New citizens formalise their place in Bega Valley community.

Sittikai Henchaichone, Kannaphat Henchaichone, Deerana Kuskel, Brittany McConnell, Jason Badham, Saul Nightingale, Pavan Tenali, Dr Krishnankutty Rajesh, Parvathy Rajesh, Kiran Rajesh, Jennifer Watson. Photo: Ian Campbell
Sittikai Henchaichone, Kannaphat Henchaichone, Deerana Kuskel, Brittany McConnell, Jason Badham, Saul Nightingale, Pavan Tenali, Dr Krishnankutty Rajesh, Parvathy Rajesh, Kiran Rajesh, Jennifer Watson. Photo: Ian Campbell

Giving up your citizenship is a hard thing to get your head around if you were born in Australia.

Generally speaking, being born in Australia is the Wonka Golden Ticket of citizenship.

I guess there are Australian’s that renounce their citizenship – Rupert Murdoch comes to mind, but Aussie’s choosing citizenship of another country over the green and gold isn’t something you come across or hear about.

Other people becoming or wanting to become an Australian citizen is much easier to understand.

Around this great southland, 13,000 people made a pledge to Australia and its people on January 26, 11 of those in Bega, people born at all points of the global compass.

Nationally, people of Indian descent were the second largest group to take part in citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day behind the British, something that was reflected locally.

Indian born Bega residents, Dr Krishnankutty Rajesh, Parvathy Rajesh, and Kiran Rajesh, along with Cobargo’s Pavan Tenali are now Australian citizens.

Cobargo's Pavan Tenali. Photo: Ian Campbell
Cobargo’s Pavan Tenali. Photo: Ian Campbell

“This is a lovely community and very peaceful, a good place to stay,” Pavan says.

With Australian Crawl’s hit “Boys Light Up” playing in the background, Pavan tells me he has been in Australia for 10 years, in recent years working at the Cobargo Service Station.

“India is a good place too, but now I live here and the feeling is good,” he says.

Skype helps Pavan keep in touch with his large family in India, he says they are very happy for him and support his decision to become an Australian citizen.

“It was a big decision, but I am very happy, my family have peace of mind.”

India and the United Kindom weren’t the only nations represented in Bega, others pledging loyalty to Australia’s democratic beliefs, rights, liberties, and laws came from Thailand and the United States.

Bermagui's Saul Nightingale. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Bermagui’s Saul Nightingale. Photo: Ian Campbell.

With the day’s soundtrack moving along to Men at Work, Saul Nightingale says his heart has always been Australian.

“I moved here when I was five, that’s forty years ago,” Saul smiles.

“Mum and Dad are from the UK and they just saw the way things were going there, they thought this is not a place to bring up a family, in terms of opportunity, safety, and employment.

Saul calls Bermagui home now and when he isn’t playing music he works for the not-for-profit training organisation – The Centre for Community Welfare Training.

“My earliest memory of Australia was pulling into Sydney Harbour on the P&O Canberra on a stunningly beautiful day, Sydney was showing off, Australia made a pretty good first impression,” Saul laughs.

While becoming an Australian citizen was a formality for Saul, it was something that came with a sense of duty.

“I have a responsibility to have a say politically, as all Australians do,” he says.

“It’s all very well to talk about politics and to support certain causes but if you can’t actually put a vote to that then there’s a level of hypocrisy there.”

Merimbula's Brittany McConnell. Photo: Ian Campbell
Merimbula’s Brittany McConnell. Photo: Ian Campbell

Merimbula’s Brittany McConnell has been in Australia for six and half years with her Australian husband, her background is a jumble of the United States and England.

“It is a big decision to take Australian citizenship, but now I just feel so happy and proud, it feels amazing,” Brittany says.

Like Saul, this nurse from Pambula Hospital is looking forward to having her say.

“Back home you don’t actually have to participate [vote] if you don’t want to, so it’s quite nice to feel that obligation and be involved in decisions and feel like you have a voice,” she says.

As the band starts with Mondo Rock, I chat to Jason Badham who was born in the United States and has found love, life, and work in the Bega Valley.

Wolumla's Jason Badham. Photo: Ian Campbell.
Wolumla’s Jason Badham. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Living in Wolumla, Jason is a website designer with 2pi Software.

“I’ve been thinking about taking out citizenship for almost eight years, but the final decision came at the end of January 2017, ” Jason says.

The Trump inauguration seems to have played a part in Jason’s decision but more so the influence of his Australian partner Kirsten.

“I was in the States and I discovered my wife here in Australia because she was breeding the same kind of parrots that I was, I found her website and it was an encyclopedia of information,” Jason says.

“One thing led to another, I helped her build a website, we started having a friendship and I decided to come over here – it’s the best choice I ever made.”

Australia Day remains a tangle of issues yet to be sorted, but the role the citizenship ceremony plays is beyond question. Those who already have Australian citizenship are reminded by those who are new to it why Australia is such a good place to be and why diversity makes us stronger.

*About Regional content happens through the support of members – thank you to The Crossing Land Education Trust at Bermagui, 2pi Software, Snowy Monaro Regional Council, Fiona Firth, Scott Halfpenny, Bruce and Julie Williamson, Sue Hill, Robert Hartemink, Maureen Searson, Bruce Morrison, and Kerry Newlin. Thank you!

Bega Valley Mayor, Kristy McBain calls on us to “Advance Australia”

Kristy McBain, pic from Bega Valley Shire Council
Bega Valley Shire Mayor, Kristy McBain. Photo: Bega Valley Shire Council

Through her Australia Day address, Bega Valley Mayor, Kristy McBain has tried to advance the conversation about our national day.

“With courage let us all combine in a celebration and conversation about our country,” the Mayor told the 200 people gathered in Littleton Gardens this morning for the Shire’s official Australia Day ceremony.

An hour after the Bega ceremony concluded a Survival Day event was held in Bermagui, reflecting the undeniable loss many Aboriginal people feel on January 26.

The Bega Valley was split in two, and those overwhelmed by the debate went to the beach.

Communities divided or not engaged on our national day – surely this is not healthy?

Rather than waiting for Federal leadership on the issue, perhaps the people of South East NSW could lead the way and create an event that truly unifies and inspires all Australians.

It’s a conversation the Bega Valley’s Mayor seems keen to have and lead…

To address you on a day such as this is a tremendous honour and something I have spent a lot of time thinking about.

Australia Day is an event that generates conversation and thought, and rightly so. Thank you for being here to consider my thoughts.

There is a sigh of relief that comes with being Australian, our country is truly blessed in natures gifts and the beauty of our people and way of life is rich and rare.

The people we honour today with an Australia Day Award remind us that being Australian is active citizenship.

People like Dane, Junee, Ron, Shaun, Geoffrey and Marshall are people within our community that point the way. They inspire us and remind us of the power we each have within our hands and heart to shape this land that is girt by sea.

I am so glad you are here today to share in their wisdom and experience, and perhaps ask yourself – What can I do to Advance Australia? How can I respect and support the people, environment, and way of life we celebrate today?

Today we also stand up and cheer as new Australian’s join our ranks and deepen our proud multicultural heritage.

Twelve people will today become Australian citizens, people from across the seas to share our boundless plains. The stories of these people and the talent they bring make us stronger.

Central to our time together today is a history that spans one of the oldest living cultures on the planet as well as European settlement and exploration.

Australia Day is a history lesson that presents a range of ideas and experiences to consider; stories that take in the full scope of our country’s history and human emotion.

How these shared and at times conflicting histories sit side by side and are remembered is an ongoing dialogue for our community and important work for us to do so that in history’s page, every stage, does Advance Australia.

As different and conflicting as those histories are at times, there are often shared values and ambitions that rise to the surface as those histories are shared.

At our core, we are a nation of people who value being Australian and what that means to us and says to the world.

It’s freedom that comes as easy as the next breath, a celebration and acceptance of different cultures, an emphasis on friendship, a spirit that has a go, a sense of fun, and an empathy that steps up when we see a need.

A successful nation has been built on these lands over many thousands of years, each chapter adds something new, each chapter has its own challenges, and each chapter calls on us to help shape the next.

So in 2018 I encourage you to mark Australia Day however feels right to you, remembering all that we have to be grateful for, all that we have in common, and the future we all create together.

With courage let us all combine in a celebration and conversation about our country.

Happy Australia Day!

Bega Valley Shire Mayor, Kristy McBain

The increasing hurt and frustration around Australia Day damages the potential and delays resolution, while ever it continues people will run from any organised event, the only people attending will be those at the extremes of the discussion, the rest will opt for a swim and a good book, and Australia Day will become just another public holiday when it could be so much more.

The leadership shown by Cr McBain this morning is perhaps the start of something better, let’s get the local discussion going now and not wait for next January to roll around.

Always interested in your thoughts.

Ian

 

*Author is part-time media officer for Bega Valley Shire Council and acted as MC for Australia Day 2018 in Bega.

 

Podcast 21 – A lesson in the art of rock balancing with Michael Grab

Today’s conversation is with Michael Grab.

Michael’s rock balancing art stops the world dead, and in the same way that breathing just happens, your mind automatically asks, “How the hell does he do that?”

The gallery of photo and videos on his Gravity Glue website is extraordinary.

Canadian born Michael has been on the Far South Coast of New South Wales over summer, bringing his brand of land art to Picnic Point and Goalen Head, a magic bit of coastline between Bermagui and Tathra.

His work defies gravity, at least how the rest of us understand gravity, but Michael seems to have an ability to tap into and read this invisible earth force – something he describes as “gravity glue“.

How does he do it? Press play and find out…

Or listen and subscribe via AudioBoom, Bitesz.com, or Apple Podcasts.

 

A shout out to those who support local storytelling – Julie Rutherford Real Estate Bermagui, the Bega Valley Commemorative Civic Centre, and Kiah Wilderness Tours.

Thanks for listening.
Ian

About Regional Pop-Up Newsroom – what a great day in Bermagui!

The first About Regional Pop-Up Newsroom landed in Bermagui this week, based out of Julie Rutherford Real Estate we uncovered some of the untold stories of this town.

Kelly Eastwood from River Cottage Australia dropped in to share her plans for a deli and cooking school…

The About Regional Pop-Up Newsroom is in #Bermagui upstairs at the harbour at Julie Rutherford Real Estate.This time chatting to Kelly Eastwood about her new deli and cooking school.Drop by with your story between now and 2pm.CheersIan

Posted by About Regional on Tuesday, 5 December 2017

 

Longtime Bermagui fisherman Allan Broadhurst talked about his life on the ocean…

Can't come to #Bermagui and not talk to a real fisherman! Here's one – Allan Broadhurst.The About Regional Pop-Up Newsroom at Julie Rutherford Real Estate.Drop by with your story before 2pm.Thanks for tuning in.Ian

Posted by About Regional on Tuesday, 5 December 2017

 

The team at Marine Rescue Bermagui reinforced my longheld view that “the hills around here” hide some interesting people…

The About Regional Pop-Up Newsroom moves to Marine Rescue Bermagui, chatting to Alec and Richard.What's your story? Drop by Julie Rutherford Real Estate before 2!Thanks for tuning in.Ian

Posted by About Regional on Tuesday, 5 December 2017

 

And then there’s Bruce Frost, a life of volunteering, beekeeping and managing MS, one of the region’s great men…

The About Regional Pop-Up Newsroom is at Julie Rutherford Real Estate, upstairs at #Bermagui Harbour until 2ish. Drop by and share your story.Chatting to Bruce Frost right now talking volunteering, beekeeping, life with MS, and who knows!Thanks for tuning in.Ian

Posted by About Regional on Tuesday, 5 December 2017

 

What a great day! The About Regional Pop-Up Newsroom will happen again in 2018, somewhere in South East NSW.

Cheers

Ian

Youth Stage at Cobargo Folk Festival turns 13 – entries open now for 2018

Sarah Lindgard from Eden Marine High. Photo: Supplied
Sarah Lindgard from Eden Marine High. Photo: Supplied

The Crossing Youth Stage at the annual Cobargo Folk Festival has an impressive back-catalogue.

Almost 700 young acts have entertained festival-goers and in 2018 the Youth Stage turns thirteen.

Young people interested in performing and adding to the tradition are invited to apply online before December 10 to secure a place.

“Because of the history and fun we’ve had over the years, applications are filling fast, there is a limited number of sets available,” The Crossing’s Annette Turner says.

“The Folk Festival really believes in providing a designated space for young performers, and we’ve really seen it become a highlight in amongst the star-studded festival program.”

The Youth Stage builds on the day to day work of The Crossing Land Education Trust at Bermagui.

The Trust is based in a magnificent Spotted Gum forest on the edge of the Bermagui River.

Established in 1999 and lead by Dean and Annette Turner, The Crossing is a unique not-for-profit educational camp where teens for near and far learn about Landcare, sustainable design, habitat, and wildlife research in a hands-on, practical way.

Greater self-awareness, confidence, initiative  – and a good time is the spin-off for those who take part.

“We take that notion of having a go in a supportive environment to The Youth Stage and give young people experience performing in front of live audiences,” Annette says.

Most performers are local but a few young people from further afield like Canberra and Wollongong have heard about the opportunity and in recent years have been making the most of the festival experience.

Rhys Davis and Llew Badger in 2014. Photo: Supplied
Rhys Davies and Dizzi Stern in 2014. Photo: Supplied

Names on The Crossing Youth Stage honour role include Cooma’s Vendulka, Brogo’s Daniel Champagne, Bega’s Rhys Davies, and Merimbula’s Kim Churchill, who have all gone on to bigger stages and bigger audiences around Australia and around the world.

“There is always such a broad range of music,” Annette says.

“All music is welcome with opportunities for young people to perform a single song or an entire set – you can even come and juggle.

“And what I really love is that some will go away and really hone their skills between festivals and return with new material, different line-ups, and more confidence,” Annette smiles.

The Stage also provides an important hub and hang out for young festival goers, with an atmosphere of respect and inclusion for all.

Spin-offs from the Youth Stage have included a Songwriters Camp held at The Crossing during the school year that gives young people an opportunity to develop their talent and craft under the guidance of professional musicians and performers.

The 2018 Cobargo Folk Festival runs March 2 to 4, the program so far includes Eric Bogle, Neil Murray, The Northern Folk, and David Ross McDonald. Those interested in performing at The Crossing Youth Stage need to register online before December 10.

*The Crossing Land Education Trust are Community Group Members of About Regional.

Eurobodalla and Bega Valley legends countdown to Gold Coast Commonwealth Games

A local train driver with the Baton as the QBR is transported to the city of Galle. Photo - https://www.gc2018.com/qbr
A local train driver with the Baton as the QBR is transported to the city of Galle. Photo – https://www.gc2018.com/qbr

Thousands of “local legends” around Australia have just been told they will carry the Queen’s Baton through their community in the run-up to the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games – 19 Bega Valley and Eurobodalla locals are among them…

Peter Anderson, Malua Bay
Robert Blake, Malua Bay
Darren Browning, Tomakin
Ann Brummell, Batemans Bay
Anthony Fahey, Dalmeny
Leah Hearne, Lilli Pilli
Sharon Himan, Moruya
Tracey Innes, Longbeach
Andrei Kravskov, Sunshine Bay
Helen McFarlane, Sunshine Bay
RubyRose McMath, Batemans Bay
Merle Morton, Wamban
Brad Rossiter, Surfside
Amanda Smith, Broulee
Cheryl Sutherland, Moruya
Kate Butterfield, Bermagui
Helen Hillier, Eden
Lynne Koerbin, Merimbula
Dane Waites, Pambula

Nominated by their peers for achievements and contributions to their community, these batonbearers have been chosen because they represent the spirit of the Commonwealth and inspire others to be great.

Bermagui’s Kate Butterfield is a former police officer managing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, she started the Run Brave initiative to raise awareness of the benefits of running for those struggling with mental health issues.

She has created a fun, supportive, and encouraging environment for people of all fitness levels to complete a five-kilometre event across Australia in 2016, fostering community spirit and raising money for Lifeline.

Its an initiative that is growing in popularity, all participants benefit from improved physical and mental health through connection with other like-minded people, at all stages of fitness.

Bermagui's Kate Butterfield will run with the Queens Baton. Photo: kate.runs.the.world
Bermagui’s Kate Butterfield will run with the Queens Baton. Photo: kate.runs.the.world

Surfside’s Brad Rossiter is part of the relay with Kate, he says just being nominated was an honour.

“And then to be selected to carry the Baton through Batemans Bay is tremendously humbling,” Brad says.

“Congratulations to all our local batonbearers.”

Brad will cover his 200 metres on two prosthetic legs. Brad is a dual organ transplant recipient (kidney and pancreas), is legally blind and a double leg amputee as a result of type 1 diabetes.

He shares his deeply personal and inspirational story daily promoting general health and well being and organ donor awareness.

As the founder of ‘The Eurobodalla Renal Support Group & Organ Donor Awareness’ Brad is a tireless community worker.

Brad and Lorae Rossiter is their prized Surdside garden. Photo: Facebook
Brad and Lorae Rossiter is their prized Surfside garden. Photo: Facebook

The relay is part of the 100-day countdown to the Gold Coast Games which will get underway on April 4, running for 11 days.

Launched at Buckingham Palace in March this year, the Queen’s Baton carries a message from Queen Elizabeth II, in it she calls the athletes of the Commonwealth to come together in peaceful and friendly competition.

Currently traveling through Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore, the Baton starts its Australian journey on Christmas Eve in Brisbane, dropping in on major events, iconic landmarks, and children’s hospitals during the summer school holidays before switching to a traditional relay in Canberra on 25 January.

From Nowra, the Baton Relay arrives in Batemans Bay on Tuesday, February 6 for a community celebration at Corrigans Reserve, before taking off to Tasmania

“The wonderful people selected for this special task have dedicated their lives to improving the lives of others,” Eurobodalla Mayor Liz Innes says.

“Some have accomplished great feats and others are working towards realising their dreams.

“This will be a rare and unforgettable experience and I encourage everyone to share the excitement and get behind the Relay when it comes to Batemans Bay in February.”

More information about the local celebration will be released before the end of November.

*Content contributions from Eurobodalla Shire Council.

Young Far South Coast ‘SongMakers’ craft new tunes at The Crossing

Thelma Plum, JD Fung, Dean and Annette Turner and students from Narooma, Bega and Eden High Schools taking part in SongMakers
Thelma Plum, JD Fung, Dean and Annette Turner and students from Narooma, Bega and Eden High Schools taking part in SongMakers

Bushland on the Bermagui River has been the setting for an artistic collaboration between local teens and two of Australia’s most talented people.

Thelma Plum and Jean-Paul (JP) Fung last week led 16 senior students from Bega, Narooma, and Eden High Schools in a two-day music and song retreat at The Crossing.

Thelma is an Indigenous singer-songwriter from northern New South Walse, a graduate of the Music Industry College in Brisbane, she released her debut EP ‘Rosie’ in March 2013, which was followed by ‘Monster’ in 2014.

With Triple J Unearthed, National Indigenous Music Awards, and Deadly Award wins as a springboard, Thelma has continued to draw attention and audiences. She is currently wrapping up a national tour with West Australian band San Cisco.

Jean-Paul is a Sydney based writer, producer, and mixer who has worked alongside Birds of Tokyo, Daniel Johns, Jet, Cold Chisel, Josh Pyke, and more.

These two mentors came to beautiful Bermagui under the banner of the SongMakers program supported by music royalties body APRA AMCOS.

“They led the students through a songwriting process that had them engaging their senses and taking notice of their feelings and emotions,” explains Annette Turner from The Crossing.

SongMakers is an intensive, real-world program centred around being creative. Australia’s best songwriters and producers help students to create and record new music.

For two days, students are immersed in a hothouse collaborative environment and given unparalleled insight into the forces that drive the contemporary music industry and the creative processes required to cut through.

“Songmakers usually go into schools but I asked them to come south and run the workshop as a camp because it’s a challenge getting 16 senior music students from any one school on the south coast,” Annette says.

“With the support of the Yuin Folk Club it all came together and four brand new songs are the result.”

These new sounds will debut at The Crossing Winter Band Night at Quamma Hall on Saturday, July 1.

Boasting about the experience on Facebook, JP said it was two-days of nature inspired songwriting and production.

The About Regional community has been given a sneak peak at one of the songs!

A tune called ‘Escape’ crafted by Hayden Ryan and Dayna Lingard (Narooma High), Mabel Ashburn and Mia Edwards (Eden Marine High), and JP Fung

*Students shouldn’t be blamed for the amateur looking video clip – that’s Ian!

*Thanks to Annette Turner for the photos used

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 – the podcast, episode three, November 6 2016

Tim Elliott and Ian Campbell
Tim Elliott and Ian Campbell

About Regional – the podcast, episode 3, November 6 2016

Thanks for clicking on, in this week’s program:

  • A lesson in youth engagement from Cayce Hill from the Funhouse in Bega and a pitch for their Pozible campaign. They are chasing a year’s rent to expand on their dynamic program in 2017. Read more here.
  • A snap from a literary lunch at Bermagui featuring author Tim Elliott and his memoir ‘Farewell to the Father’, part of a joint effort during Mental Health Month by Candelo Books, Il Passaggio and About Regional
  • The morning after an exclusive 10 course truffle dinner, Executive Chef Patrick Reubinson from Stroudover Cottage at Bemboka speaks of his passion for truffles.
  • Last season’s capsicums brought back to life by Tanja Permaculturalist Kathleen McCann. Read more here.

Feedback, story ideas, and sponsorship options to hello@aboutregional.com.au

Still working out a few little production hiccups, hope you can forgive them.

Cheers

Ian

To listen and subscribe:

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Coming soon to iTunes!