Category Archives: Life and things

Hervey Bay is the world’s first whale heritage area


Every year I write about the whale migration up (and down) Australia’s east coast, and visit the whales when they stop for a bit of R&R in the calm waters of Platypus Bay between Fraser Island and the mainland. Every year more and more whales participate in the long swim from Antarctica to the tropical waters around the Whitsundays where the females give birth to their calves. They drop in on the way back down, pausing in Hervey Bay to fatten up their calves for the polar cold. The pre-adult youngsters do a bit of socialising with each other and with the funny little air-breathers on the boats. The adult males are more interested in fighting and sex. (That seems to be fairly common in males of many species.) The adult females look after their calves, which a male will brush aside in his hurry to get to a female, even if she’s not necessarily interested in his advances. (Understandable. She’s just squeezed out a six-metre baby that’s been in her womb for a year and she’s feeding her bub fifty litres of milk a day. She’s probably not feeling very sexy.)

A mother humpback whale and her calf approach the boat in Platypus Bay. They’re so comfortble with the boats they bring their calves up to say hi.

This very young baby whale rolled around on the surface while her mum had a nap under the water. Mum eventually took baby back down to the bottom for more feeding.

The point is the whales hang around for as much as a week or more before they continue on back to the feeding grounds in Antarctica. About anywhere else on the coast they’re moving. They might put on a short performance but in Hervey Bay you’re sure to see a show.

The whale has lifed its snout above the surface to get a better look at the visitors. Its eyes are underwater but it can see just as well through water as air.

She’s looking at the people as she cruises around the boat. She hung around for nearly an hour so the boat couldn’t move.

A closer shot. Her eye is just near that white splotch

In short, our bay is a wonderful place to meet the big cetaceans. The days when whales were hunted are fading but it’s as well to remember that as recently as the nineteen seventies the whales were at the brink of extinction, with only a few hundred remaining. These days somewhere around ten thousand whales make the big swim from the South – and that’s just on the East coast. Others swim up the west coast, and up the coasts of Africa.  Most of our visitors are humpbacks but as the years go by, we’re seeing the occasional Minke and Southern right whales.

She’s deliberately spraying water everywhere and some of us got wet.

Blowing rainbows

Hervey Bay takes the whales very seriously. For the months from late July to late October the whale- watching boats are busy taking visitors out to see the whales. We have a week-long whale festival in late July to welcome the whales back to our bay. You’ll see statues of whales in three different places in what’s a fairly small town. There’s one at the cultural centre, named after Nala, a female who comes into the Bay every year. There’s one at the water park, and there’s a fairly simple one at the harbour, greeting visitors as they step off buses to get to the boats.

And now the Bay’s claim to be one of THE great spots to meet the ocean’s giants has been officially recognised. Hervey Bay is the world’s FIRST whale heritage area.

May there be many more.

Time-keeping for seniors

Back when we used to be working people we used to get up before six in the morning and get on the road to Melbourne before seven, and we’d get home again by about seven in the evening. That meant we had the weekend to Get Things Done. You know – washing, ironing, house-cleaning and the like. We often did our shopping on the way home from work but if we didn’t then that was another chore for Saturday or Sunday.

And it all got done, every weekend.

These days, when we don’t have much in the daily calendar at all, it’s not quite so clock work. Most of the time we don’t even know which day of the week it is. We tend to know when Wednesday ticks around because we have to put the bins out, and Saturday’s when the paper gets delivered. Apart from that, the day of the week is whatever it says on the computer. As for the jolly little people at the checkout who ask us what we’ve got planned for the weekend… um… kick tyres in the mall?

Since we’re not sure what day it is, vacuuming happens… when we get round to it. Washing’s a bit more regular, though not always on the same day of the week. We do that when the knicker drawer starts to look a bit sparse. And shopping, I have to say, has become something to do to get out of the house.

What it boils down to is you can do all those jobs in your own sweet time and fit in fun things, like reading, taking photos and travel.

Speaking of photos I’ve been trawling through my pictures of late, so this week I’ll share some of my favourite bird shots. I hope you like them.

Pelicans at Burrum Heads

A young grey butcher bird blending perfectly with a frangipani

A welcome swallow at the harbour

A noisy miner bird sucking up nectar

Our local male magpie

A pair of kookaburras

A pale-headed rosella perched on a garden stake

Australian ibis cruising down the beach

It’s early morning and an osprey is catching some sun

Brahmani kite has just caught a fish

Osprey checking the scenery

Rainbow lorikeet confrontation. See those RED eyes?

A crested pigeon

The problem with climate change

Since I don’t live under a rock I have heard all about sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg’s epic voyage across the ocean to speak to the UN about the inaction on climate change. And, of course, the student (and others) ‘strike’ across the world.

In Australia, the news was full of the marches in the cities. The media ‘interviewed’ a five-year-old, who said he was marching to save the world, and two eleven-year-olds, who wanted to get rid of ScoMo and the Adani coal mine. Both convincing arguments. Just a minute while I unroll my eyes.

I wonder what all the tub-thumping is going to achieve. I suppose one outcome is that more people will give some thought to where the world is headed and what we can do about it, and that’s a good thing. I also admire this young girl who is trying to make a difference. She’s already getting lots of applause – and also a lot of opprobrium, and I hope those looking after this kid will help her through all of that.

She’s getting plenty of media attention from both sides of the argument. My Facebook feed is full of her photos. But here’s one reader’s comment from The Australian’s article headed Greta Thunberg berates world leaders at UN climate summit that struck a chord with me. “A privileged Swedish 16-year-old claiming that climate change has stolen her dreams. Really!! How about she, whilst on her study break, travels to the slums of India where her peers struggle to make do with 1 power point and no running water. Where they have only one dream, a chance of a fair go so that they could turn their circumstances around.”

In India, they ARE trying to make things better for their people. So are the Chinese. To do that they need industry and they need power and for reliable power supplies they need coal-fired power stations. India and China are building hundreds of new coal-fired power plants, even as they are harnessing as many renewable sources as they can. [1] If they don’t get good quality ‘clean’ coal from Australia, they’ll buy the dirty stuff from somebody else so the net effect on the world’s climate by not digging up our coal will be a negative value.

Not that it matters anyway. CO₂ doesn’t cause lobal warming. Whether you’re a ‘believer’ in man-made climate change or not, I urge you to give up the time to watch The Great Global Warming Swindle. It’s 75 minutes long but worth every second.  Scientists, eminent in their fields,  present hard scientific facts to explain what really causes climate change on planet Earth. And it isn’t the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. I’d love for Greta Thunberg to watch it, too. It might set her mind at rest – or maybe divert her considerable energy to more worthwhile causes, like the state of our oceans.

Sure, the planet has problems but cutting CO₂ emissions isn’t going to help. In fact in some ways it makes things worse. In Australia older coal-fired power plants have been shut down in the name of climate change and the cost of power in those states has soared, harming business and also our most vulnerable people – those on fixed incomes. If, in one of the richest countries in the world, older Australians are dying of cold because they can’t afford to pay power bills, we have a problem. [2] And if it’s bad here, imagine how bad it is in undeveloped countries in Asia and Africa. It’s very difficult to raise the standard of living anywhere without reliable power.

If you’re still supporting the “CO₂  causing global warming” argument,  Greta Thunberg’s address to the UN included a number of alarming predictions based on ‘scientific’ climate models. My understanding of the scientific method is that someone puts up a hypothesis which is tested by experiment. The hypothesis is used to predict results, which must be repeatable. Evolution is accepted as a theory, many times tested and proved. Einstein’s famous equation is also a theory, constantly tested and proved.

The same can’t be said for current climate models. Remember back in the 1970s we were on the way to a new ice age? Oops. Perhaps not. Then it became ‘global warming’ and now it’s the one in the middle – climate change. That’s at least safe. To test a climate hypothesis, scientists collect data from the past and see if the predicted outcomes fit what actually happened. The trouble is, accurate climate data doesn’t go back far enough to provide realistic results using the current models. We have seen climate model after climate model predicting terrible outcomes. Here’s a list. None of them actually happened.

And although I have no doubt many scientists are ethical that’s not always the case. Scientists can, and do, manipulate data to support a position. Look at Dr Michael Mann vs Dr Tim Ball. Mann produced the famous ‘hockey stick’ graph used by Al Gore in his ‘inconvenient truth’ campaign. Ball questioned the data. “In 2003 a Canadian study showed the “hockey stick” curve “is primarily an artefact of poor data handling, obsolete data and incorrect calculation of principal components.Read the whole story here. Professor Ball is one of the scientists interviewed in The Great Global Warming Swindle. In this presentation Physicist Dr Willie Soon describes Dr Manning’s representation as ‘fradulent’. He discusses this and several other ways in which data has been manipulated ro serve a purpose. He has a few withering things to say about the climate models being used. Well worth your time.

Closer to home, respected marine physicist Professor Peter Ridd was sacked from James Cook University for questioning some of the research on the ‘demise’ of the Great Barrier Reef. His appeal against unlawful dismissal was upheld. More about that case here. And then there’s Dr Ian Plimer, a geologist who is a well-known climate sceptic, arguing that the climate has always changed. Read more about him here.

Greta Thunberg is not the first youngster to bring her concerns to the UN climate summit. In 2014 Kathy Jetnil-Kijner read her poem about rising sea levels and how they would swamp the Pacific islands. The trouble is, they’re not. Three studies have found most of the islands are, in fact, growing. [3] So much of what we’re being fed is alarmist, often with little regard for the facts. Yes, sea levels are rising but not by the metres alarmists claim. [4]

Here’s Andrew Bolt giving his position on Australia’s climate change guru and alarmist-in-chief, paelentologist Tim Flannery. Ignore Bolt’s hyperbole and listen to his FACTS. Bolt on Flannery

I would urge young Greta – and maybe everybody else – to listen to what Bjorn Lomborg has to say on the subject.

The climate will change without us, but there’s still plenty we CAN do. We contribute to the destruction of our world in lots of other ways –

  • Deforestation
  • Over fishing,
  • Species extinction, often because of loss of habitat, also because of stupidity such as trophy-hunting and absurd traditional medicines
  • Plastic waste
  • Over population (that’s the big one and short of war, famine, and/or pestilence, the only answer to it is education)

Perhaps everyone could focus their attention on some of those issues, where what we do will make a difference. I read today France has banned the use of single-use plastic cutlery, plates, and cups. [5] It’s a great start. As Mister Lomborg suggests, we should be looking for innovative alternatives. Instead of stopping all air travel (yeah, right) we should be investing in research to find better engines or using things like Skype for conferences instead of travelling. We should be using biodegradable materials to make throw-away cups, plates, and cutlery. We should be buying wooden toys instead of plastic junk… etc.

Here’s a thought. Why don’t we give up on globalism and go back to sourcing as much as possible of what we need locally? Think of the outcomes. Jobs, less introduced plant pests, no more sending fish caught by Western fishermen to China for processing, no more producing far, far more than we need to sell overseas.

At the end, though, the answers in our increasingly complex world won’t come from going back to the stone age. I’d vote for putting more money into innovation and research.

And please – watch The Great Global Warming Swindle.



Sanitising history

When I went to university I studied history. One of the reasons was my own family history – that is, what my family endured during World War II in Amsterdam.  It was all relatively fresh back then. My four sisters were all born before the war and the older of my two brothers was born just after the Germans marched into Holland. In Australia, many of my friends’ parents had been in the army fighting the Japanese. The memory of the war years was a part of life.

But as the years turn into decades and those who survived start to die off, memories fade and facts become fuzzy. In particular, the horrible reality of the Holocaust has, for far too many, become a late-night movie shot in tones of sepia, something that wasn’t real. Some world leaders (and others) state the Holocaust never happened. And in Europe and America and Australia, too, angry young white men wave Nazi flags to show their superiority. They wave a flag that their grandparents fought to tear down. Have they forgotten, or did they never know?

I read an article in The Australian the other day – I won’t link it because it’s a subscription newspaper. The headline is “Golden oldies out of tune with the taste tests of today”. As you’d expect, it’s about musical lyrics from the sixties and seventies which these days would (apparently) cause people to raise their eyebrows.

Examples include:

  • Summer Nights from Grease: That line “did she put up a fight?” had to go (see above)
  • Rolling Stones’s Brown Sugar: “Hear him whip the women just around midnight” is not acceptable and Mick Jagger no longer sings those words.
  • Beatles’s Norwegian Wood: Apparently about a man who is annoyed with a woman who won’t sleep with him, so he burns down her house. Can’t have that. (To which I’ll add it had never occurred to me that’s what the song was about until I read the article)
  • Johnny Cash’s A Boy Named Sue: Gender stereotypes.
  • Etc

Artists have been forced to change the words, or the songs are no longer played by some broadcasters.

This isn’t new. Enid Blyton’s gollywogs had to go because they were seen as demeaning black people. That connotation never occurred to this avid reader. Gollys were just dolls.

Agatha Christie’s excellent 1939 murder mystery And Then There Were None was originally titled Ten Little Niggers, after the children’s rhyme of the same name which plays an important role in the plot. You’ll find the words of the rhyme – several different versions – in this article. But the word ‘nigger’ was deemed offensive in the US, so the name was changed for that market. And I accept that’s fair enough. That’s marketing. For instance, Jack McDevitt’s book Slow Lightning was called Infinity Beach in America for the same reason.

These days, the title Ten Little Niggers has been changed to And Then There Were None for everybody. I suspect ‘ten little Indians’, which was the version of the rhyme I remember from my childhood, was just as offensive. For me it was a counting rhyme with no particular connotations at all. In fact, I don’t see how words in this sort of context can offend. Sure, words can be weapons – either in person or on social media, cruel epithets flung at people. But something like a book title?

Then there’s all the tub-thumping about statues. In the US it’s the Civil War monuments. In Australia, Captain Cook’s statue has been defaced. In Holland people argued about the statue to Coen (governor of Batavia in what is now Indonesia) in his birthplace of Hoorn. In Oxford, Cecil Rhodes’s legacy is under attack. Benjamin Franklin is criticised for owning slaves. Lord Nelson is criticised for participating in the slave trade.

All of this bothers me. It’s white-washing history, trying to sanitize the past to fit in with what’s acceptable now and I think it’s counter-productive.

These events happened. Those beliefs were common, and acceptable. If we try to pretend none of it ever happened, we’re kidding ourselves. That’s how you end up with white supremacists waving Nazi flags as though that’s the New Order to which we should aspire. Isn’t it better to accept that bad things happened in the past and move on? You know, actually LEARN from history?

Going back to the musical lyrics, one has to ask if the current gangsta rap music is going to be held to the same standards as the golden oldies from the sixties? Or is it okay for current music to talk about sex, drug-taking, rape, and murder? The rappers themselves contend they’re ‘singing’ about the reality of inner cities, where poverty, drugs, and despair are a way of life. Songs written in the sixties and seventies likewise reflected the era.

Perhaps in fifty years or so, when the current hits become the golden oldies, they’ll be sanitised then.

The dawn of terrorism

Tributes lights over the skyline of Manhattan, New York on Memorial day 9-11-2014

I suppose in everyone’s life there are indelible moments, times you don’t want to forget, others you couldn’t forget if you tried, and others that mark monumental events in time. For me, one such was the Moon landing in 1969.

Another was the attack of the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001.

Last Wednesday marked the eighteenth anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Centre’s twin towers in New York city. It’s one of those iconic dates, referred to by Americans as 9/11 and I guess even we Australians accept that date means the eleventh of September, not the ninth of November.

In the early morning of 12th September I was listening to ABC radio while Pete was in the shower getting ready to go to work. I’d just been retrenched, so I was in no rush. And then I heard something disturbing about New York. When Pete appeared from the bathroom, I said, “Something terrible’s happened in New York.”

We turned on the TV and saw the awful vision of first one plane, then another, ploughing into the towers. Pete went to work while I tuned into the news, gathering everything I could. There’d been a third attack on the Pentagon, and a fourth attack ended in a field, heroically prevented by the passengers. When the TV died (they pick the BEST moments) I tuned into the radio and listened to the talking heads.

Over the days we got a new TV and watched the footage of the planes hitting, the dust and smoke, first one tower, then the other, collapsing with the precision of a controlled demolition. People walking down dark, crowded stairwells while the building burned above them. The fire fighters and police killed in the line of duty. And the people, trapped above the levels where the planes hit, jumping to their deaths. That’s the vision that haunts me.

Through it all, although so far away, I could feel the sense of disbelief that something like this could happen in America, of all places. Things like that happened in the Middle East, not in the West. Americans weren’t the only ones who were left shaken and perhaps prophetically, a lot more vulnerable.

People visit the memorial to the vistims of 9/11. Photo by Tobe Roberts from Pexels

Life goes on. The young people who weren’t born when the attack happened could be forgiven for not quite understanding the depth of feeling of those who remember the event. There has been endless speculation and conspiracy theories. And many people who weren’t killed or injured on the day have had to live with post-traumatic stress disorder. Many have died of diseases acquired because of the toxic dust that swept through the city. They were the most immediate effects. But looking back, I think it’s fair to say that this event marked the beginning of the overt war between the West and Islam, and the start of terrorism, to which we have become all too familiar.

I appreciate the first shots were fired much earlier, when Saddam Hussein tested the metal of the West by invading Kuwait. Although that battle was won, it left lingering resentment, and that, I believe, led to the attack on New York. That in turn gave George W. Bush the excuse to finish the war against Saddam Hussein which his father had started when freeing Kuwait. The result of ousting Saddam has been on-going instability in that region which Western powers cannot ‘fix’.

9 11 was also when the war in Afghanistan started, to root out the terrorist group Al Qaeda, deemed responsible for the attack on New York. The war in Afghanistan has continued since that time, beginning to rival some of the medieval European wars – the Hundred Years War between France and England, and the Thirty Years War both come to mind. Again, the West can’t ‘fix’ Afghanistan. You can’t force democracy on people. By definition, really. “Government by the people”[1] only works when the ‘people’ have a commitment to making it work. And where the powerful elites, especially the military, are also committed to making it work.

That kind of segues neatly into the recent death of Robert Mugabe, dictator of Zimbabwe. He came to power in 1980 after a protracted war with Ian Smith’s majority white government. At the time the then Rhodesia was a jewel in the African crown, a prosperous, well-run nation. It was understandable that Mugabe and other black leaders like Joshua Nkomo wanted to see their own people share that wealth, so they encouraged buy-outs by blacks of white farms. But soon enough the policy turned to eviction of white farmers, who left the country in droves. It wasn’t just the whites, though. Like so many African countries, Zimbabwe was beset with tribal conflicts. Political leaders were attacked. Here’s an example. In a public statement Mugabe said, “ZAPU and its leader, Dr. Joshua Nkomo, are like a cobra in a house. The only way to deal effectively with a snake is to strike and destroy its head.” He unleashed the Fifth Brigade upon Nkomo’s Matabeleland homeland in Operation Gukurahundi, killing up to 20,000 Ndebele civilians in an attempt to destroy ZAPU and create a one-party state. Nkomo fled the country.” [2]

Since those times Zimbabwe has become a basket case, with soaring inflation, starvation, and general unrest suppressed by Mugabe’s military. In contrast, Mugabe lived in luxury, in a twenty-five bedroom mansion, as shown in this article. Mugabe comes across as a man who was obsessed with power and keeping it. It’s just a shame that his ousting and death won’t make any difference.

Spring has sprung

Our side garden while the grass is still green

For those of us in the southern hemisphere, spring is either around the corner or happening now. It’s not a huge event for us. The only deciduous trees we have are frangipanis and yes, the leaf buds at the ends of the branches are starting to swell. The very coldest (for us) winter nights are behind us now and the days are warm, in the mid-twenties, and dry. Soon enough the temperatures will rise and with them, the humidity. If we’re very lucky, we might even have a wet season this year but so far, the prospects are not good. We can already see the grass drying out.

It’s that oscillation between the oceans. The west coast is getting some of the rain it missed out on in the last few years and over here on the east coast many areas are enduring another year of drought. Last year the rain expected in the wet season, between December and March, didn’t happen here. The only cyclones were right up north and thankfully not very strong, although one huge rain depression sat over Townsville causing devastation on drought-ravaged pastoral properties. I think the graziers up there are still cleaning up. But at least the rain topped up the dams, the inland rivers, and the ground water.

Lorikeets love callistemon flowers

Here in Hervey Bay the callistemons are starting to flower, much to the delight of the lorikeets and other honey eaters. The mango trees are setting fruit and we have our fingers crossed that this year the rain will come and we’ll actually get more survivors than last year’s two. That’s right; two mangoes from two large trees. Our lime tree is bearing well and we’ve frozen quite a lot of juice in ice cube trays.  They’re lovely to add to water on a hot and humid day.

One tree has brand new tiny mangoes

The other tree is still in the flower stage

This year also we’ll keep an eye on those bunches of ripening bananas. We were warned that if we didn’t collect them when they were just ripe the birds would help us. We were a day late and didn’t salvage any. But the lorikeets, miner birds, and blue-faced honey eaters (also called ‘banana birds’) enjoyed a feast.

Hopefully we’ll get to share this with the birds


Salad greens and herbs, with three tomato plants down the end. We’ve also planted seeds for snow peas and green beans

We’ve been busy in the garden planting herbs and salad greens. Come summer the plants will bolt but in the meantime, rocket (arugula) and lettuce will be welcome. So will the tomatoes. We’ve planted a large variety, a roma tomato, and a cherry tomato. They’ll go well with basil, coriander, and parsley. It’ll be lovely as long as we can keep the insects at bay, especially fruit fly.

I’ve also planted some ornamental flower seeds to fill in some corners. Who knew petunia seeds were so small? They’re the only ones that haven’t made a showing so far. But there’s time.

(L-R) allysum, cosmos, marigolds, petunias

The main thing we need is rain. If you’d care to help us by sending up prayers, magical spells, or incantations, or maybe suitable ritual sacrifices if that’s part of your belief system, we would be very grateful.

An unforgettable experience

Black backs and dorsal fins – a moving pod

It’s whale season in the Bay, that time of year when humpback whales make their annual migration up both sides of the Australian continent to give birth to their young in the warm waters of the tropics before heading back down south to Antarctica for the summer. Many whales on the East Coast run stop into Hervey Bay on the way south to take a break, maybe see if they can get a fin over (the boys) or fatten up their calves for the southern cold (the mums). The sub-adults come along for some fun and to learn the ropes and they’ll often interact with the people on the whale watching boats. Numbers are increasing every year and a few Minke whales and some southern right whales have been spotted, too.

I love whale watching. Armed with my camera, I go out at least once a year and sometimes twice. Some experiences are better than others, depending on the whales. It’s not a circus. They don’t perform to order. Sometimes they feel like interacting with the boats, other times they don’t. But when they do, it’s simply wonderful.

The very first time I went whale watching was 2007, the first year we lived here. We’d moved north from Victoria with a removal van full of stuff and two cars carrying the fragiles, clothes and so on. After wo weeks of unpacking boxes, moving furniture around, buying shelves and sideboards, and all those other jobs associated with moving house, we needed a break. Hervey Bay touted itself as the whale watching capital of the world so we bought a couple of tickets and off we went. On that occasion, Pete came, too. He doesn’t have my passion.

The trip from the harbour to Platypus Bay off Fraser Island, where the whales congregate, takes around forty-five minutes, travelling straight across the Great Sandy Strait to Fraser Island’s Moon Point, then up the channel that runs so close to the beach you can almost reach out and grab a handful of sand. From there, the boats fan out over the wide expanse of the bay and start looking for whales.

That year the whales were in spectacular form.

I parked myself on the boat’s top deck (it has three) while Pete stayed down on the lower deck, closest to the water. I used a Canon 20D. It was my earlier photography days and I had the camera set at sports mode, which is basically shutter priority with auto everything else. You never know when a whale is going to do something so I soon learned to keep the camera up to my eye with my finger hovering on the shutter.

On any whale watching trip you’ll see whales just cruising along like those in the top picture, often in casual groups of two or three that’s known as a ‘pod’. It’s not a family – humpbacks are normally solitary. A dorsal fin will slice through the water, a column of expelled air will spout from the blowhole, then they’ll dive to rise again somewhere else. People who have never been whale watching before will take lots of pictures of backs and fins. Yes, me too, in the early days. But now I want something more to photograph.

The whales have a number of “party tricks” which are really just their natural behaviour. They’ll display their tail fins, roll around in the water, slap their tails hard in an action known as a peduncle slap, wave their long pectoral fins in the air, and perform kind of horizontal rolls in the water. Groups of randy males will get together in ‘fighting pods’ where they’re trying to prove who’s bigger and tougher, and that’s something to see with lots of grunting and churning water.

But all the skippers agree there are two behaviours that are stand-outs: breaching, where the whale flings its whole body up and out of the water, to fall down with a monumental splash. And there’s the skyhop, where the curious whale approaches a boat and hangs vertically in the water with its snout above the surface. Breaches are fairly rare and you have to count yourself lucky. So are serious skyhops.

Friends, on that wonderful trip in 2007 we saw it all. Tail-waving, pectoral-waving, tail slaps – and breach after breach after breach and the most magical skyhop I have ever seen. So… come along and see the photos I took with my pretty amateur camera back in 2007. Excuse the quality – just enjoy the moment.

A tail wave. The underside of the tail is like a fingerprint – every whale’s is different

Waving a pectoral fin. The whale is on its side, relaxed and happy, and there’s another whale cruising along beside it.

A vigorous tail-slap

A (slightly fuzzy) breach. She’s on her way down.

He’s come right out of the water and now he’s heading down for the splash

A truly spectacular back flip

Sideways, horizontal to the surface

The splash down is incredible

Face to face with a humpback. They can see clearly through water and air. The eyes are just below the surface.

So close

Many of my other trips have been marvellous in their own special way. Approaches by a mother and calf, a very young calf frolicking in the water, a pod of six males fighting, and a forty-five minutes ‘mugging’ (where whales hang around the boat, meaning the skipper can’t move until they leave) by a curious teenager. But this first time was totally memorable. I hope you enjoyed the glimpse.


The solstice is here.

Today, 22nd June 2019, is this year’s winter solstice here in the Southern Hemisphere. Our part of the Earth started moving North, back toward the Sun at 1:54am. In the UK, Europe, and the USA and Canada, it’s midsummer. The druids are arriving at Salisbury to watch the sun rise over the heel stone at Stonehenge and parties are gearing up everywhere. All these things are such a big deal in the North. The winter solstice is an even bigger deal, since it coincides with the blessed return of the sun. And Christmas, but that’s a later addition.

It’s not like that here in Australia. We celebrate the summer solstice because we have inherited the European traditions of Christmas but I’d bet that many Australians aren’t aware of the solstice, which is a few days before the 25th December. They just know it’s Summer holidays. Yay! The beach, presents, cricket!

Winter at Hervey Bay

Pelicans and people enjoying Winter at Hervey Bay

The winter solstice is even less of an event. But then, here in Hervey Bay sunrise was at 6:33, and sunset will be 17:07, giving us around ten and a half hours of daylight. That’s only three hours and nine minutes less than midsummer, so it’s not such a big deal. In comparison, London in midsummer gets sixteen hours and thirty-eight minutes of daylight. In winter, sunrise is at just after 8am, and sunset just before 4pm, around eight hours of daylight. And it’s usually cold and miserable all day. During June in Hervey Bay the maximum temperatures are usually in the low twenties – not a bad summer’s day in England.

Whatever the temperatures, going back not even one hundred years people needed to be interested in the change of the seasons. They needed to know when to plant crops, when particular food sources appeared, the patterns of animal behaviour and so on. All of them were astronomers, keeping an eye on the progression of the stars. And Australia has its own ‘Stonehenge’. Scientists have been investigating Wurdi Youang, large basalt rocks arranged in an egg shape, which can be used to observe the Summer and Winter solstices. The site could be as much as ten thousand years old, pre-dating Stonehenge. Here’s the story.

I remember the first time I went to Europe, to London and Amsterdam. It was November and especially coming from the bright, warm weatherof an Australian late Spring, arriving in the last throes of autumn was taxing. For a start it was cold, or, to put it another way, fucking freezing. Four degrees max? You’ve gotta be kidding me. For another, the sunlight was insipid when it was there, and it wasn’t there for long. The shadows were already lengthening at around 3pm and the sun was gone well before 5pm. After that was a long-drawn-out twilight. All that played havoc with my body clock. Twilight lasts for about five minutes in Australia. The sun goes down and that’s it, folks. Darkness is waiting in the wings to take the sun’s place.

So, although everywhere in the world gets a (roughly) twenty-four-hour day, and experiences two solstices and two equinoxes per annum, the experience isn’t the same everywhere. For those of you in the Northern Hemisphere, have a wonderful midsummer celebration. We in the South will shrug our shoulders and carry on.



The evolution of a swinging voter

1969 – student activist days Yes, that’s me. And for what it’s worth, the man behind me was a draft resistor.

I found an interesting article in the news the other day, talking about what appears to determine which party we vote for. The first words in the article are: ‘Many have tried guessing who first uttered this saying: “If you are not a liberal at 25, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative at 35, you have no brain”.’ That’s an age-based suggestion, that we change our voting patterns to become more conservative as we grow older. Maybe it’s a generational thing. The article is worth a read. Here’s the link.

I thought about how the way I vote has changed – because it has. In fact, I’ve thought about it a few times lately. I think there are a number of factors. Let’s start with social background.

I grew up in a working-class family. Of course my parents voted Labor, and so did I.

The Labor party was on our side, interested in the welfare of people like us, all about jobs and decent social services, health and education. Back when I was old enough to know anything about politics Robert Menzies, stalwart of the conservative establishment, finally retired in 1966 as the longest serving PM in Australia’s history. After him, in rapid succession, we had Harold Holt, who disappeared in the surf, then John McEwen who was deputy PM and had the top job for a few weeks until the Libs chose a new leader. That was John Gorton, who was eventually replaced by Billy McMahon, who faced the 1972 general election against a revitalised Labor party led by Gough Whitlam. In that tumultuous six years Harold Holt and John Gorton both won elections but the Prime Minister’s office had the same sort of revolving door we’ve seen in the years since 2007.

I went to university in the late sixties in the middle of the period of student activism all over the world. In Perth we protested against the French nuclear testing ground at Moruroa in the South Pacific. I attended marches against the war in Vietnam and against the conscription introduced in Australia at that time to provide troops for that conflict. Not everyone was called up. They called it a ‘birthday ballot‘, an event like a lottery draw that was shown on TV. Dates of birth were drawn and if your 20th birthday fell on one of those dates – you’re in the army, kid. If I’d been male, I would have been conscripted. It’s not a nice feeling.

So, it would be fair to say that, like many of my university mates, my political predilections were definitely socialist. When tall, eloquent, and charismatic Gough Whitlam finally replaced Arthur (Cocky) Callwell, bringing the Labor party into the post-war world, we were all delighted. Who could forget Gough’s famous ‘It’s Time’ election campaign? Up against a Liberal party in complete disarray with weak leadership and unpopular policies, Gough was a shoe-in. Labour won in a landslide. And he did some great things. Conscription was suspended, he introduced a new, free public health scheme known as Medicare, and he abolished university fees, among other things. Looking back, it’s remarkable how quickly the wheels fell off. Soon, the country was in debt to pay for the Government’s largesse. Gough forced an election to maintain his mandate – and was only just returned to power. It all ended in November 1975 when the Governor General dismissed the Government and forced a new general election. Gough’s brave new world had lasted about three years.

That unprecedented election was the first time I voted non-Labor and I found it difficult, hesitating with the pencil in my hand, reminding myself that Australia couldn’t go on like this.

Malcolm Fraser swept to power and immediately introduced austerity measures to pay for the debt. This was a difficult time for the country. There were many strikes, jobs were hard to find. It was almost like a class war, the workers versus the big end of town. It couldn’t go on.

Enter Bob Hawke, president of the ACTU and respected across the country. He’d been in parliament for about three years when he was elected leader of the Labor party. At the next election, he won handsomely and of course I voted for Labor. The first thing he did was negotiate an accord with the union movement – something he was uniquely positioned to do. Bob and his treasurer, Paul Keating, understood that workers won’t have jobs if business is not encouraged. The strikes stopped. The one exception was the airline pilots’ strike. Bob refused to cave to their demands and found other ways of keeping planes flying. He also de-registered the Builder’s Labourers Federation (BLF), one of the most militant unions. Everybody knew he meant business.

But he was always a pragmatist. While Medicare was retained, the Government introduced a special levy to pay for health services, and eventually university course fees returned. The pie-in-the-sky notion that abolishing fees would increase the number of able students who could attend university proved untenable. When I went to uni (on a scholarship) a very small percentage of working-class kids attended, let alone passed a course. Numbers passing a course didn’t change much when fees were abolished. There’s much more to success at university than paying course fees. But free courses were not sustainable.  Hawke and Keating introduced the Higher Education Contributions Scheme (HECS) which was effectively a student loan.

Meanwhile, we went through the ‘recession Australia had to have’ as Paul Keating famously explained. He took over as PM and while he won one election, lost the second to John Howard, who had been in and out of the Liberal party’s leadership job several times. I never liked Howard much but there’s no doubt he presided over a period of peace and stability, all the while clawing back the national debt so that for the first time in an age, Australia’s books were balanced and we had a surplus.

John Howard became the second-longest serving PM, eclipsing Bob Hawke’s run. During that time Kevin Rudd had become leader of the opposition and Australia had started to think it was time for new blood in the Lodge.

I thought Rudd would be okay. That was silly, wasn’t it?

Kevin 07 (he was elected in 2007) had obviously been watching what Hawke had done. He tried his own grandiose vision of an accord, inviting people from all walks of life to an elaborate talk fest that cost a heap of money and achieved nothing. He and one of his ministers ‘designed’ a national broadband network (NBN) on the back of a coaster in an aeroplane and decreed that the NBN would be built, so subsequent Governments were stuck with it. It was hardly a surprise that the estimated costs rose exponentially while at the same time the original approach – fibre optics to every household – was quickly eroded to a solution we could actually afford.

Then the global financial crisis happened. Australia was actually in a very strong position in comparison to other countries and we came through the GFC relatively unscathed. But the Labor party panicked and put in its own hare-brained ideas, like the $900 paid to most people to stimulate the economy. But you only got the money if you put in a tax return that year, so pensioners missed out. I’ll admit to being a cynic. I reckon the money would have been spent on the mortgage, or maybe on a big telly, which would benefit China.

Labor introduced other initiatives, like the ‘pink batts scheme’. Pink batts are glass wool material put into roof spaces to help insulate houses. It was supposed to help reduce power bills. The proposal was rushed through without proper controls and four young men died while installing the stuff. And there was a school buildings fund, where the Government paid grossly inflated prices for a school hall or a library. (Somehow, if buildings are publicly funded the cost seems to go up. Rather a lot.) Apart from that, though, while some schools received welcome additions, halls were built for schools about to be closed and libraries were built with no provision for books – just to name a couple of examples.

In short, they were all knee-jerk, reactionary activities designed to look like the Government was doing something. There was no proper planning, no cost/benefit analysis and certainly in the case of the pink batts scheme, cautionary advice from experts was completely ignored. The surplus nest egg that Howard and Costello had left behind when the Government changed hands was frittered away and the country was up to its eyeballs in debt.

Mister Rudd was very soon on the nose with the electorate. Seeing this, the men who ran the Labor party factions decided it was time for Rudd to go, replaced by Australia’s first female PM, Julia Gillard. No, I wasn’t impressed, even when she won a closely-fought election. She had been responsible for the school buildings fiasco and her famous quote was, “There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.” Hamstrung with a minority government, Gillard soon became almost as unpopular as Rudd had been. But things were looking bad for Labor with an election looming. The boys running the factions decided that maybe they should have kept Rudd. It seemed the voters were not impressed with ‘faceless men’ getting rid of a sitting PM. Gillard would have to go. The same men who ‘executed’ Rudd now engineered Gillard’s downfall and the return of Rudd.

That episode might be seen to have set the tone of Australian politics but that’s not actually true. Go back to the late sixties when Menzies stepped down and note the turnstile in the PM’s office. Be that as it may, the Australian public had had enough and Labor lost the election. In fact, the Austrlian public had had about enough of both major parties. Quite a few turned to the smaller parties and independents, a trend which would prove costly.

In retrospect, the Liberals weren’t yet ready to return to government. The party was still in disarray after the departure of Howard, Costello, and a few of the stalwarts. Tony Abbott had been great in opposition but turned out to be not the greatest PM. For me, his most cringe-worthy moment was when he made a “captain’s call” to reinstate knighthoods in Australia and handed one of the first to Prince Phillip! Yes, that one, who’s married to Queen Elizabeth.  Abbott was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull, a move I heartily endorsed.

I had high hopes for Turnbull but he ended up being a disappointment.

After poncing about at the helm for some time, Turnbull called a double dissolution, where all the seats in the Senate and the House of Reps are declared vacant [1]. The issue causing the spill was the refusal of the Senate to pass legislation to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission to oversee construction contracts in Australia. This move was the result of a Royal Commission into the thuggish behaviour of trade unions, particularly in the building sector. The BLF hadn’t really gone away, its members had just become part of the enormous Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU). There had also been a number of instances highlighting corruption within the union hierarchies, with union officials rorting their members. But during the whole election campaign Turnbull never referenced the findings of the royal commission, never asked Labor the hard questions about union behaviour in the workplace. He won the election – just. But once again, the PM had lost the respect of the people. As Turnbull’s popularity slumped and the next election loomed, it was inevitable that there would be yet another internal coup.

To his surprise, I suspect, Scott Morrison got the mantle as PM. The next election was months away, and most people in Australia, including me, thought Labor would win easily. No, that notion did not please me. The Labor leader, Bill Shorten, had been one of the faction bosses who deposed Rudd, then deposed Gillard. There were a few other factors relating to his union activities that led me to distrust the man. I also had little faith in the party’s sitting members. It seemed hardly any of them had ever had a real job. They went from university to working for the unions and then into parliament. The union movement had been bleeding membership for years. In quite a few cases union organisers had proved to be corrupt, fleecing members for their own benefit.In contrast to the Hawke Accord days, the president of the ACTU, Sally McManus, declared it was okay to break ‘unjust’ industrial laws. [2] I felt the unions had far too much power in the political party.

I didn’t much like the idea of Shifty Shorten and his Union thugs running the country.

As the election approached, Labor, cock-sure of itself, made some stupid, arrogant errors. In response to concerns from shareholders (many of them pensioners) about the removal of franking credits [3], Chris Bowen, the opposition treasury spokesman, declared, ‘if you don’t like it, don’t vote for us’. Shorten was asked about the economic impact of his proposed climate change initiatives, such as ensuring half the cars sold in Australia by 2030 would be electric. He couldn’t answer. Shades of Labor past, yet another Great Idea with no analysis of the impact.

It seems to me that Labor has lost the plot. The party used to be about low-income workers, jobs, and security. I understand their concerns about climate change. It’s a huge concern in the community. The party’s current policy of shutting down coal-fired power stations (while still selling the stuff to China and India) has already driven up power prices, deterring business investment and sending businesses overseas. The state of South Australia is an object lesson in how well those policies work. Those that suffer are always the poor. Pensioners, single income families, people earning minimum wages, small businesses trying to make a go of it, farmers. And for what? Uncosted fairyland schemes which will do nothing to change the climate. Sure, encourage renewable energy. Start with maybe changing the building code so that all new buildings MUST have solar panels and solar hot water systems. What about legislation to phase out plastic made from oil, replacing it with biodegradables? Put electric car recharging stations in the big cities by all means. Set up targets that can be achieved over time. But just right now, when the Government has once again clawed back some of Labor’s national debt, we can’t afford to splash out on hypotheticals. One of the biggest mistakes Shorten made, to my mind, was summoning the ghost of Gough Whitlam in his appeal to the Australian people. He was channelling “it’s time” – but people like me were channelling Gough’s disastrous three years in office. No thanks, been there, done that.

So you see, I’ve changed the way I vote because of history. I remember Gough’s excesses, Hawke’s pragmatic brilliance, Howard’s stewardship, Rudd’s spendthrift egomania. Morrison strikes me as a decent, ordinary family man who genuinely wants to make a difference. I can’t say the same about Malcolm Turnbull, or Kevin Rudd – or Bill Shorten. They just wanted the crown.

I voted for Scott Morrison to give him a chance to steady the ship of state and do something to help the battlers who are already doing it tough. If a Labor leader comes along who can actually create something like Hawke’s Accord, I might shift my position. But I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

If you’re still here, thanks for reading. These are my thoughts, my opinions and I know not everybody will agree with me. That’s okay. I believe in freedom of speech.

Here, have a picture of a kitten.


Crocodiles and coastal scenery

For our penultimate day at Cairns we hired a car so we could do some touring in our own time. Just the drive from Cairns up towards Port Douglas is worthwhile. The mountains rise up virtually from the ocean, with only a narrow strip of flat ground before the beach. The road is commensurately narrow, snaking around the coastline and affording wonderful views up the coast.

We were on our way for a visit to  Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, a crocodile farm and zoo for a close-up look at Australia’s greatest predator.

Looks peaceful – but there are 21 crocs in that lagoon

Salt water crocodiles are ancient, clever, sneaky, and as far as they’re concerned, humans are just another sort of meat. Crocodile hunting was banned in the 1970’s because their numbers were so low. They were an easy target and their skins were worth a fortune – so much of a fortune that they were nearly wiped out. Since then, they’ve re-established themselves with a vengeance and become a tourist drawcard. So we went to look at crocs, as you do. This link will give you detailed information about the species. For Americans, alligators are similar in appearance to salties, but they don’t get as big. Here’s a comparison between alligators and salties. A four-metre alligator is big, a saltie has a way to go. According to the rangers, alligators are also not as nasty.

In Australia we call the salt water, or estuarine, crocodiles salties. The name is misleading because ‘salt water’ crocodiles can live very happily in fresh water, as well as in the ocean. In the wild they can become very large, and a danger to people and livestock. A big croc will take a cow, let alone a dog, a kangaroo, or a man. Farmers can’t shoot them anymore, but rangers will trap them and relocate them to a croc farm, where the big boys will live out their years making baby crocs. You might think it would be enough to relocate the big males to a different, uninhabited part of the world but scientists have discovered that crocs will find their way home just like birds and other animals. Here’s an interesting article about a croc relocated from on side of Cape Yorke Peninsula to the other and went home, swimming 400 kilomteres around the Cape to get there.

Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures used to have one male (Ted) who was over five metres long – the second largest croc in captivity. They reckon he was around one hundred and three years old. He’d lost all but one of his teeth and one eye, and the eye he did have was blind. He died of natural causes several months ago. Last time we came here we were told about a four and half metre male called Snappy Tom, which was caught on the golf links at Port Douglas, where it had taken to lunging at golfers. The ranger also told us about one big male (Spartacus) who had been placed into solitary confinement after he’d bitten off one female’s leg. Bottom line: crocs are not nice. Every big saltie has bits missing – tail, claws, teeth. They fight for females and territory, the females fight to protect their nests. They grow up ornery. They’ve also evolved to handle injury. The female croc which had her leg bitten off is just fine without any need for antibiotics or bandages. And then there was Douglas. He was captured at Port Douglas. The thing about him is he has no teeth. We were told crocs will go through forty sets of teeth and more in the course of their lives but Douglas doesn’t have any. They don’t know why his teeth haven’t grown – but it doesn’t seem to have set him back,

Crocs are harvested when they reach 1.8m (6 ft)

We were taken to see the croc farm where salties are raised for leather used for handbags, belts, and the like. There’s a demand in Asia for top quality hides to be made into handbags that sell for as much as $38,000. (Pass) The meat is used, too, and any leftovers are ground down for fertiliser, so there’s no wastage. Our guide told us it’s the same as running a beef property, or a chicken farm. The animals are raised as a commodity.

We were taken for a boat ride on the lagoon. It’s shady and dirty, perfect for the twenty-one crocodiles who live in there. They behave as they would in the wild, and any eggs the females lay are collected for the farm, where they are incubated at 33 degrees. Our boat guide told us that most of the babies are male, but the incubation temperature is more about getting healthy crocs. Half a degree either way makes a difference.

Crocodile at Cairns

Our guide brought along food (chicken heads and wings) so the reptiles would actually show up. They are usually stealth hunters, sneaking up and lunging. But they can move very fast, and jump quite high. And of course, they knew to expect a meal. They’re smart. Up in Northern Australia the bushmen will tell you never to go fishing at the same spot three nights in a row. If you go back that third time, there’ll be a croc waiting for you.

After the boat trip the rangers showed us salties in a different setting where we could get a better feel for their size and speed. That’s a female croc, and she’s not especially big. Quite often the guide would lure a croc in, then whip the food away before it could be taken. It might sound horrid, like Lucy lifting up the football when Charlie Brown takes a kick, but crocs, being poikilothermic, don’t need a lot of food. A chicken a week is plenty for a large male. It’s more about keeping the animals active and alleviating boredom in a captive environment.

Douglas – note no teeth

The jaws are very powerful. They kill by grabbing hold of the prey and drowning it, rolling over in the water.

After a quick look around some of the other animals in Hartley’s zoo, we drove down to Palm Cove so John and Sue could see the magnificent paperbarks growing up through the buildings. We grabbed a sandwich for lunch, then drove back towards Cairns, stopping off at the intriguingly named Yorkeys Knob. It turned out to be a beach suburb with a prominent headland. ‘Yorkeys Knob, or “The Knob”, as it is affectionately called, receives its name from both a natural topographical feature and a British immigrant from Yorkshire, named George Lawson, who lived in the area in the late 1800s. Because of his Yorkshire origins, locals gave Lawson the nickname “Yorkey”.’ [1] There’s some very expensive real estate on that headland with some amazing views.

That night we had dinner at C’est Bon, a French restaurant not far from our hotel. It was nice, but we all agreed the wonderful dinner we had at Dundee’s, on Cairn’s waterfront, the previous evening was better. Tomorrow we’d all be going home.