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Photo: Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
Australian wetlands researchers behind the Feather Map invite citizen scientists to send feathers and include an explanation of where the feathers were found.

I recently saw a great quote on twitter from a Rhode Islander about what he learned years ago when he visited post-apartheid South Africa: “I learned that the power that you have to change big things is entirely about how strong of a community you can form.”

That quote came to mind as I was reading about how researchers in Australia are enlisting the enthusiasm of citizen scientists to address the challenges of wetlands protection. That may not sound as important as ending apartheid, but wetlands are expected to play a big role in the fight against global warming.

Livia Albeck-Ripka had a report at the New York Times.

“One day in April 2016, Kate Brandis opened a weathered envelope, mailed to her from suburban Sydney. Instead of a letter inside, she found the feathers of an Australian white ibis. A day or so later, another envelope arrived, stuffed with more feathers. In the days following, more began to come.

“Soon, Dr. Brandis, who is a research fellow at the University of New South Wales’s Center for Ecosystem Science, was receiving three to four envelopes a day containing the feathers of birds from across Australia, including those of pelicans, wood ducks, cormorants, herons and spoonbills. …

“Two years before, she had put out a call to the public to send her fallen feathers of wetland birds so she could analyze where they came from, in an effort to map how the birds are moving between the country’s disappearing wetlands. …

“Wetlands — which include swamps, marshes, lakes, mud flats and bogs — are biodiverse ecosystems that can improve the quality of water and mitigate damage from flooding and pollution. But since the beginning of the 20th century, some estimates say, more than half the world’s wetlands have been lost, largely because of human activities. …

“Now, the impacts of climate change — which can include less rainfall in some areas, changing river flows and flood patterns, and potential saltwater intrusion into inland bodies of water — are further threatening some of Australia’s wetlands, and the birds that rely on them for breeding. …

“ ‘When our floodplains flood, which is only every couple of years, these birds come together in the hundreds of thousands to breed,’ Dr. Brandis said. But when the water recedes, the birds disband. …

“Where do the birds come from, and where do they go afterward? ‘Because we don’t track our birds, we have no idea,’ she said.

“Traditional tracking methods, like banding birds, have not fared well in Australia. … Many birds, like the ibis, have a high mortality rate. Another factor is simply Australia’s size: Inland birds often go to places where people do not.

“For that reason, Corrie Kemp, a 73-year-old retiree from Queanbeyan, New South Wales, made a special effort to collect feathers for Dr. Brandis’s project from among the most remote corners of Australia, in western Queensland. ‘We made a point of going places where no other people where going,’ Mrs. Kemp said, adding that she and her husband, Peter, had devoted an entire three-month trip to collecting feathers, during which she kept a diary of her discoveries and often corresponded with Dr. Brandis. …

“Bird feathers, like human hair and nails, are made of a protein called keratin. As the feathers grow, the keratin keeps a record of the bird’s diet, much like the rings of a tree. By analyzing a section of a feather, Dr. Brandis and her team can get a snapshot of the bird’s diet while the feather was developing.

“Feathers from chicks — which have spent their entire lives at one wetland — are particularly useful to researchers, providing what Dr. Brandis and her team call a ‘fingerprint’ of each place. By comparing the diet record of adult feathers against this information, researchers hope to map which wetlands the birds have been using, and how healthy those wetlands are. …

“Dr. Brandis said the possibilities were endless when studying animals’ tissue for clues about their environments, their habits and their origins. ‘It’s like the tip of the iceberg.’ ”

Read more about the Feather Map of Australia here and here.

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Photo: AP
Before the Australian men’s soccer team’s first World Cup appearance in 1974 (pictured above), the team competed in war-torn Saigon.

Young, ambitious Australians, playing for their country for free in 1967, didn’t know any better when they accepted an invitation to a soccer tournament — in Saigon. I heard this story on WBUR radio’s Only a Game. It is beyond amazing.

James Parkinson reported, ” ‘It was one of these stories that you heard at a bar with colleagues and ex-players, and you thought, “Is this really true? Could this really be a thing? Surely this didn’t actually happen,” ‘ sports journalist Davidde Corran says. ‘Except that it really did actually happen. It really was the way that they told it.’

“It was November 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, when an international football tournament was held in Saigon. Eight nations would compete: New Zealand, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, then South Vietnam and Australia. …

” ‘We were the pawns in the game to win over the South Vietnamese people, so it was a PR exercise,’ says Ray Baartz, a former Australian national team player, from 1967 to 1974. …

“There was little time for the players to think about the potential dangers of sending civilians into a war zone.

” ‘I think it was about a matter of weeks. We’re on the plane off to Vietnam. We didn’t have too many discussions about it,’ says Stan Ackerley, who represented Australia from 1965 to 1969. ‘These days, you would think twice about going.’ …

” ‘Well, the first, biggest shock we got was the amount of armed people we saw — soldiers, sentry points all over the place,”‘ Stan says.

“Bombers here, and fighter planes here, there and everywhere,” Ray says. “You thought, ‘Hello, we are in the middle of a war zone,’ you know? And we got through the airport, and then into the bus to take us to the hotel and had a police escort all the way.” …

” ‘They went to this briefing at the embassy, and one of the things they were told was, “Be careful of people riding on bikes because it might be someone who’s a threat, and they could mistake you for an American or a soldier and attack you and shoot you,” ‘ Davidde says. ‘[These] players, in this completely new surrounding, walk out of the Australian Embassy, and what do they see? Just a city filled with people riding around on bikes.’ …

“The players discovered the proprietor of their hotel had stolen their food vouchers, leaving them with nothing but substitute ham. And Stan received an electric shock, thanks to exposed wires in his room. Even the training pitch was questionable.

” ‘The training field was a real quagmire at the best of times, so you couldn’t train there all the time because of the conditions and that,’ Ray says. ‘It was really a cow paddock. You know, quite often we’d train on the roof of the hotel, just to keep the body moving a little bit. We weren’t allowed to train on the main stadium.’

” ‘There would have been this surreal sight during this short period of the Vietnam War, where footballs were just falling off the top of this building, this hotel, every day during training,’ Davidde says. …

“The tournament began with a group stage. Australia was drawn into Group A alongside New Zealand, Singapore and hosts South Vietnam.

” ‘The army was going around the stadium with mine detectors and so forth, and then you think, “Oh, hello,” ‘ Ray says. …

” ‘You gotta bear in mind that these players — a lot of these players were playing for the national team unpaid,’ Davidde says. ‘You’re taking annual leave to go and play for the national team — you’re sacrificing to play for the national team.’ …

“The Australian team’s PR mission had, in some ways, managed to work. The Vietnamese people had just seen their own team eliminated in the other semifinal. They also loathed the South Korean soldiers. So they began cheering for the Australians. …

” ‘To be part of the first tournament that we ever won was fantastic,’ Ray says. ‘You know, we were all so thrilled and so proud to be a part of it.’

“The magnitude of Australia’s performance in the Friendship Tournament cannot be overstated. Not only did they perform on the pitch, but they did it in remarkable circumstances, and all for the honor of representing their country.

” ‘To play for your country, you have to sacrifice a lot,’ Stan says. ‘So we sacrificed a lot, you know?’ ”

Wow. More at Only a Game, here.

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Photo: Jon Cattapan/Dominik Mersch Gallery
The Decade Positions, by Jon Cattapan (2017).

I’ve been reading arguments lately about “cultural appropriation” — both from those who think artists should stick to their own culture and from those who think that artists who imagine how people from a different culture feel are building understanding.

I thought about the controversy as I read this article on Australia’s indigenous dot art by Brigid Delaney at the Guardian.

“For a long time,” she writes, “the dot painting has been synonymous with Aboriginal art. Emerging out of the remote Northern Territory community of Papunya in the early 1970s, the first dot paintings were produced when art teacher Geoffrey Bardon encouraged his Indigenous students to paint their stories in murals on the school wall.

“But long before that, circles and dots were used in ceremonies in the form of body paint or marks on the ground. The Papunya people drew on this knowledge in their art, painting stories, ceremonies and rituals, first on walls and then on canvas and board.

“dot, dot, dot […], a new exhibition at Sydney College of the Arts, tackles some of the issues around the use of Papunya dots in paintings, but also looks at why so many artists – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – are attracted to using dots in their work.

“Curator Janelle Evans, a lecturer at Sydney University, a Wingara Mura fellow and Dharug artist, told Guardian Australia that the exhibition had its genesis in 2006, when she conducted an interview with Australian artist and political activist, Richard Bell. ‘He was talking about Aboriginal art as something constructed by the art market.’ …

“The ubiquity of the dot painting was so powerful that Indigenous artists working in different mediums had trouble attracting the interest of the international art market. At the same time, the market became flooded with cheap fakes and rip offs, alongside mass-produced tack such as tea towels made overseas and sold to tourists. …

“In situations like this, Indigenous people rarely see the profits of their artefacts being used, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and appropriation.

“Queensland MP Bob Katter has taken up the cause, putting a private member’s bill before parliament that seeks to amend consumer law to ensure that profits from Indigenous art and artefacts go back to Indigenous communities. …

“What about artists using the dot who are non-Indigenous? It could be seen as cultural appropriation, although Evans says it’s not that clear cut.

“ ‘Non-Indigenous artists who work with dots can work without appropriation. Within the dot, there’s a whole world that can be created. Artists have always referred to other artists in their work but appropriation becomes an issue when you are copying someone’s style. You need to bring your own inquiry to into what you are doing.’ …

“dot, dot, dot […] … focuses on showing work from artists who interpret the dot beyond the style of central and western desert artists and ‘in ways that are non-derivative,’ says Evans.”

More here.

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Photo: Simon Peter Fox 
Deakin University researchers bury the first of 50,000 teabags to be placed in wetlands around the globe as part of a project to monitor which wetlands do best at soaking up the carbon that causes global warming.

It’s reassuring to know that people will keep doing whatever they can for the environment no matter what. The increased carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming will not go away by itself. One approach to breaking it down could come from preserving wetlands.

Melissa Davey writes at the Guardian about Australian scientists who are using Lipton green tea bags and red tea “rooibos” bags to study how wetlands capture carbon and make it harmless.

“Australian scientists have launched a project to bury tens of thousands of teabags in wetlands around the world. …

“Lipton green tea and red tea ‘rooibos’ varieties will be used in the project, which already involves more than 500 scientists in every continent except Antarctica.

“Leader of the project, Peter Macreadie from Deakin University’s Blue Carbon Lab, said wetlands were important for carbon capture and storage, a process known as carbon sequestration, holding up to 50 times as much carbon by area as rainforests.

” ‘But some wetlands are much better at carbon storage than others, and some are in fact carbon emitters, so they’re not all fantastic,’ Macreadie said.

“ ‘We need to find out the best wetland environments for carbon sequestration so we know where we should invest our energy.’

“That’s where scientists have come up against barriers in the past. There are hundreds of thousands of wetlands around the world. A standardised technique for monitoring the carbon is needed for accurate comparison, and monitoring devices can cost thousands of dollars to install.

“But Macreadie had been reading scientific research about teabags being buried and used to measure the rate at which carbon was being released from soil into the atmosphere.

“Fast decay of the tea inside the bag meant more carbon was being released into the atmosphere, while slower decay meant the soil was holding the carbon.

“ ‘I thought, “Jeez this is a bloody good idea. Why aren’t we using it in wetlands?” ‘ Macreadie said.

“ ‘People think of innovation as involving fancy new technology, but sometimes the best ideas are the most simple ones.’ ” More here.

I wonder if this property of tea relates to another thing I’ve noticed. Loose tea seems to absorb the aroma of whatever is around it. I’ve often thought that if you wanted to remove, say, a burned smell from upholstery or clothing, tea (not brewed) could do the trick.

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Photo: Frasers Property
Fairwater, developed by Frasers Property, is the largest geothermal community in the southern hemisphere.

These days there’s a lot of talk about “sustainable” daily-living practices and “sustainable” business practices. But let’s be honest: some practices are more sustainable than others.

One monitoring organization that sets a high bar is the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA).

Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore wrote recently at the Guardian about projects the council has approved: “In 2016, a new master-planned estate in [Blacktown, near Sydney] became the first residential community in New South Wales to be awarded a top, six-star Green Star community rating by the Green Building Council of Australia.

“Not only that, Fairwater, developed by Frasers Property, is the largest geothermal community in the southern hemisphere. Houses are cooled or heated by a refrigerant that pumps air underground then back to the surface, using less power than air-conditioning or heating and saving residents of a three-bedroom house $500 to $600 a year.

“ ‘There’s this avenue of mature trees with this massive lake and lovely terrace houses – yoga by the lake, cycling paths, all these people walking,’ says the GBCA chief executive, Romilly Madew. …

“Green-star buildings produce, on average, 62% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and use 51% less potable water and 66% less electricity than average buildings in Australia, according to GBCA’s 2013 report The Value of the Green Star.

“Since launching in 2003, hundreds of buildings around the country have been certified for the rating system and 120,000 people are now moving into Green Star communities. …

“The key is looking at the project holistically, says Madew. ‘It’s about going back to that old adage of community: people, walkability, liveability, places for the kids to play. [We want to] change the way people think about how they live.’

“Developers, ultimately, ‘are there to sell house and land packages – so they’re not going to be successful unless they’re building something people want to buy. Take “sustainability” out and ask what [buyers] want. They want something close to amenities – schools, public transport, shops and parks. And a home that is cheap to run.’ ” Read about other sustainable projects in Australia here.

Hat tip to ArtsJournal.com, a great source of stories.

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Photo: Jessica Hinchliffe/ABC Brisbane
The women of Queensland’s Spice Exchange create different spice blends to sell. 

This happy refugee story is from Australia, another country where refugees make valuable contributions, in this case sharing their beautiful foods and recipes with the broader population.

Jessica Hinchliffe writes at ABC Brisbane, “A social enterprise in Queensland is helping refugee and migrant women gain employment and foster community spirit through cooking.

“The Spice Exchange sees these enterprising women come together to create spice blends, condiments and gingerbread. They use recipes and spices well known in their home countries.

“Backed by Access Community Services, the social enterprise in Logan, south of Brisbane, also helps the women practise their English-speaking skills.

“Many of those involved are single women with dependent children, with limited education and literacy skills.

“Organiser Tianna Dencher said the Spice Exchange was helping these women, who sometimes felt isolated, find their voice. …

” ‘We saw that these women were comfortable with food and we decided to create something that would engage women around food.

” ‘Many of the women had such great cultural diversity, had beautiful cuisines that had spices … that’s how we started.’

“The program also teaches the women about workplace culture, marketing and how to price products. …

“Adhel Mawien Ukong began with the Spice Exchange in September and said the program provided her with opportunities for her and her children.

” ‘I’ve learnt so much,’ she said. ‘I start at 9:00 am and finish at 2.30 pm, and it’s given me a job four days a week and it’s helped us.

I love it so much so I come here every day of the week sometimes, and I’ve invited other women to join me.’ “

More here.

Hat Tip to @VictoriaLynden on twitter.

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Photo: ABC News: Kristine Taylor
The arrival of six primary school-aged children allowed Mingoola’s (New South Wales, Australia) school to reopen.

Cousin Claire put another good link on Facebook–this one about the small Australian community of Mingoola, which was losing population and decided to welcome refugees just as its only primary school was about to close.

Greg Hassall writes at ABC Australia, “In the tiny township of Mingoola, on the border of New South Wales and Queensland, local woman Julia Harpham was grappling with a common problem in rural communities.

“The population was in decline, enrolments at the local primary school were down and farmers could not find labourers to help with manual work. Her town was dying before her eyes.

” ‘Many of us have children who work in the city and aren’t going to come back to the farm because things have been so tough on the land,’ Ms Harpham said.

” ‘You don’t like to see a community die. And there’s not much joy in a place with no children.’

“Three years ago the local progress association decided to take a leaf from the region’s migrant past and looked for refugees willing to move to the area.

“But when they began contacting refugee agencies they were told there would not be adequate support for refugees in the bush. …

“Meanwhile in Sydney, refugee advocate Emmanuel Musoni was grappling with problems in his community from central Africa. They had been displaced from Rwanda and neighbouring countries during years of bitter civil war.

“The majority had rural backgrounds before having to flee their homes for refugee camps. …

“They were resettled in cities where employment prospects were few, the environment was intimidating and many became depressed and isolated. …

“Mr Musoni led a small delegation from his community to Mingoola early this year to meet locals and see whether resettlement was viable.

“On his return he put out a call for families willing to make the move; within a week he had a waiting list of 50.

“He chose two families [with] 16 children between them. Six of the children were of primary school age, which would allow Mingoola Primary School to remain open.

“Meanwhile, the community began renovating several abandoned houses in the area to accommodate the families, who moved to Mingoola in April. …

“For those involved in this social experiment, the hope is that its success can be replicated elsewhere to help other struggling rural communities.

“Mr Musoni now has 205 families on his database wanting to move out of the cities and politicians have been watching the Mingoola project with interest.”

Read more here. And for a past post on African refugees in rural Maine, click here.

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