Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Book Reviews / May 2017 / Part 1

Tony Abbott was a very aggressive Liberal/National Party Coalition (conservative) opposition leader in the Australian parliament specializing in obstructionist tactics.
He was English by birth, a failed catholic theological student and mediocre journalist who had received a Rhodes Scholarship on very dubious grounds.
What else could he be in the end other than a politician?
In September 2013 he came to power as Prime Minister of the country with the demise of the Rudd/Gillard/ Rudd Labor (liberal) government.
He turned out to be a strange kettle of fish, loose with the truth and had a habit of making what were known as 'captain's picks' ie. making decisions without consultation with his cabinet. Many were bewildering eg. awarding Australia's highest honour to the Duke of Edinburgh (a foreigner) on Australia Day!
Among his many conservative views he was a climate change denier, anti gay marriage, anti abortion, anti stem cell research, anti Union/pro free market and a staunch monarchist.

















He was ably supported in all his political endeavours by his chief of staff, Peta Credlin. In fact rumour had it she was the one who pulled the strings. Her husband at the time was the Liberal Party federal director. Be that as it may she did run a tight ship and seemed to have excessive control over the PM. It was mooted, but never proven, that the relationship extended beyond business.
For two years this farce continued. Not only did he and Peta alienate the electorate but also his own party.
In the end the the parliamentary party dumped him as Prime Minister replacing him as with someone who has turned out to be just as hopeless. But that is another story..
Niki Savva is an Australian journalist, author and former political staffer of the Liberal Party.
Her husband is a Liberal political staffer in the office of the current Prime Minister so you cannot get a more conservative duo.
The Road to Ruin documents the bizarre goings on in the PM's office, Abbott's dependence on Credlin and the disarray it caused within the government as well as the consternation throughout the country.
Of course the protagonists have have denied the claims made with it being described as  "dispiriting and self-serving revenge tale".
I liked the book immensely, a tale of female Svengali and a male Trilby. 
One for the Australian political junkie.
I liked Niki Savva's writing style so much I sought out her autobiography.
She was born in a small village in Cyprus. Her father emigrated to Melbourne, Australia in 1951 and she followed with her mother and brother several years later.
So Greek  details her childhood and school years in one of Melbourne’s working-class suburbs where at the time locals were suspicious of olive oil and 'strange' food and Greek kids spoke Gringlish to their parents.


















A few decades later, despite all the challenges of being a migrant woman in Australia, Savva rose through the ranks of political journalism at major Australian newspapers going on to head the Canberra bureaus of two of them.
When a family tragedy struck in the late 90s she decided on a career change.
She became Liberal treasurer Peter Costello’s press secretary for six years before moving on to join prime Minister John Howard’s staff.
This is a book about Australian political life written by an insider with decades of exposure to its major players. It can be hilarious or moving but is endlessly fascinating,
This is a great book for students of  Australian politics, the media and for lovers of scuttlebutt.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Feral Animals

Australia has a problem with many introduced species.
Here are a a few.
Rabbits
They arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788, but then more were deliberately released for hunting in the 1800s. The rate of spread of the rabbit in Australia was the fastest of any colonizing mammal anywhere in the world
It is estimated that their presence reduces Australia’s agricultural productivity by over $200 million each year. Rabbits also have a direct impact on over 300 threatened species nationally.

Land owners are required by law to keep rabbits under control. We do this by poisoning, shooting and gassing and ripping warrens. Many years ago myxomatosis was released as a biological control. It was effective for a while but then the rabbit population became resistant.
This was followed up by the release of the calicivirus RHDV 1 in 1996. It had a devastatingly successful affect on the rabbit population. But again, resistance began to surface.
Early this year a new strain, RHDV1 - K5, variant was released.
Foxes
Foxes were originally introduced to mainland Australia in the 1850s for recreational hunting and spread rapidly.
They have few natural predators in the country and pose a threat to livestock, as they prey on poultry, calves, lambs and goat kids.
They also prey on native wild life.
They are controlled by shooting and poisoning.
We give permission to licensed shooters to come onto our property annually to try to take care of the problem. Being almost surrounded by a National Park, we have a thriving population of foxes around here. It is not unusual to see one blithely trot through our backyard.
Wild Dogs
The dingo is considered a native dog. They originated in Asia where they were present possibly 10 000 to 14 000 years ago and were derived from wolves. Aboriginal people brought the dingo to Australia approximately 4000 years ago. It is the largest animal predator on the continent and considered a pest by many in the rural community.

But of more concern are domestic dogs that have gone feral. They hunt in packs and can do considerable damage to livestock. They are known to have interbred with the dingo.
Control is by trapping, baiting and shooting. We have a had a few packs around here at times but haven't seen them for some years now.
Wild Cats
Cats probably arrived in Australia as pets of European settlers and were later deliberately introduced in an attempt to control rabbits and rodents. Cats now occupy 99% of Australia, including many offshore islands.
Feral cats live, hunt and reproduce in the wild and have adapted to some of Australia’s harshest conditions and invade almost all parts of the continent.

They mainly eat small native and exotic mammals, birds, lizards and insects. About 80 endangered and threatened species are at risk from feral cat predation in the country.
There was quite a colony of them when we moved into this area. Some were very large and aggressive. We eventually got rid of them by shooting (before very strict gun laws came into force in 1996).
Biological control seems out of the question because of the huge number of domestic cats. However we have seen with the rabbit problem pet rabbits can be vaccinated against the calicivirusso maybe there is a similar argument for feral cat control.
Cane Toads
One of the most ill conceived biological control plans ever!
The cane toad was introduced into Australia in 1935 to control the native cane beetle in sugar cane which is a major agricultural crop. 102 were released in northern Queensland
It was a complete failure.
The cane beetle remained a pest and the cane toads thrived. Today the population is estimated at 200 million. They are making their way across northern Australia in a westerly direction at a rate estimated at 60km per year.














Cane toads naturally generate potent toxins (bufodienolides) throughout their bodies, which act by stopping the heart of most animals that attempt to eat them.
The cane toad is often cited in surveys as Australia’s most hated invasive animal taking over from the rabbit. They are listed as a ‘key threatening process’ under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 as they adversely impact native species via predation, competition and poisoning by lethal toxin ingestion.

The Department of the Environment and Energy has stated "There is unlikely to ever be a broad scale method available to control cane toads across Australia. Researchers are beginning to understand the toad’s impact on native fauna and to appreciate the ways in which native species are adapting to the presence of cane toads and recovering from the impact of their arrival."
It is likely that the lessons from the cane toad debacle have influenced the strict quarantine laws and risk assessment procedures Australia has in place today as anyone arriving at our international airports would know.
They have yet to arrive in our part of the country. But I have seen seething masses of them in suburban backyards in my old stomping ground Brisbane. 
And then Australia also has problems with camels (yes, really!), wild goats, wild pigs, deer, water buffalo, wild horses (brumbies), carp, rats and mice.
But we might leave some of those for another time.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Vintage 2017 / Some Climate Data

Below is some local climate data for the growing season based on figures from the area's automatic weather station. There were apparently some technical difficulties with the AWS in March which resulted in unrecorded rainfall figures (as though there wasn't enough!) but the overall trend is still valid.











And for interest's sake an overview of the 2016/2017 Australian summer which demonstrates the extremes we have experienced with both temperature and rainfall on both sides of the country.
Read the full report here.