fly? Why is Rick Astley on Video Hits… again? Why don’t they make houses out of Kit Kats?

Kids are full of curiosity, dreams and quirky questions. Maintaining this curiosity is one of life’s great challenges.

We are born to dream, to be curious, and to ask questions about the world around us. But how can we keep that spark of curiosity burning?

Somewhere amidst the musical chaos of my childhood, my parents took me to a small building in Ainslie. Exhibits were scattered around the space, staffed by volunteers, and I spent the next hour playing with unusual toys.

I remember a ball staying up in the air, kept there by a steady jet of air from a silver tube – it wobbled, it bounced, but it stayed. This was Questacon, Australia’s first interactive science exhibition, and it gave me a new sense of wonder – how does it work?

Questacon showed me that science and wonder go hand in hand.

As I grew older, the sense of wonder morphed and shifted, but wouldn’t go away.

Questacon - Science on the Move, in Bega August 12 to 19. Artwork by Scott Baker at Bega Valley Shire Library Service.
Questacon – Science on the Move, in Bega August 12 to 19. Artwork by Scott Baker at Bega Valley Shire Library Service.

As a teenager, I’d hit the road with my friends and explore the caves around Canberra. We’d explore the dark mystery of these subterranean spaces, their stalactites glistening in the torchlight.

Dreaming in these caves led to curiosity – why are these beautiful structures here? Is there a system to this, or is it all down to chance?

Thankfully, you can study cave science, I did a degree in Geology, and fell in love with volcanoes, lava bombs, and cave-riddled karst country.

These days I explore how communities can use science to make decisions about social, environmental and economic issues.

Questacon is now a grand, multi-storey complex, and one of Canberra’s most popular tourist attractions. It also runs a traveling exhibition called ‘Science on the Move’, which is coming to the Bega Commemorative Civic Centre from August 12 to 19 during Science Week.

Kids can explore science in a fun, hands-on environment, asking questions like ‘how does a periscope work?’ and ‘what is a thongaphone?’

Science can help us to keep our curiosity burning for a lifetime.

Kate Burke is a sought after vocalist and musician based in Candelo and is completing her Masters in Science Communication at the Australian National University.

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Fear and fluoride, bedfellows amidst conflicting “evidence”

The Tantawangalo water supply source at Six Mile Creek. Image Kate Burke
The Tantawangalo water supply source at Six Mile Creek. Image Kate Burke/Raisin

The potential fluoridation of the Tantawanglo-Kiah Water System (Candelo, Wolumla, Merimbula, Tura, Pambula, Eden, Kiah) and the Brogo – Bermagui Water System (Quaama, Cobargo, Brogo, Wallaga Lake, Bermagui) has divided the Bega Valley community.

With Bega Valley Shire Council’s decision on whether to fluoridate or not still pending, the way forward seems far from clear.

By the way, the Bega – Tathra Water System has been fluoridated since 1963.

The international anti-fluoride Fluoride Action Network (FAN) challenges the safety of fluoridation despite reassurances from peak health bodies such as the Australian Medical Association and the Australian Dental Association.

FAN cites a series of scientific studies that point to negative health effects related to fluoride. Yet the World Health Organisation cites fluoridation of water as, “the most effective public health measure for the prevention of dental decay.”

The ingredients of this debate are a potent mix of conflicting evidence, with added fear, and a rather large ethical grey area.

It’s murky and hard to navigate.

Yet if you can familiarise yourself with this tricky landscape, you can start to make sense of the different perspectives people have on this issue, and perhaps take some of the fear out of the equation.

It turns out that scientific studies, the foundation stones of public health debate, are not always as rock solid as they seem.

While the fluoride debate touches on personal choice, welfare, and economics; scientific studies are a central part of pro and anti-fluoride argument.

A body of studies has been cited by the Fluoride Action Network pointing to potential effects of fluoride such as reduced IQ in children, obesity, and even cancer.

The Australian Medical Association claims that there is no appreciable link between fluoridation and these side effects.

But with so much at stake, how do you navigate the conflicting “evidence” that we’re finding?

Where better to begin than Google Scholar?! Google’s search engine for published academic studies. What happens when you search for “fluoride and IQ”?

Looking through the studies that have linked fluoride to lower IQ in children, one thing stands out – most studies that popped up didn’t test for other factors that could affect IQ.

Many studies were from China, India, or Mongolia, and compared towns that fluoridated water supplies with those that didn’t.

However, they didn’t check for other differences between the towns – levels of poverty, nutrition, potential lead and arsenic poisoning, all of which can affect the IQ of children.

This is like blaming weight gain on exercise, without considering diet.

These studies simply don’t meet the criteria needed to inform sound decision-making, yet they are published online alongside studies of higher quality.

Twenty low-quality studies that link lower IQ and fluoride, alongside only one quality study that finds no link, can look like strength in numbers and cast the wrong impression.

Assessing evidence doesn’t work like that. It’s not like voting. One study is not necessarily worth the same as another.

The problem is that scientific investigations can be carried out and published (particularly online) by any scientist, from any organisation. Most are carried out with noble intentions, but even noble intentions can be fed by bias – if you’re passionate about a cause, or feel that you’ve found an important link, established scientific practices might fall by the wayside.

Glass of water. Source pixabay.com 1160264
A glass of water. Source pixabay.com 1160264

Dr Andrew Wakefield’s study linking autism with vaccination is a famous example.

Dr Wakefield and his colleagues felt that they’d found an important link after reviewing the cases of eight people who’d been diagnosed with autism within a month of receiving the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine.

The investigation was found to be riddled with problems; their medical assessments and analysis of results were described as incomplete and biased.

Much of the criticism of Dr Wakefield’s study suggested it ignored statistical significance.

Given that 50,000 children per month were vaccinated with MMR in England at the time, eight presentations of autism were not enough to establish a link.

Statistical significance is needed for a scientific result to have meaning. Where health is concerned, this usually means two things –  that a lot of people were tested and the results were strong enough to discount coincidence and other confounding factors, such as nutrition and lead in the IQ example.

Dr Wakefield’s study was discredited, and wide scale, high-quality studies were carried out that found no link between autism and vaccination.  But his study was already fuelling the fears of parents across the globe.

When something appears to threaten the health of children, it can achieve notoriety.

It’s important to carefully examine the information you are given or find yourself, but how do you sift through the jargon, the publications, the conflicting evidence?

Putting your fear aside, how do you know what and who to trust?

Dr Will Grant of the Australian National University’s Centre for the Public Awareness of Science says that it’s almost impossible for one person to do this alone.

“While I’d love to say that I have the capacity to truthfully assess the veracity and rigour of all research that’s available online, I simply don’t have that capacity.  In fact, no one does,” he says.

“Instead we’re all forced to use the decision-making heuristics we’ve always used, typically though not exclusively, trusting a variety of voices in our networks that know better.”

Dr Grant says that we rely on institutions to process this information for us.

“But if I’m a person who doesn’t trust these institutions – and the number of people who don’t trust the central institutions of society is growing globally – then I’m going to trust other things,” he says.

Kate Burke
Kate Burke

Other things might include organisations like FAN, who question the reliability of institutionalised knowledge.

The FAN website claims it, “develops and maintains the world’s most comprehensive online database on fluoride compounds.”

Despite making this claim, they don’t give you a comprehensive review of the quality of materials in their database.

The Australian Government’s National Medical Health Research Council (NHMRC), is a not-for-profit research organisation that draws on the expertise of people tied to the University of Melbourne, Royal North Shore Hospital, The Cancer Council, Alfred Hospital, and Monash University, among other organisations.

The NHMRC has released a Health Effects of Fluoridation Evidence Evaluation Report through its Clinical Trials Centre at the University of Sydney which provides an analysis of fluoride research from the last decade.

It’s worth a read for two reasons.

Firstly, it assesses the quality of studies looking into the effects of fluoridation on dental caries (decay) and other symptoms from 2006-2015, and walks through them bit by bit, weighing up their value without apparent bias.

Secondly, its conclusions reflect the “greyness” of this debate. The NHMRC says the evidence appears to indicate that Australian water fluoridation standards are safe, while also suggesting there are gaps in the research.

The recommended level of fluoridation is shown to give a 35% reduction in dental caries. This is a significant number, as it means that more than a third of dental decay can be prevented by adding fluoride to a water supply.

This has knock-on effects for the rest of a person’s health and reduces financial pressure on individuals and the economy by cutting down on visits to the dentist.

The report also shows that recommended fluoride levels can increase the incidence of tooth discolouration due to fluorosis (a chronic condition caused by excessive intake of fluoride compounds, seen as mottling of the teeth) by around 12%.

Healthy teeth, Source Pixabay
Healthy teeth, Source Pixabay

The NHRMC document also gives many of the scientific reports presented in this debate a confidence grading.

The low overall confidence grading of the reports that raise concerns about cancer and IQ perhaps take some fear out of the equation, as the ratings are low enough to discount many of the studies altogether.

The presence of studies of higher quality (ie more thorough and more reliable) have tipped the balance of evidence away from such matters of concern.

However, if the NHRMC also suggests there are gaps in the research, why can’t we just test for the negative health effects that fuel much of the fear in a robust credible way?

In Australia, people are exposed to fluoride in a number of ways, including in toothpaste and tea, and it naturally occurs in the environment around us. This means that a person’s previous exposure to fluoride is very difficult to determine. To find a bunch of people who have never been exposed to fluoride as a control group, and then to test the effects of drinking fluoridated water on them, is extremely challenging.

And as the studies linking fluoride and IQ in China, India, and  Mongolia show us, these studies are problematic because there are so many other factors that can contribute to influence a person’s health.

Finding the fluoride link is not easy.

The NHMRC review gives us an indication of which way the evidence is swinging – and it’s telling us that fluoridation of our water supply will give us healthier teeth and that the only side effect of significant concern is discolouration caused by fluorosis.

It also tells us that other side effects are most likely not going to happen at Australian levels of fluoridation.

Our personal views on fluoridation are important and varied and can’t be discounted.

But it is important that we are able to critically assess the information that is given to us.  If we can’t do this on our own, we can at least have a look at how others have reviewed it and make sure that we’re satisfied with how they’ve done it, which perhaps takes some of the fear out of the equation.

 

*Kate Burke is completing her Masters in Science Communication through the Australian National University

*Above is an edited article that originally appeared on Raisin – stories of regional science and innovation

*Ian Campbell founder of About Regional is part-time media officer for Bega Valley Shire Council

About Regional presents TEDx Sydney in Bega – get your tickets here!

TEDx Sydney 2016. Source: TEDx Sydney
TEDx Sydney 2016. Source: TEDx Sydney

TEDx Sydney is the leading platform for promoting Australian ideas, creativity, and innovation to the rest of the world, and this year Bega gets a front row seat.

TED is a not for profit organisation devoted to ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’, you might be familiar with TED Talks – a global video and podcast sensation. These talks of between 5 and 20 minutes spark deep discussion and connection, TEDx Sydney is an extension of that.

People expert in their field, people you might not have never heard of stand up with something to say and usually stand up ‘for’ something.

On Friday, June 16, the Bega Valley Commemorative Civic Centre (BVCCC) will plug into the exclusive live video stream from TEDx Sydney at the International Convention Centre at Darling Harbour.

About Regional will host local discussion around the program from Sydney.

“Full of brilliant ideas and extraordinary stories that bring heart and mind together.” – TEDx Sydney 2016 attendee

The program is packed with people and ideas that will be new, people and ideas that will build on your own thoughts, and people and ideas that will challenge your way of thinking.

The live stream program on the big screen at the BVCCC is non-stop from 9am on Friday, June 16:

9:00am – 10:30am

  • Airling, fast becoming one of the most talked about young artists in Australia.
  • Bronwyn King, Australian radiation oncologist.
  • Tom Griffiths, Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Berkeley University.
  • Judy Atkinson, community worker and academic in the fields of violence, trauma, and healing.
  • L-FRESH The LION, prowling the Australian scene, the Western Sydney artist has quickly become renowned for his powerful presence, inspiring live shows and thought-provoking lyricism.
  • Jane Gilmore, a journalist with a strong focus on data journalism and feminism.

11:15am – 12:45pm

2:15pm – 3:45pm

  • Uncle Jack Charles, award-winning actor, Aboriginal elder and musician.
  • Sarah Blasko, acclaimed singer, songwriter, musician and producer.
  • Sarah Houbolt, Paralympic swimmer, and circus performer.
  • David Power, helping to end the threat of illegal fishing and overfishing to Pacific Island communities.
  • Andy Dexterity, a performance maker recognised for his unique brand of movement, which fuses dance, physical theatre and signed languages.

4:30pm – 6:15pm

  • Stu Hunter, multi award-winning Australian composer, producer, and pianist.
  • Fast Ideas.
  • Scott Griffiths, researcher of male body dissatisfaction and eating disorders.
  • Jordan Raskopoulos, comedian, actor, singer and co-creator of The Axis of Awesome.
  • Peter Greste, an award-winning foreign correspondent.
  • Ngaiire, one of Australia’s most unique and fearless musicians

Following the live stream from Sydney, a local discussion with a room of thinkers and leaders will give TEDx a Bega Valley spin, finishing up before 7:30pm.

There are lots of ticketing options

Option 1: The live stream from TEDx Sydney will run all day, come and go as you please. An all-day pass, including gourmet finger food and a drink for the evening session, is $30.

Business people, entrepreneurs, students – anyone! Is invited to work from the BVCCC all day on June 16 with wifi and desk space provided. A chance to ‘get the job done’ and network with like-minded locals, all while being able to take part in TEDx Sydney. An all-day work pass costs $30, which gives you access to the BVCCC co-working space from 9am, as well as entry to the evening session with nibbls and a complimentary drink from 4:30.

The BVCCC. Source: Hines Constructions
The BVCCC. Source: Hines Constructions

Option 2: The lunch session runs 11:30 – 2:30 and costs just $10. Taking some inspiration from this year’s TEDx Sydney theme of ‘Unconventional’ you are encouraged to bring your own unconventional lunch along to the BVCCC, find a spot with friends in front of the big screen upstairs and take in the experience.

Option 3: The after work/evening session runs 4:30 till 7:00ish, come and enjoy TEDx Sydney with gourmet finger food and a drink, tickets are $25.

Bring your Friday drinks to the BVCCC, the bar will be open!

High school and university students can have all day access for just $5, evening drinks and nibbles are extra.

Get your tickets HERE and be part of the discussion.

 

About Regional, podcast 14 – your solar power questions answered

Interest in installing solar panels is strong. Source: NSW OEH
Interest in installing solar panels is strong. Source: NSW OEH

Long before Donald Trump turned America’s back on the Paris Agreement, Australian families decided that investing in solar energy for their homes and businesses made sense, in fact Australia has the highest take-up rate in the world.

The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage is keen to build on that and have just been in the region, dropping in on towns where the take up of solar panels hasn’t been as great as it has been in other communities.

Free community seminars in Queanbeyan, Cooma, Eden and Ulladulla have helped “Demystify Solar Power’.

OEH staff were on hand to answer questions and lead discussion – explaining the different options for businesses and households wanting to switch to solar; saving money and saving the planet.

The Paris Agreement was part of the conversation that took place at these seminars, but this all happened just before Trump quite, not that I think the local response would have been different.

Lisa Miller is a confessed solar geek from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage

Or listen and subscribe via Audioboom, iTunes, or bitesz.com

Resources recommended by Lisa: Clean Energy Council, Australian PV Institute, OEH – Energy Efficiency

Thanks to my partners in this program – Light to Light Camps rolling out the red carpet on the 31 km track between Boyd’s Tower and Greencape Lighthouse south of Eden.

Feedback, story ideas, and advertising inquiries are really welcome – send your email to hello@aboutregional.com.au

Thanks for tuning in, see you out and about in South East NSW.

Cheers

Ian

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