Jørn Utzon Memorial-a celebration of the life of the Sydney Opera House creator.

•Wednesday, 25 March, 2009 • Leave a Comment

øøToday I had the great priviledge of attending the Memorial for the architect and great genius Jørn Utzon. It was a time to honour the legacy this man has left our country and each individual in it.

This moving tribute highlighted the joy his great building, the Sydney Opera House has brought us. Those associated with the Opera House and those who have performed in it remembered the awe that the experience gave them.

The audience also felt Jørn Utzon’s presence as his children, Jan and Liv Utzon, spoke so movingly about their father. It was a moment truly worthy of the standing ovation they were given by all present.

The Sydney Opera House is, and always will be, that beautiful iconic building that greets all who come to Sydney harbour. It is a sculpture on a giant scale that is admired from without and breathes cultural life into all who wander inside or merely stop to gaze at it from near or far. To see and to experience its majestic presence is a real joy and it is constantly changing depending on the light or the aspect from which it is viewed. Its magic is truly addictive. One wants to come again and again to experience its supreme beauty.

Above all it is accessible to all who chose to partake of its life. Not as elitist as some would suggest. It draws its cultural life from many sources. From school children at the annual Choral Concerts to the Sunday afternoon performances, to the outdoor concerts on its forecourt, to the performance of groups like The Choir of Hard Knocks, to community days such as the celebration of one Italian National Day when the whole concert hall broke into song becoming one massive choir of performers and patrons joined in a crescendo of Verdi, it has enriched our lives. It has included all who chose the come and be part of this vibrant living organism.

To those who haven’t experienced the Sydney Opera House I say come. You will be captivated.

To his family I say we can only thank Jørn Utzon for giving Australia and the world an architectural masterpiece without parallel that has captured all our hearts.

In honour of the occasion I share this poem:

From the Clouds

it rises over the water
like a clutch of rare pearls,
held out by the land
as an offering to the harbour,
to the sea.

white shells listening quietly,
to the city’s noises,
lulled by the lapping water’s murmur
as it passes.

Music of the harbour catches in its shells,
mingling with the echoes of
time past.
Echoes of the didgeridoo
and tapping sticks
weave through the sounds of voice
and instrument.
It becomes a Gothic Cathedral,

its beating heart pulsates
with the expectation of a thousand faces
that come to worship,
to become part of this living organism.
Its blood force,
the energy of applause.

Lustrous, in the changing light it glows,
sometimes dazzling,
sometimes deepening
through the tones
of the sun quenching itself
in the sea.

And still it calls,
as it floats softly above the land,
calling, calling
to one far away,
one who
dreamed these shells into being
from the clouds.

© Claudia Mainard, 2003

Inside the Concert Hall

Sails in the Sun 1

Images © Claudia Mainard, 2009


Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires could lead to a decrease in water yield in catchments.

•Thursday, 12 February, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Bushfire at Kingslake

Photo :taken by Jake Valance of Bushfire at Kinglake (HeraldSun Readers witness gallery)

As a native Victorian I have been overwhelmed by sadness following the horrific bushfires of Black Saturday. My thoughts remain with the victims who have lost so much and I send them my condolences.

Having only just returned from an extended trip to Melbourne I had experienced the blazing heat and witnessed the dryness of the prolonged drought that Victoria has been suffering. As a child I remember that summer always brought out the fear of impending bushfires, a mindset that I had all but forgotten while living in Sydney for the last few years.

Memories of the smoke and threatening angry red glow in the sky, and the accompanying fear we experienced for so many summers, came back to me vividly during the past days.

It has been interesting to look back on the history of Victoria’s bushfires and especially the 1939 Black Friday conflagration and its lead up and aftermath. There is a striking similarity in lead up meteorological conditions and a surprising realisation that there are more difficulties to come from a little mentioned consequence of the fires: decreased water yields from the destruction of the mountain ash forests in the catchment areas

This is not due to turbidity as a result of the runoff and contamination from the fires, but rather due to the effects of the destruction of the Mountain Ash forests themselves. This impact has been known about and investigated and attempted to be mitigated against by Water Authorities for many years

In fact the Australian Journal of Water Resources quoted from a recent study on the impacts of the Canberra bushfires:

Bushfires in Melbourne’s water supply catchments in 1939 produced large decreases in yield that persisted for 50 years as mountain ash forests regrew. The Cotter fires raised concerns over yield decline and short and long term water quality impacts.

A submission to the Victorian Bushfires Inquiry of 2003 had this to say:

Melbourne Water has undertaken considerable research since the 1950’s….this world recognised research was prompted by the fact that 50% of Melbourne’s upland catchments are Mountain Ash forests(which can be killed by severe bushfire) Because these forests grow on deep profile soils they are estimated to produce 80% of Melbourne’s water.

Studies have shown that water uptake by Mountain Ash regrowth, following bushfire or logging, can reduce water yield in disturbed areas by up to 50% of pre-disturbance runoff, some 20-30 years after a bushfire. The impact on water yield is most pronounced in drought years when streamflow can be significantly compromised due to greater uptake of water by regrowth trees.

Therefore this shows that following the regrowth after a bushfire there can be “significantly less “left-over rainfall” to appear as streamflow, so water yield from regrowth forest catchments is less than from mature forests.

eWater CRC further posits that

“the impact has not been felt in South Eastern Australia in the fires of 2001/2002, 2003/2003 and 2006/2007 because these have occurred in less sensitive dry sclerophyll forests, where most of the tree species can survive- damaged, but not dead. Younger trees and understorey may be killed, but these will quickly be replaced by a mixture of species adapted to the ashbed conditions.Therefore, the major reductions in water yield seen after wildfire in the Mountain Ash forests should be regarded as a worst case scenario.”


‘The outstanding historical example is from the wildfire in the Melbourne water-supply catchments on “Black Friday” in 1939. In that fire, mature Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) forests were killed. Over the next 30 years, water yield from local areas of regrowth diminished by up to 600 mm/year, or 6 megalitres/hectare. On a catchment-wide basis, where regrowth occupied some 50% of the area, this represented a reduction in annual streamflow of about 24%. By age 75-100, it is expected that water yield will have recovered to the pre-fire condition.’

In fact Melbourne Water in The Source wrote 8 years ago to the day about the sensitivity of the Mountain Ash forests.

Pat O’Shaughnessy, one of the pioneers of the research on the mountain ash catchments, is quoted by them as saying that on average, the ash forests reach their maximum water yield after 120 years following a minimum of about 30 years (when the trees are soaking up a lot more water).

Mr O’Shaughnessy, a Research Forester with Melbourne Water from 1967 to 1993, has underscored the potential benefit and importance of the mature Mountain Ash forests:

“If no wildfires occur, then the yield from the existing catchments is expected to increase at a rate of 2000 to 3000 megalitres per year over the next 50 years….If extensive bushfires were to hit the catchments, the rapidly regenerating mountain ash seedlings would soak up copious amounts of water, leaving significantly less water to go through the soil into streams and, eventually, reservoirs.”

Obviously then, the worst case scenario has now occurred and the impact will be felt in water yield for decades to come. It is an irony that the Mountain Ash forests require bushfires for their continued existence. Their role in the water cycle of the catchment areas will now place greater costs on governments and other authorities to manage regrowth. There will need to be more discussion about the unique problems posed by regrowth for water availability if drought continues or if climate change brings about further and more regular extreme conditions.

However, the impact of these fires will regrettably flow on for years to come and be felt by all Victorians and the prospect of such a challenge on an already drought affected State is a real disaster.


A wonderful award winning interactive website on 1939 Black Friday includes an informative history of bushfires and a wealth of information: http://www.abc.net.au/blackfriday/misc/about.htm

Another site with further interesting links http://www.science.org.au/nova/103/103sit.htm

PHOTO:Uniform trees in Victoria’s Central Highlands, showing regrowth 69 years after the 1939 Black Friday fires. The foreground is an area devastated by recent logging.

Photo courtesy Peter Halazc, 21 June,2006.


Victorian Mountain Ash

Victorian Mountain Ash

Finally please help the bushfire victims.

You can donate to the Red Cross Appeal here or make a direct deposit to the Victorian Bushfire Relief Fund –
BSB 082-001, Account number 860-046-797.

Parents and teachers should be partners in improving student behaviour.

•Wednesday, 10 September, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The OECD’s report Education at a Glance highlights what Australian teachers have been arguing, that Australian teachers have to work longer hours and more weeks a year than the average in developed nations and that experienced teachers here are paid significantly less than the average.

This follows on yesterday’s story that a new guide, Parent-Teacher Partnerships, has been produced by the Australian Scholarships Group and the National Excellence in Teaching Awards organisation. In it teachers argued that successful education of children needed the active participation and modelling of core values by parents if teachers were to have any hope of reinforcing and building on them at school.

There appears to be some surprise by parents that teachers should “complain about teaching manners.”  I have been giving some thought myself, as both a teacher and a parent, at the problem of declining standards in behaviour throughout society.

Yes, children have always needed reminding of their responsibilities and behaviour, some children have shown signs of neglect in personal and educational needs but the real change has been in the numbers of children facing these problems.  Even in affluent areas the issue of respect and behaviour is present.

Parents are already stressed by financial pressures that require longer working hours by both parents so it is understandable that some decline may happen but it needn’t be so.  Many migrant parents today and in the past have had to work under financial pressures and often with little extended family support and yet managed to embed discipline and love of learning and respect in spite of language barriers that they faced.

The key was that discipline and respect were an expectation not an option in daily living.

The real issue is that respect and responsibility  learned at home and modelled and reinforced in the classroom is the best way to educate our young people to be respectful and responsible adults.

I don’t believe that teachers are looking for lessening their workload in this regard or shirking their responsibilities, rather they are calling for an acknowledgment that this area is impacting on other areas of children’s education and that parents must act.

In my own experience as a teacher it is not rare to find children being rushed out in the morning without breakfast. Upon asking why one child who had learning difficulties never ate  breakfast, she told me that each of her five siblings had to help dress each other and tidy up before leaving so there was no time to eat.  Another child was consistently late each day.  In both these instances the children themselves found strategies to self monitor to ensure change.  The solution had to become a child centered one because parents would not admit failure.

These are just two instances but reflect the time needed by teachers out of their programs to mediate and find strategies to better their students experiences.  Why should children face embarrassment because of poor personal hygiene or unwashed clothing or poorly managed work or health issues.  Teachers are often blamed these days for a variety of failings and it is time for parents to lower their defensiveness and work with teachers to remedy these problems.

As a parent I fully understand the stresses of modern day living yet I have taken it to be  my responsibility as a parent,  to nurture, discipline and teach respect for self and others in my own children.  I don’t say it is easy or that there will be no problems, but one has to at least persevere.  Small changes can be built upon and make a real lasting difference.

If children’s experience in the home is one of  be  indulged, seldom corrected and defended when teachers then discipline bad behaviour what messages are being sent not only to the child involved but to others in the class as well.

Teachers are expected to implement  programs on road safety, personal health, obesity, safe foods, civic pride, values, drugs and alcohol, multiculturalism, child protection, life skills, and anti-bullying on top of their core teaching of curriculum and while taking on increasing responsibility for mandated assessments and legal requirements.

If they have to spend increasing time on behaviour management then they are right to call for society at large to take up the duty of care required of child raising.  The OECD report reflects on the long hours and shrinking pay that teachers are expected to shoulder in this country.  As a society it is time to think about what we are working together to achieve.

It is only by working together that the improvements in child education will be achieved.


This jellyfish photo was taken just offshore of McMurdo Station, Ross Island.

"Phot of jellyfish in Antarctic waters."

Photograph by: Steve Clabuesch, National Science Foundation. Date Taken: December 2, 2005.

Remembering Penelope – the wonder cat.

•Wednesday, 3 September, 2008 • 1 Comment

It is hard to get back to blogging after three long and heartrending weeks caring for and finally losing our beloved pet, our nearly nineteen year old cat Penelope on August 29.

The family is gutted but the fond memories of a unique family member that was born and died on our property live on.

The runt of the litter, Penelope defied the odds and outlived her three siblings, living an extraordinarily healthy life until recent times. She was always a “talker” and this was often a lucky trait.

We can’t help but remember the time she got herself locked into the neighbour’s garage.  We couldn’t find her anywhere until her meowing rang out from down the street.  The neighbours had gone away and nobody knew where they were or when they would return forcing us to push food and water through the crack under the garage door until they luckily returned.

Then there was the triumphant cry at the door with a frangipani leaf that looked like a mouse, or perhaps a woollen cap, a sock, a pair of girls stockings, a fluffy slipper and even a Tshirt that she proudly brought home as a present for us.  We never did find out where they came from.

Her curiosity knew no bounds as did her delight in sitting on anything that we happened to be reading calling us to pay her a little attention too.  She was friendly and loving, a great mouser in her prime but mostly a great talker and purry member of our family.

Old age overtook her and though she was a beautiful cat to the end, her decline coming in the last few weeks, we thought she would live forever. The tribulations of the world continue and yet our lives are just a little more empty these days without her affectionate presence in them.

Those who love their animals will understand.

Here are some photos of Penelope taken last December.

"Penelope the cat"

"Picture of Penelope"

"Picture of Penelope the cat"

"Picture of Penelope"

Olympics – where has good sportsmanship gone?

•Saturday, 16 August, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Having been away for a little winter hibernation I have spent some time observing the Olympic Games and the achievements of the world’s athletes.

Whilst there have been many inspiring moments, it is really disappointing to read the negative press when various athletes fail to live up to “expectations” and perhaps “only bring in a silver or a bronze”.

Over recent years the attitude that anyone is a loser if they don’t come first has become pervasive.  This is now leading athletes to throw down the “lesser” medals and storm off in a huff of bad sportsmanship.

In fact the pouting expressions of “losers” and the over enthusiastic antics of “winners”is becoming really off-putting.  Where is the acknowledgment that even reaching a final among the world’s best is an achievement.  Where is the dignity and graciousness of a  winner or good sportsmanship in defeat.

Perhaps the leading athletes who strut their win or demean a second or third placing need to have a good look at themselves and realize that winning at all costs and in bad form is not winning at all.

And as for the armchair critics who have little conception of the effort required to even make the field in an Olympics it is time to let the athletes enjoy their success whatever that may represent.

That achievement may be gaining a gold, silver or bronze medal, it may be reaching a final, or bettering one’s own best effort, or even reaching the pinnacle of the world’s elite athletes to be present at an Olympic games and be forever an Olympian.  All these efforts are worthy of admiration as are those athletes that display the true mark of good sportsmanship and camaraderie even with their fellow competitors.


In 1896 Alfréd Hajós of Hungary became  the first Olympic Champion in swimming winning the 100 metres and 1200 meters half of the swimming medals on offer.

" Alfréd Hajós, Hungary -the First Olympic Champion in swimming "

Alfréd Hajós, Hungary – the First Olympic Champion in swimming. Public Domain.

"The palestra at Olympia."

The Palestra at Olympia. Source: Wikipedia.

Antarctic fossil find shows Antarctica was once warmer.

•Wednesday, 6 August, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The National Science Foundation today released some interesting findings about the climatic history of the Antarctic.

National Science Foundation-funded scientists working in an ice-free region of Antarctica have discovered the last traces of tundra–in the form of fossilized plants and insects–on the interior of the southernmost continent before temperatures began a relentless drop millions of years ago.

An abrupt and dramatic climate cooling of 8 degrees Celsius, over a relatively brief period of geological time roughly 14 million years ago, forced the extinction of tundra plants and insects and transformed the interior of Antarctica into a perpetual deep-freeze from which it has never emerged.

The international team of scientists headed by David Marchant, an earth scientist at Boston University and Allan Ashworth and Adam Lewis, geoscientists at North Dakota State University, combined evidence from glacial geology, paleoecology, dating of volcanic ashes and computer modeling, to report a major climate change centered on 14 million years ago. The collaboration resulted in a major advance in the understanding of Antarctica’s climatic history.

NSF, in its role as the manager of the United States Antarctic Program, supported Ashworth’s, Lewis’, and Marchant’s research as well as U.S. researchers from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Ohio State University and the University of Montana.

Their findings appear in the Aug. 4 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The discovery of lake deposits with perfectly preserved fossils of mosses, diatoms and ostracods, a type of small crustacean, is particularly exciting to scientists, noted Lewis. Fossils are extremely rare in Antarctica, especially those of terrestrial and freshwater plants and animals.

“They are the first to be found even though scientific expeditions have been visiting the Dry Valleys since their discovery during the first Scott expedition in 1902-1903,” said Lewis. Robert Falcon Scott was a British Antarctic explorer who perished during an attempt to the first to reach the South Pole in 1912.

The fossil location today high in the mountains is a completely frozen landscape.

Marchant, Lewis and Ashworth, who often spend months living in tents in the Dry Valleys doing their research, all said that the fossil finds stretch their imagination about how the Antarctic continent once looked.

“The fossil finds allow us to examine Antarctica as it existed just prior to climate cooling at 13.9 million years ago. It is a unique window into the past. On land, there are very few places on Earth that contain sediment of this age, and none are as well preserved as those found in the Dry Valleys,” Marchant said. “The sediments allow reconstructions of alpine glaciers, tundra and lakes, all in remarkable detail. To study these deposits is akin to strolling across the Dry Valleys 14.1 million years ago.”

The mean summertime temperatures would have dropped in that period by as much as 8 degrees Celsius. On average, the summertime temperatures in the Valleys during this temperate period would have been as much as 17 degrees warmer than the present-day average. What caused the change, Marchant said, “Is really a big unknown”, though theories abound and include phenomena as different as the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and tectonic shifts that affected ocean circulation.

According to Lewis, the freshness of the crystals and glass in the volcanic ash and the preservation of cellular detail in the fossils argues that they have been permanently frozen since 13.9 million years ago. The climate changed during those millions of years but the temperatures in the mountains never rose high enough to allow groundwater to flow and microorganisms to become active.

This conclusion suggests that even when global atmospheric temperatures were warmer than they are now, as occurred–approximately 3.5 million years ago during the Pliocene Epoch–and as might occur in the near future as a consequence of global warming, there was no significant melting of the East Antarctic ice sheet inland of the Dry Valleys, nor were there dramatic changes in environmental conditions in the fossil region.

If this conclusion stands the test of time, it suggests a very robust ice sheet in this sector of Antarctica, and stresses the complex and potentially non-uniform response of Antarctica’s ice sheets to global change.

Part of the study in the Dry Valleys is captured in the documentary “Ice People,” by Emmy-award winning director Anne Aghion. NSF’s Antarctic Artists and Writers program supported Aghion in the field for four months in 2006 to document the work of scientists there. The film is being released to coincide with the International Polar Year 2007-2009 (IPY), a global scientific deployment, and is scheduled to air on the Sundance Channel in 2009.

A video interview with David Marchant can be viewed at the National Science Foundation website at the link here.

Read the article in full at the link above along with further interesting links.

The wonderful work carried out by the National Science Foundation brings us images and information about this fascinating continent.


Insects, ferns flourished, then flickered out millions of years ago as the tundra retreated

Fossils of McMurdo Dry Valleys

Examples of fossils found in the McMurdo Dry Valleys. Credit: Zina Deretsky/National Science Foundation


Everett Wilkerson scrambles up an aluminum ladder inside an ice cave. These caves form inside the ‘ice tongue’, a 40-foot-tall bulkhead of snow and ice that runs off the slopes of Mount Erebus on Ross Island.

ice cave Mount Erebus

Photograph by: Alexander Colhoun. National Science Foundation. Date Taken: 1998

Arctic sea ice decline – experience and science.

•Monday, 4 August, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The decline in sea ice witnessed over recent years has been of  concern to many people.  There are varying explanations for the phenomenon, however the outcome is a change of lifestyle for those living in the Arctic circle.

Whether as a result of cyclical conditions or the direct effects of human activity, people are facing major changes in places like Alaska.

An interesting article in the Fairbanks Newsminer.com looks at the effects of the climate change being experienced in Alaska. It highlights the immediacy of the situation for the people of Alaska and an insight into changes that others are yet to confront. It argues that while in other parts of the country, climate change is largely a future threat, in Alaska it is an immediate reality.

It points out that “while the Earth as a whole has warmed about 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century, Alaska has warmed more than 3 degrees in the last 50 years. Alaskans are already grappling with shifting animal species, altered weather patterns, and villages made uninhabitable in part because of shrinking sea ice.”

The warming is having effects on daily life. Here is and excerpt from another article in Newsminer.com

“It had been a weird summer — it was so warm people joked about getting tan — and now it was a weird fall. There wasn’t enough ice on the rivers to go ice fishing, and geese were still hanging around town. A whaling captain’s nephew had shot his first walrus a few weeks before — the Inupiat Eskimos hunt them along with seals and bowhead whales — but when he cut it open there was nothing in its stomach. (Sometimes there are clams you can eat.)

Other people were saying they’d seen walrus that looked thin. And there were reports that lots of walrus were hauling out farther down the shore.”

The National Snow and Ice Data Center predicts that this year’s melt will not reach the record levels of 2007, however, it finds “the Arctic sea ice is in a condition we have not seen since satellites began taking measurements.”

“thin first-year ice dominated the Arctic early in the melt season. Thin ice is much more vulnerable to melting completely during the summer; it seems likely that we will see a faster-than-normal rate of decline through the rest of the summer.”

and then this evaluation:

“So, will we break last year’s record low minimum extent? Will the North Pole become ice-free? Probably not this year. However, the ice is in a vulnerable state and there are six weeks of melting left, so a lot can still happen.

And perhaps the most important point as we continue to watch this season’s evolving ice cover is that, whether or not Arctic sea ice sets a new record low, this year continues the pattern of well-below-average ice extent seen in recent years.”

The problem with the continuing decline in sea ice is that the feed-back effect means that reflective sea ice that keeps the Arctic cooler is replaced with dark water that absorbs heat and so continues to further melt existing sea ice.  This then exacerbates the problem even further.

The articles in the Newsminer.com and other interesting articles on the changing climate of Alaska can viewed at the link here.

Also tonight the ABC will be looking at the problem of the declining sea ice on its Four Corners program on ABC1 at 8.30pm( repeated about 11.35 pm Tuesday August 5; also on ABC2 at 8 am Tuesday.)

“Four Corners journeys to the Arctic Circle to explore how the melt is challenging human understanding of global warming. The Four Corners team* joins scientists on board a Canadian icebreaker, Louis S St Laurent, as they scout for icebergs, bears and evidence of a changing seascape. Across the scientific community there is a quest for answers: How fast is the melt happening? Is it stoppable? What may be lost? What riches will be unlocked? How much global warming is caused by people and how much by nature?”

IMAGE: The National Snow and Ice Data Center has this as its latest assessment of the sea ice in the Arctic:

“Sea ice extent continues to decline, but we have not yet seen last July’s period of accelerated decline. Part of the explanation is that temperatures were cooler in the last two weeks of July, especially north of Alaska.

Because we are past the summer solstice, the amount of potential solar energy reaching the surface is waning. The rate of decline should soon start to slow, reducing the likelihood of breaking last year’s record sea ice minimum.”

Arctic sea ice graph

Credit: National Snow and Ice data Center.


Visible-band satellite imagery confirms the low-concentration ice cover. This view places NASA MODIS Aqua data in a perspective generated in Google Earth, simulating a view from far above Earth.

—Credit: From National Snow and Ice Data Center courtesy NASA

NASA view sea ice above Earth