Increased fire frequency

Fuel Reduction Burning (FRB) is currently a prescribed management technique for fire prone areas of Australia. Whilst it may be effective in the short-term, can it really be a sustainable practice and if it is used on a continual basis will it really reduce the frequency and intensity of ‘bush’ fires?

Australian flora and fauna have evolved to use fire as a tool for renewal. Many Australian plants need fire in order for their seed capsules to open and to enable their seeds to be dispersed. Many areas of Australia are dry throughout most of the year, so there is not enough moisture available to enable the decay of debris, fallen branches and leaves, to occur. As a result the amount of debris continues to accumulate on top of the soil and it takes a long time for it to break down without fire.

Areas where fire occurs frequently evolve to become dry sclerophyll forests. The predominant plant family in these forests is Myrtaceae, being mainly of the genus Eucalyptus, Melaleuca, and Leptospermum. These plants contain large amounts of oil, oil that is highly flammable. These are the kinds of areas where bush fires occur extremely frequently.

If these forests are not burnt for a long time, they begin to change. In areas that have not been burnt for 300 to 500 years, the forest type becomes an open rainforest. For an area to become a closed rainforest in Australia then the frequency of fire is around every 1000 years. Hence frequent burning in order to reduce fuel, FRB, will have an adverse effect by promoting the growth of dry sclerophyll forest, which is the kind of forest that requires fire in order to rejuvenate. That is FRB will lead to the evolution of even more dry-sclerophyll forests, which is not the kind of forest desired if one wishes to reduce the incidence or intensity of fire.

The other concern about frequent fuel reduction burning is one from a horticultural or soil science perspective. This kind of burning is designed to reduce the amount of debris, especially leaf matter, on the forest floor. Hence, this reduces the amount of humus in the soil. Humus is the organic matter that allows a soil to hold moisture, so a soil with greater humus content can hold more moisture. Soils that hold more moisture are cooler in summer and are not degraded easily. If soils are moister then there is more water available for evaporation and plant growth, especially for plants other than those from dry sclerophyll forests. More evaporation also means that there is more moisture going into the air and hence the temperature will be lower. It also means moisture is available to go into making clouds, which means that there is more likelihood of a higher rainfall.

Given that frequent burning promotes forest types that require fire for survival to evolve and that frequent burning reduces the amount of organic matter available to give soils better water-holding capacity, then this kind of burning in the long run will increase the frequency and intensity of bush fires. We need to rethink our use of FRB (fuel reduction burning) as a long term fire-management tool. In order to promote forest types that are not so dependent upon fire, as well as increasing the moisture content of Australian soils the frequency of burning has to be greatly reduced. Fuel reduction burning may prove not to be a solution for long term fire management.

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When service is not service

Just had a “service” call from GIO Australia, a major insurance company in Australia. The “service” bloke on the phone was trying to blame me for changing insurers as I found a company that could offer the same conditions for half the price! Apparently I should have been the one to chase GIO up and see if they could have done better! Well, as a renewing customer I would have expected that they sent out their best possible offer. Isn’t that what service is about? I remember when I was doing marketing that it is much easier to look after your existing customers and to keep them happy than to try to find new customers. Unfortunately it is even worse when you really annoy an existing customer …. they can do a lot in the way of negative PR!
Oh well GIO, you have lost at least 2 customers for ever!

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Tanabata is a Japanese festival that is celebrated every year on 7th July. When this time of year comes around, people write their wishes on strips of paper and hang them on bamboo trees, along with decorations. You can see this almost everywhere in Japan. While there are stories that are similar to Tanabata in many Asian countries, the Japanese version of the story is a mixture of a Chinese legend and local beliefs, so the story is told differently in different areas of Japan.




The legend is explained:

A long time ago, there was a young man who lived in a small village. One day as he was on his way home from working in the fields, he discovered something amazing: the most beautiful clothes he had ever seen. He wanted the clothes very badly, so he quietly put them in his basket and started on his way home.


Just then, a voice called out, “Excuse me.” The boy was startled and said, “What? Did somebody just call me?” A beautiful girl answered, “Yes, I did. Please give back my robe of feathers. I live in heaven, and I just came down to this pond to take a bath. Without my robe of feathers, I can’t go back.”


The girl looked as though she were about to cry, but the boy pretended not to know and answered, “Robe of feathers? I don’t know anything about that.” Unable to go back to heaven, the goddess was forced to remain on earth. She began to live with the young man.


The goddess’s name was Tanabata. Tanabata and the young man got married and were living together happily. One day several years later, though, while the young man was working in the fields, Tanabata found her robe of feathers hidden between two beams in the ceiling. “I knew it. He’s been hiding it,” she thought to herself. She put on the robe of feathers and right away began to feel like the goddess she had once been.


That evening when the young man came home, he was surprised to see Tanabata wearing the robe of feathers, standing in front of the house. Tanabata began rising up toward heaven and called out to the young man, “If you love me, weave a thousand pairs of straw sandals and bury them around the bamboo tree. If you do that, we’ll be sure to see each other again. Please do this. I’ll be waiting for you.” Tanabata rose up higher and higher and returned home to heaven.


The young man was very sad, but he knew what to do. On the very next day he began making straw sandals. He continued weaving them day and night. At last he finally finished making his last pair and buried them all around the bamboo tree.


Right away the bamboo tree began to get bigger and bigger, and it grew higher and higher into the sky. The young man immediately began climbing the tall bamboo tree. He climbed higher and higher until he was almost able to reach heaven. But because he had wanted to see Tanabata with all his heart, he had hurried when making the straw sandals and had actually made only 999 pairs. The tree stopped one step short, and the young man’s hand could not reach heaven.


“Hey! Tanabata! Tanabata!” the young man cried out to heaven. “Oh, it’s you!” Tanabata exclaimed. She extended her hand to the young man and pulled him over the clouds. “Tanabata, I missed you so much,” the young man said. The two of them were overjoyed to see each other once again.


Tanabata’s father was not happy that she had married a man from the world below. He gave the young man hard work to do, hoping to make him miserable. “You’ll guard the melon field for three days and three nights,” he said. Watching the melon field made the young man extremely thirsty, but if he ate one of the melons, it was said that something terrible would happen. Tanabata told him, “You absolutely cannot eat one of those melons.”


But as the three days went by, the young man grew thirsty and became unable to bear it any longer. He reached for a melon. The instant he did, water burst forth from the fruit and became a flowing river. “Darling!” “Tanabata!” In an instant the two were pulled apart from each other.


The two lovers looking across the river at each other became the stars Altair and Vega. Tanabata’s father allows them to meet, only once a year, on the night of the 7th July. To this day these two stars face each other across the Milky Way, shining brightly.


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Hall of Valour, Australian War Memorial, Canberra

On 21 February 2011, the Hall of Valour was opened by Her Excellency The Governor General Ms Quentin Bryce. The hall commemorates all those who have received the highest award for valour that can be bestowed, namely the Victoria Cross. It may be awarded to a person of any rank in any service, or civilians under military command. The first Australian Victoria Cross recipients’ were members of the colonial forces during the Boer War, where 6 gallant men were awarded. Since then there were 66 awards during the First World War; 20 in the Second World War; and 4 in the Vietnam War. In the last couple of years, the Victoria Cross for Australia was awarded to Corporal Mark Donaldson and Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith, both from the Australian Special Air Service Regiment, for their conspicuous acts of gallantry in action, in circumstances of extreme peril in Afghanistan.

victoria_crossThe medal itself is rather plain, being a bronze cross and a tightly woven crimson ribbon upon which is written “For Valour”. However, it symbolises extraordinary actions and character, in the form of impeccable leadership in times of mortal danger rescuing comrades at the risk of one’s own life or standing fast against overwhelming odds.

Those that have been awarded the Victoria Cross are respected by all members of the Defence Force, so even a Private who has been awarded the Victoria Cross is saluted by the Chief of the Defence Force.

After reading many of the citations of those who have been awarded the Victoria Cross, a commonality seems to be that they do not wish to be considered heroes. Rather recipients are usually extremely humble, often saying that they reacted on instinct doing what they have been trained to do. Nonetheless their actions should be an inspiration to all of us.

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War Stories

For a country that has never started a war, we have certainly been in our fair share of them over the years. The official history of war paints us a big simple picture. Unfortunately in this big picture version of our history there is never any time to hear about the smaller stories. Ironically it is the smaller stories that can tell us a great deal about that big picture. War Stories is a compelling, informative and highly entertaining look at Australia at War. Through words, a volume of original songs and visual mediums, Darren Coggan presents a production with moments of reflection, tears and laughter.


Many of the songs and stories in the show present the war experiences of those sidelined by the bronzed male ANZAC mythology. Many of the songs were inspired simply by the emotional context. We meet the women who stayed at home to keep the economy working and those who married American servicemen and lost their Australian identities, salute Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who served despite harsh discrimination, learn of the struggle in finding the courage to go over the top of the Gallipoli trenches, discover stories of mateship and humour, and have compassion for those who died on both sides. Its focus is to present both small and personal stories that are outside the big, simple mainstream history of Australian’s at War and to make those chapters of our military history more personal and accessible.


The show is no celebration of war, rather of the spirit of the people involved in it. It is an honest, moving account of Australia’s involvement without being jingoistic, sentimental or simplistic.


Darren Coggan, at just 35 years, has already chalked up a string of awards. He is best known as a country singer, having released four albums in the genre, but he is equally comfortable in musicals and on screen. He has toured extensively with stage shows Grease, Happy Days and Shout, and was chosen to understudy John Farnham as Teen Angel in Grease – the Arena Spectacular. Most recently Darren produced and starred in Peace Train – The Cat Stevens Story to critical and audience acclaim.

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Reginald Walter Saunders

Many Aborigines have enlisted and served in Australia’s defence forces, and several have won decorations, but the first to be promoted to a commissioned rank was Reginald Walter Saunders, of Victoria.


Reg Saunders

Reg Saunders was born a member of the Gunditjmara people in the Western District of Victoria on 7 August, 1920. His father, Chris Saunders, and uncle, William Reginald Rawlings, had served with the 1st AIF.


William Rawlings of the 29th Battalion, AIF, was awarded a Military Medal for “displaying rare bravery in the performance of his duty”. Reg grew to admire the military feats of both his father and uncle.


Reg’s mother died in 1924 and shortly after her death he was taken by his father, along with his brother Harry, to the Lake Condah Mission in south-western Victoria, where he was brought up by his grandmother and received his primary education.


Reg did not like being away from his family and left school at the age of 14 to go to work as a mill-hand in a timber yard with his father. At this time he became aware of the plight of indigenous people in South America and imagined himself fighting for the poor and oppressed, with whom he felt a kinship.


As Reg’s father and his father’s mates talked about the First World War, Reg listened and wanted to do the same. When he was given the opportunity to enlist in the Second World War, Reg enlisted in the AIF (2/7th Battalion of the Australian 6th Division) in April 1940. His outstanding leadership skills, personable character and sporting skills were quickly recognised by his superiors, and he was promoted to the rank of lance corporal within six weeks. Three months later, he was promoted to sergeant.


The first action that Reg saw was in Libya, where he joined the battalion and took part in the continuing push to Benghazi. On 9 April, 1941, Reg accompanied his battalion to Greece, where they were under constant air attack by the Germans. Saunders embarked on the ill-fated Greek campaign which he, along with many others, considered a mistake. After Greece his unit fought on Crete where Saunders experienced his first close combat and was forced to remain hidden on the island for twelve months after the German victory. Being of darker skin, Saunders was able to hide on the island quite successfully. He and his fellow soldiers managed to escape Crete in May 1942.


After returning to Australia, Reg was soon posted to New Guinea, where he proceeded to the Owen Stanley Ranges. Reg’s brother Harry joined the AIF and they served in New Guinea together. Unfortunately, Harry was killed in action on the Kokoda Trail. Being bush boys, they were at home in the jungle. Reg fought through the Salamaua campaign, remaining in action with the 2/7th until mid-1944 when his commanding officer nominated him for officer training.


Reg returned to Victoria and attended Officers’ Training School, at the Infantry Wing of the Officers Cadet Training Unit, Seymour. After a 16 week course, Saunders graduated as a Lieutenant in December, 1944. He became the first Aboriginal commissioned officer to serve in the Australian forces. For the remaining months of the war, Saunders fought as a platoon commander in New Guinea. He was in the Wewak area when the war ended and was repatriated to Australia to a welcome tinged with sadness for his younger brother who had been killed in action.


He had become tired of living rough and sought work in the city, where he gained worked as a shipping clerk and, later, as a builder’s labourer.


When the Korean War began he returned to the Army, leaving his wife and three daughters behind. Reg was promoted to Captain in charge of ‘C’ Company of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. He took part in the famous battle of Kapyong in 1951. It was during the battle of Kapyong that the battalion was awarded the US Presidential Citation. When it came time to decorate Reg for his part in the battle he declined the award, saying that “there were twenty-five other blokes in that particular battle with me and they didn’t get any recognition so why should I?” After having fought in the battle for Hill 317, Reg finally departed from Korea in October 1952.


On returning from Korea, he was posted to National Service Training but, dissatisfied with the training regimen, he left the army in 1954 and found work as a logging contractor in Gippsland. He then moved to Sydney and, for the next 11 years, worked with the Austral Bronze Company. In 1967 he joined the Office of Aboriginal Affairs as a liaison and public relations officer.


Saunders’s first marriage did not survive his absence during the Korean War. A second marriage followed but it too ended in divorce. He had ten children and was awarded the MBE in 1971. A well-respected soldier and leader, Saunders died on 2 March 1990.

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Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day is the day Australians remember those who have died in war.

In 1918 the armistice that ended World War One came into force, bringing to an end four years of hostilities that saw 61919 Australians die at sea, in the air, and on foreign soil. Few Australian families were left untouched by the events of World War One, which was supposed to be ‘the war to end all wars’. Most families had lost either a father, a son, a daughter, a brother, or a sister.


At 11am on 11 November we pause to remember the sacrifice of those men and women who have died or suffered in wars and conflicts and all those who have served during the past 100 years.


What are the origins of Remembrance Day?

At 5am on 11 November 1918, three German government representatives accepted the armistice terms presented to them by the allied commander, General Foch of the French Army. The demands of the armistice included the withdrawal of German forces to the east bank of the Rhine within 30 days; immediate cessation of warfare; and surrender of the German fleet and all heavy guns with no further negotiations until the signing of the peace treaty.


The armistice became effective at 11am the same day, and as the guns fell silent on the Western Front in France and Belgium, ending four years of hostilities. The cease-fire was made permanent the following year when members of the Commonwealth and the League of Nations signed the Treaty of Versailles. People across the world celebrated the war’s end.


More than 416000 Australians volunteered for service in World War One. Of these, 324000 served overseas. More than 60000 Australians were killed, including 45000 who died on the Western Front in France and Belgium and more than 8000 died on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey.


In Australia and other allied countries, including New Zealand, Canada and the United States, 11 November became known as Armistice Day – a day to remember those who died in World War I. The day continues to be commemorated in Allied countries.


After World War II the Australian Government agreed to the United Kingdom’s proposal that Armistice Day be renamed Remembrance Day to commemorate those who were killed in both World Wars. Today the loss of Australian lives from all wars and conflicts is commemorated on Remembrance Day.


In October 1997, the Governor-General issued a Proclamation declaring 11 November as Remembrance Day. So, it has become a day to remember the sacrifice of those who have died for Australia in wars and conflicts. The Proclamation reinforced the importance of Remembrance Day and encouraged all Australians to renew their observance of the event.


The central element of Remembrance Day ceremonies is the one minute silence. This was first proposed by a Melbourne journalist, Edward George Honey, in a letter published in the London Evening News on 8 May 1919. At 11am on 11 November 1919, Australians, for the first time, paused and stood in silent tribute to the men and women of the Australian Imperial Force who died on battlefields in the Middle East, Gallipoli and Europe.


Why are poppies worn?

In May 1915, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps was working in a dressing station on the front line to the north of Ieper, Belgium, when he wrote the poem, below, ‘In Flanders Fields’.


In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;

To you, from failing hands, we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.


In 1918 Moira Michael, an American, wrote a poem in reply, ‘We shall keep the faith’, in which she promised to wear a poppy in honour of our dead and so began the tradition of wearing a poppy in remembrance.


Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,

Sleep sweet – to rise anew!

We caught the torch you threw

And holding high, we keep the Faith

With All who died.


We cherish, too, the poppy red

That grows on fields where valour led;

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies,

But lends a lustre to the red

Of the flower that blooms above the dead

In Flanders Fields.


It was French YMCA Secretary, Madame Guerin, who in 1918 conceived the idea of selling silk poppies to help needy soldiers. Poppies were first sold in England on Armistice Day in 1921 by members of the British Legion to raise money for those who had been incapacitated by the war. The practice began in Australia the same year, promoted by the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia (now known as the Returned & Services League of Australia – or RSL).


In the lead-up to 11 November each year, the RSL sells red poppies for Australians to pin on their lapels, with proceeds helping the organisation to undertake welfare work.


Since 1921 wearing a poppy has enabled Australians to show they have not forgotten the Australian servicemen and women who have given their lives in wars and conflicts.


Why do we remember the ‘unknown’ soldier?

Twentieth century warfare resulted in millions of unknown dead resting in unknown graves. Of Australia’s war dead from World War I and World War II, 35527, or about 35 per cent, have no known graves.


The names of many Australians who died in World War I appear on memorials along the Western Front, including the names of about 18000 men of the Australian Imperial Force, who have no known grave.


In 1993, to mark the 75th anniversary of the 1918 armistice, the Australian Government exhumed the remains of an unknown Australian soldier from the Western Front for entombment at the Australian War Memorial’s Hall of Memory, Canberra. The Unknown Soldier’s remains were exhumed from the Adelaide Cemetery, near Villers-Bretonneux on the Western Front. A State Funeral was held on Remembrance Day 1993.


Before proceeding to the Hall of Memory, the Unknown Soldier’s coffin was placed on the Stone of Remembrance outside the Memorial where the Prime Minister, Paul Keating, delivered a eulogy:

. . . We will never know who this Australian was. Yet he has always been among those we have honoured. We know that he was one of the 45000 Australians who died on the Western Front, one of the 416000 Australians who volunteered for service in World War I . . . and one of the 100000 Australians who have died in wars this century. He is all of them. And he is one of us.


As Australia’s Unknown Soldier was laid to rest in the Hall of Memory, World War I veteran Robert Comb, who had served in battles on the Western Front, sprinkled soil from Pozieres, France, over the coffin and said, “Now you’re home, mate“.


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