Fifty words for twenty-three days

Featured

17 September 2020

Bundanoon is beautiful with opulent magnolia and pink-tinged snowy-white blossom. Waving yellow wattle and delicate droops of sweet pea. I push the pram into the butcher’s shop as a passing woman wearing an ankle length wrap of finely-woven wool articulates to her companion, ‘How did you discover this little place?’.

Fifty words for twenty-six days

Featured

14 September 2020

Day twenty-five of my fifty days. What to write about to celebrate this auspicious moment? Being a great-aunt, the mystery of dust, the sudden shaft of western sun falling on the house across the street? Or maybe it’s time to consider the fast-approaching milestone of one million deaths due to

Fifty words for thirty-three days

Featured

7 September 2020

Last night’s news reported the survival of the glow worms in a damp tunnel near Newnes, spared, unlike the devastating three billion animals killed or displaced in last summer’s fires. ‘They’re like nature’s Milky Way,’ one person enthused. In these circumstances, you’ve got to get your laughs where you can.

Fifty words for thirty-six days

Featured

4 September 2020

These voices calling through light rain and grey sky remind me of Rome, that apartment behind Campo dei Fiori, the windowseat, the window onto trailing vines. They remind me of that agriturismo outside Agrigento, those children calling from the hillside, across the valley, running their goats down along the fences.

Fifty words for thirty-eight days

Featured

2 September 2020

The telegraph wires are mysterious at night, loops and stray pieces of wire forming shapes of enigmatic language. In the morning they shine like innocent children, laughing at my fancies, displaying their true twists and accretions. But a spider’s web, seen as a gauze in the streetlight’s slant, has vanished.

Fifty words for thirty-nine days

Featured

1 September 2020

The aquarobics music pumps and the teacher bounces, booming to her bobbing class. Lane markers, dark blue in the aqua pool, pucker on their edges, serrated like a breadknife, rippling like ric-rac. As my grandson learns overarm, the water surface melts. I sit in a Hockney with a Motown soundtrack.

Fifty words for forty days

Featured

31 August 2020

Combining Dharawal and western concepts of time, it’s the last day of Tugarah Gunya’marri here. Tomorrow Murrai’yunggory starts, when Ngoonungi, flying foxes, gather. I love this: they are ‘sky-dancing’. Miwa Gawaian, waratah, will start to bloom, its magnificent red flower demanding your attention whether you know its significance or not.

Fifty words for forty-five days

Featured

26 August 2020

Even when she was nearly blind my mother would eke her way through the death notices. Now that she has gone I do it for her, noting the names lovingly consigned to graves by grieving families. I am assailed by memories of childhood and since. Kindnesses offered, conversations left unspoken.

Fifty words for forty-six days

Featured

25 August 2020

The most eagerly anticipated thing was the ice-cream, but the park held surprises. A fence had been built to protect a nesting plover. We inspected both fence and supercilious plover. Then over there – slowly slowly – quietly! – we crept close to watch two vigilant wood duck parents and ten tiny ducklings.

Fifty words for forty-nine days

Featured

22 August 2020

I caught the bush in suffragette colours yesterday. Newly green trees, hardenbergia draping pointillist purple blooms over fences, shy unnameable bushes dotted in white and, in a low haze, the violet flowers of Patersonia, native iris, three triangular petals windmilling from the centre. Overnight they shrivelled, purple blobs on stems.

What can I do?

Featured

Tags

,

Climate change. What can I do? Four words, four questions. Just change the emphasis.

What can I do?

This is the easy question. There’s so much you can do. For starters:

  • Carbon offset your emissions
  • Use petrol that has the lowest emissions
  • Use public transport or walk
  • Change to ‘green’ electricity
  • Reduce your meat and dairy intake
  • Plant trees
  • Interrogate your purchases – do I need it? Can I buy it second hand? Is it produced by a sustainable method / company?
  • Question politicians / companies / superannuation / banks about their own sustainable practices and policies then change your superannuation / bank / who you purchase from / who you vote for
  • Use sustainable agriculture practices
  • Buy from people who use sustainable agriculture practices
  • Install solar panels
  • Consider how much energy you use every day and how you can reduce it, particularly at peak times.

What can I do?

This is a more despondent question. It asks whether it’s possible to do anything in the face of this all-encompassing threat fuelled by human greed – a greed that seems uncontrollable and unresponsive to the damage it’s causing, unwilling to accept its murderous consequences. But do you doubt your own ability to effect change, or the power of collective effort? Consider water restrictions. They’re put in place to limit our collective use of a natural resource. They’re used regularly, embraced by the community, and have a tangible effect.

What can I do?

This question is about the power or weakness of the individual. It’s a mess of individual choices and decisions that has got us into this mess – individual choices influenced by a group-think about ‘needing’ things and the devaluing of care for community and wider consequences. Has this devaluing been encouraged by technology replacing face-to-face interaction, reducing our possibility for empathy for others and the effects of our actions on the wider world? Or have we as humans always valued ourselves over others, unable to see ourselves as part of a web of interconnectedness of humans and the rest of the ecology of the planet, the universe? Either way, if individual choices got us into this mess, surely they can get us out of it again.

What can I do?

This question is about your willingness for action. The answer is that you can not give up, not accept that we are doomed. You can be bolder. You can voice your concerns. When people say, ‘Let’s not get political’ you can say ‘It’s not about politics. It’s about human survival.’ When people say, ‘That’s alarmist,’ you can say ‘What other body of scientific thinking do you question?’ If the car’s brakes are faulty do you just pretend nothing is happening or do you do something about it? You can think up your own metaphors. There is so much caution in our world, so many seat belts and helmets and little yellow things on posts – why aren’t we being cautious about this? Protest against the big businesses that are making money while the world burns. Protest against the politicians who think that a burnt house is an economic opportunity for builders.

If you don’t do it, who will?

We can be lyrebirds

Featured

Tags

Yesterday was hot. Oven hot. Even as the sun went down it was hot. Last night was hot. I woke from my final bit of restless sleep and, thirsty, reached for my cup of water. The water had become tepid overnight.

Today will also be hot. I sit in the shade with my breakfast and enjoy the light breeze – cool, disarming – while I can, before I’m forced into the house, blinds drawn, seeking out any habitable corner.

The bush is quiet. A small flock of birds flies overhead, quietly. Are they in mourning in this heat-scorched landscape? Lucky not to have burnt, large patches of trees are nevertheless covered in dead, brown leaves. I can almost see how the waves, the billows of heat came off the fire, landing in this patch, and this one.

A kookaburra calls. A deep throaty call. There is no reply. None of the hilarious groups of chuckling I was hearing a few months ago.

One of the good news bushfire stories I’ve read recently is about a group of lyrebirds sheltering in a dam while a fire raged around them. I’ve seen a photo, the lyrebirds in startled poses dotted awkwardly around the dam’s edge. The wonder is that they got there – fiercely territorial, they would have had to walk through each other’s territory to reach it – and the other wonder is that they stayed there, jostling, overcoming their innate competitiveness. Maybe ‘jostling’ is the wrong word. Maybe they were more like magnets with their same sides facing, only reaching a certain point of proximity before being repelled, maintaining a bare minimum gap. I look out at this silent bush around me and wonder if any unseen scenes of miraculous behaviour occurred around our muddy little dam. Last night, standing on the deck in the slightly cooler air, a sickly half-moon of cream-yellow above the trees, I heard a wallaby or kangaroo crunching through the leaves. I saw the quiet flight of an owl, felt a tiny bat shape its dive around my head. Did they all survive near the dam, each hunkered down in its own sweet way?

But I’m wary of these good news bushfire stories, these images of impossibly coloured leaves sprouting from thickly blackened trunks. Just as I’m wary of conversations that start with ‘We’ve always had fires’ or ‘This is how I remember summers in childhood.’ I’m wary of them being the beginning of a smoothing over, a covering up, a pretence of normality. A shrugging of the shoulders that accompanies a statement like, ‘Ah, nature! She’s a bastard.’ I want the agitation of emergency to endure. My little neck of the woods is safe for now but others aren’t. When Greta Thunberg says ‘Our house is burning’ she’s not talking about her family’s house, or her country’s house, she’s talking about the planet’s house. It seems to be human nature – and not an aspect of it that we can be proud of – to think small when we think of ‘our’, and to use ‘our’ as an exclusive force against ‘their’. The first – and maybe the hardest – step to take against climate change seems to be that we have to see ‘our’ in a different way. We have to quell the basic human desire to improve our lot at the expense of others, where ‘expense of others’ might mean exploiting others, ignoring others or using up the resources of others. If lyrebirds can challenge their instincts in order to survive, why can’t we?

Thank you firies

Featured

Tags

When I turn off the highway I notice handmade signs dotted along the road. ‘Thank you firies’ they say. These are heartfelt messages. There are patches of burnt out bush and the ground is covered in leaf-litter from trees shedding their leaves to survive. Everything looks exhausted, drooping. The bush is quiet: few birds, nothing bigger. This is the land that the fire approached, having jumped the Shoalhaven River after days of sitting at its edge, slavering. You can see that the land itself couldn’t have resisted. You can see how the fire would have gobbled up that leaf-litter and bounced into the trees themselves, crawling up the trunks. How it would have leapt through the canopy, looking for more to devour.

The stories I hear from my neighbours are of miracles and lucky breaks. We’re lucky the firies chose this spot to try to draw a line against the mighty Currowan fire, so it didn’t spread down to the more inhabited parts of north Nowra. We’re lucky they contained it where they did, that a neighbour was here to show the firies from Queensland where the overgrown fire trails were. That a firebreak got out of hand but they firebombed it back into control. We’re lucky our houses didn’t explode like one neighbour’s friend. We’re lucky another neighbour has a son who’s a firie, who came up here to check on how it was going, sending back messages of reassurance.

We shake ourselves and say it again. We’re lucky that we didn’t join the hundreds of thousands, millions, of Australians disastrously affected by the bushfires that have been burning across the country since September. That we didn’t, along with so many others, lose our much-loved house. We had some days of worry, one night of complete resignation facing the worst. It is a holiday home, not our only house. And it is a house, not our lives, or our livelihoods. But it is our house. The house we’ve built over the last two years, and only lived in for the past year. Planned and furnished and filled with love. It’s the house Martin was taken from to the Shoalhaven hospital. It’s the house I returned to the same night, after a day of hospital staff stabilising Martin’s breathing, to find the whole community gathered nearby around the pizza oven. They flocked to me, invited me in, loaded me up with food and warmth. It’s the house and community I have planned to live in in years to come.

But even though the house is still standing and even the plants in the planter box have survived, something has gone. Through the missing trees I can see houses I never knew were there. I stand on the ashy ground and see burnt leaves everywhere. No insects bang at the night-time windows. More than that, it’s a sense of trust that has gone. The trust that fires can be controlled. That this little house would be here for me, that I would add to the garden and learn all the plants, all the birds in the bush around me. Having imagined the destruction of such a raging fire, I can’t unimagine it. It’s a version of the world that stays with me. In one moment, it all could have been lost. The fact that it wasn’t means I’m sitting in a ghost house, where ruins might have been. I can’t look at the bush or be in the house without that knowledge. It all looks transient now, shaky, the lines blurring in and out of view, dream-like.

 

Fires in NSW

Featured

Tags

These are the fires in NSW today, December 6 2019.

A bush fire is burning in the Mount Marsh, Tullymorgan, Mororo Road, Ashby Heights, Woombah and New Italy areas. The fire is more than 115,000 hectares in size and is being controlled.

A bush fire is burning in the Yengo and Dharug National Parks. The fire is more than 11,000 hectares in size and is out of control.

There are multiple bush fires burning in the Yengo National Park area. The fire is more than 43,000 hectares in size and is out of control.

A fire is burning between Batemans Bay and Ulladulla. The fire is more than 73,000 hectares and is not yet under control.

A bush fire is burning in the Wollemi National Park area. The fire is more than 250,000 hectares in size and is being controlled.

A bush fire is burning west of Garland Valley and Howes Valley areas. The fire is more than 10,000 hectares in size and is out of control.

A bush fire is burning in the Goulburn River National Park, south-west of Merriwa. The fire has burnt more than 9,500 hectares and is being controlled.

A bush fire is burning in Carrai East, north west of Kempsey. The fire is more than 121,900 hectares in size and is being controlled.

A bush fire is burning in the Lake Burragorang area. The fire is more than 35,000 hectares in size and is out of control.

The bush fire is burning through the Tallaganda National Park, and the Bombay and Braidwood areas. The fire is more than 31,000 hectares in size and is being controlled.

The Carrai Creek bush fire is burning across a large area including the Oxley Wild Rivers area and Yarrowitch. The fire is more than 226,700 hectares in size and is being controlled.

A bush fire is burning to the south of the Katoomba and Leura area. The fire has burnt close to 1,100 hectares is being controlled.

A bush fire is burning in the 50km west of Grafton area. The fire is more than 107,100 hectares in size and is being controlled.

A bush fire is burning at area of Pelaw Main near Cessnock. The fire is more than 300 hectares in size and is being controlled.

The fire is burning in the Corrabare State Forest, east of Wollombi. The fire is more than 2,700 hectares and is out of control.

A bush fire is burning in the area of Martins Creek, east of Paterson. The fire is over 290 hectares and is out of control.

A bush fire is burning in the area of the Cataract National Park near Paddys Flat, north of Drake. The fire is more than 1,000 hectares in size and is out of control.

A bush fire is burning in the Washpool and Billilimbra State Forests. The fire is more than 98,000 hectares in size and is being controlled.

At a minimum that is a total of 1,136,590 hectares, or 11,365.9 square kilometres, of land burning, or burnt, today in NSW.

The radio broadcasts reports every 15 minutes. The message changes. Sometimes it is to tell people in certain areas that it is too late to leave, and that they should seek shelter as the fire approaches. I feel for those people. It feels like they’re being abandoned by the rest of us, listening to the bushfire reports in our cars, blanketed by smoke for the last week, each day feels worse. But not as bad as being told that it’s too late to leave, that you should seek shelter. Wait out the fire burning around and over and through your house, seeking shelter here then there, wondering if this shelter will hold, or whether you’ll need to run to the door as your shelter collapses, out into the heat, the burning, the crashing and the blazing.

The news on the radio also reports that 150 more Australian Federal Police are being posted at airports because of a perceived threat, and I wonder – why isn’t the real threat being addressed?

My September challenge

Featured

Tags

, ,

A couple of weeks ago I decided to set myself a challenge: to do something personal about climate change each month. My challenge for September was to find out which was the least damaging petrol for the environment. Spending time in the bush at Tapitallee is a wonderful antidote to the pressures of city living, but driving down here is an environmental burden.

It turned out there was no simple answer to my question. And the answers I found were dispiriting – more evidence of woeful environmental leadership in Australia. The articles on the subject were unanimous – ‘compared with most of the rest of the world, our fuel is filthy’[1]  and ‘… this country still uses much dirtier fuel than most of the rest of the world. Indeed, Australia is ranked 70th in terms of fuel quality because of the relatively high percentage of sulphur permitted.’[2]  and ‘Australia’s 91-octane standard fuel is allowed to have sulphur levels as high as 150 parts per million. The world standard in markets such as China, Europe, India and Japan is 10 ppm.’[3]

The levels of sulphur in our petrol are a problem because our petrol is ‘pumping significantly more sulphur dioxide – a common cause of breathing problems and generator of acid rain – into the atmosphere than other OECD members, creating excessive engine wear for consumers and even costing us more at the pump, because the dirty fuel doesn’t burn as efficiently as if it had less sulphur.’[4] Moreover, because our petrol has these high levels of sulphur, ‘the latest-technology, low-emission engines cannot be supported in the domestic market. “If you go to a higher quality fuel, the vast majority of vehicles on our roads automatically (become) more fuel efficient,” said Mr Weber [chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI)]. “There would be an improvement in the fuel economy of vehicles across the fleet of 17 million vehicles in Australia, not just the new ones”.’[5] The FCAI has said that ‘improving Australia’s fuel quality would offer a “3% to 5%” improvement on CO2 performance “overnight”.’[6]

We have four types of petrol available: 91RON, 95RON, 98RON and E10. (RON means Research Octane Number – ‘Octane is the measure of a fuel’s ability to resist the phenomenon known as ‘knocking’ … [which] is the uncontrolled combustion of fuel that can destroy engine internals.’[7]) 91RON petrol has a 150 ppm sulphur content, while 95RON and 98RON have a 50 ppm sulphur content. So even our best petrol has five times more sulphur than the world standard.

E10 is not the obvious choice either. ‘E10 is a blend of regular unleaded (RON 91) petrol and between 9% and 10% ethanol. Blending the ethanol at this ratio increases the RON to 94.’[8] So E10 has 90% of the sulphur of 91RON petrol (so, 135 ppm). The manufacture of the ethanol is probably less environmentally detrimental than the production of petrol, and ethanol ‘is a clean burning fuel that produces less greenhouse gases than unleaded petrol’[9]. However, ‘the sustainability certification of Australian produced ethanol is not transparent. We know from studies conducted by organisations including the European Commission that when coal is used to produce ethanol, it can result in “little or no greenhouse gas emissions saving for ethanol compared to gasoline” on a well-to-wheel basis. This is a significant consideration for Australia, given our current reliance on fossil fuels.’[10] Also, ‘E10 has around 3% less energy than the equivalent amount of RON 91 petrol. On average, this can translate to an increase in fuel consumption of around 3%, which has about the same effect on fuel consumption as driving on tyres with inadequate air pressure.’[11]

So what, I hear you clamour, is our government doing about this? High levels of sulphur polluting our air and choking our people; dirty fuel leaving us unable to use the latest technology of low-emissions vehicles; unclear certification on ethanol – surely they’re keen to listen to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries and improve our CO2 performance ‘overnight’?

Well, in December 2016 the Department of the Environment and Energy released a discussion paper called ‘Better fuel for cleaner air’ which set out the problem succinctly:

  • Motor vehicle emissions can be split into two categories: noxious emissions which affect human health and the environment and contribute to respiratory illness, cardiovascular diseases and cancer, and greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change.
  • Petrol fuelled light vehicle emissions are one of the major causes of air pollution in urban Australia. Our expanding vehicle feet, increasing urbanisation and aging population mean that further action is needed to improve air quality and reduce the health impacts of air pollution.
  • Improving fuel quality can help reduce the level of noxious emissions, which improves air quality and health outcomes.
  • Some advanced vehicle technologies (including advanced emissions control systems and certain fuel efficient engine technologies) require higher quality fuel to work effectively. The quality of fuel influences which engine and emission control technologies can be supplied to the Australian market.

It also states that ‘Catalytic converters in vehicles are designed to filter emissions and reduce noxious substances emitted from vehicles. Sulfur clogs the catalytic converters making them less effective.’ It then outlines five alternative approaches, ranging from ‘no change’ through to the staged introduction of world standards from 2020. Sadly, the decision that was reached was closer to the ‘no change’ than introducing the world standards[12]. The sulphur in petrol will be reduced to 10 ppm – from July 1 2027. The aromatic content in petrol will be reduced from 42 per cent to 35 per cent, effective 1 January 2022, to be reviewed and reduced by 2027. [‘Aromatic content’ refers to chemicals like benzene, toluene and xylene used to increase the petrol’s octane rating since lead was banned. The effect of these chemicals is being increasingly questioned. ‘The chemicals get released into the air as nano-sized particles – ultrafine particulate matter, or UFPs – that can be absorbed through the lungs or skin. Studies in peer-reviewed journals like the Journal of Environmental Science and HealthEnvironmental Health Perspectives and Particle and Environmental Toxicology, have linked these particles from aromatics to diseases ranging from ADHD to asthma.’[13]]

So where does that leave us? I’m thinking that E10 is only 10% ethanol, has 135 ppm sulphur, is less efficient, and even the production of the ethanol is not necessarily clean. So for now I’m opting for the petrols with less sulfur (RON95 and RON98). But I’m also looking into carbon offsets, and electric cars. My October challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.whichcar.com.au/features/australias-petrol-is-one-of-the-dirtiest-in-the-world

[2] https://www.afr.com/opinion/cleaner-petrol-a-bigger-help-than-electric-cars-20180124-h0nnfg

[3] https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6079636/our-poor-quality-petrol-slows-the-drive-to-improved-emissions/

[4] https://www.whichcar.com.au/features/australias-petrol-is-one-of-the-dirtiest-in-the-world

[5] https://www.caradvice.com.au/714921/why-australia-needs-better-quality-fuel/

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/sep/02/eu-to-push-australia-to-clean-up-petrol-standards-as-part-of-free-trade-deal

[7] https://www.mynrma.com.au/membership/my-nrma-app/fuel-resources/can-premium-fuels-clean-your-engine

[8] https://www.e10fuelforthought.nsw.gov.au/facts

[9] https://www.racq.com.au/cars-and-driving/cars/owning-and-maintaining-a-car/facts-about-fuels/ethanol

[10] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-07-04/e10-cheapest-petrol-fuel-emissions-biofuels-ethanol-australia/9922938

[11] https://www.e10fuelforthought.nsw.gov.au/facts

[12] https://www.environment.gov.au/protection/fuel-quality/standards

[13] https://morningconsult.com/2015/04/22/growing-chorus-of-complaints-on-chemicals-in-gasoline/

Sydney ferries

Featured

Tags

, ,

I’ve been reading an article about seafaring and trade between Australia and Papua New Guinea that describes the distinctive boats of the Motu people, with crab-claw shaped sails, and their well-established trading set-up dating back at least two thousand years. But the boats I want to talk about are the Sydney ferries, that have been operating for about 150 years.

In 1861 the North Shore Ferry Company started running the first formal ferry services on the harbour, between Circular Quay and Milsons Point. By the early 1930s Sydney Ferries Limited was the world’s biggest ferry operator, carrying 40 million passengers per year. When the Harbour Bridge opened in 1932, patronage dropped to 14 million passengers per year and the number of ferries was reduced by half.[1] The ferries were recycled to a number of different uses, with Kuttabul being converted into HMAS Kuttabul to house seamen at Garden Island. On May 31 1942 three Japanese mini-submarines entered Sydney Harbour and released a torpedo – possibly aiming at the US warship USS Chicago – that hit the sea wall at Garden Island. The explosion sank HMAS Kuttabul instead. While the incident was kept as quiet as possible, eventually 19 Australian and two British men were declared dead from the action.

Sydney ferries still carry about 14 million passengers every year. In the twelve months April 2018–March 2019, over a million trips were made on Sydney Ferries each month. The highest month was January, with 1,620,000 trips made and the lowest month was August, with 1,103,000 trips.[2]

There are currently 29 wharves in the ferry system throughout Sydney, from Manly to Parramatta, but ferries were used far more widely in the past. In 1900 there were ten different ferry wharves for Balmain alone, from Elliott St on the north side of the peninsula, round to Reynolds St on the south side,[3] and in the 1940s there were eleven public wharves on the Hunters Hill peninsula.[4]

These days eight lines of Sydney Ferries have routes around the harbour and to Parramatta along the Parramatta River, with seven of them running from Circular Quay and one from Pyrmont Bay to Watsons Bay. There are six classes of ferries, with three of those being catamarans. The Freshwater class ferries are the large ferries that operate in and out of Manly (when Sydney hosted the 2000 Olympic Games, Collaroy (Freshwater class) carried the Olympic torch across Sydney Harbour); the First Fleet class ferries are the smaller, jaunty little ferries that ply their trade back and forth across the harbour to destinations such as Taronga Zoo and Mosman; Emerald class ferries are the latest introduction to the fleet, replacing the “Lady’ class ferries in 2017, on inner harbour runs; the RiverCat class ferries operate on the Parramatta River and all seven are named after famous female Australian athletes; the HarbourCat class ferries operate on both the Parramatta River and inner harbour lines, and are also named after famous female Australian athletes; and finally the SuperCats which operate on the eastern suburbs and cross harbour lines. A number of private ferry companies also run ferries on Sydney harbour, including the fast ferries to Manly.

International company Transdev has been running Sydney’s public ferry routes (‘on behalf of the NSW government’[5]) since 2012, and has recently won the contract to continue until at least 2028. To celebrate their extended contract they have quietly changed the name from ‘Harbour City Ferries’ to ‘Transdev Sydney Ferries’. They have also raised doubts about keeping the Freshwater class ferries running after next year[6], despite the mooted replacement ferries (Emerald class) only carrying 400 passengers compared to the Freshwater class’s capacity of 1100 passengers. In more privatisation news, developers and infrastructure groups have been asked to submit plans to redevelop and run the wharves at Circular Quay.[7]

[1] https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/ferries

[2] https://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/data-and-research/passenger-travel/ferry-patronage/ferry-patronage-top-level-chart

[3] Max Solling and Peter Reynolds 1997. Leichhardt: On the margins of the city. Allen & Unwin.

[4] Ewald, C. 1999. The Industrial Village of Woolwich. The Hunter’s Hill Trust, p24.

[5] https://www.transdev.com.au/media/14136/190227_press-release-transdev-australasia-to-operate-sydney-ferries_final.pdf

[6] https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/sydney-s-beloved-manly-ferries-face-prospect-of-last-sailings-20190404-p51awh.html

[7] https://www.realcommercial.com.au/news/shortlist-for-sydney-ferry-wharves-overhaul-narrows-to-two

Centennial Park

Featured

Tags

, ,

For a very long time before Centennial Park featured a purpose-built waterplay area and ‘wild’ garden for children, it was a source of food for the local people. But in 1811 Governor Macquarie proclaimed 490 acres to the south of South Head Road as common grazing land, and the area that was to become the Centennial Parklands (Centennial Park, Moore Park and Queens Park) was cut off from its previous users.

A report by Val Attenbrow, assessing the evidence for the use of the area by Aboriginal people prior to colonisation[1], finds that the parklands would have provided many types of food and other resources. There were ‘plants that provided fruits, berries, seeds, tubers, nectar as well as leafy vegetables. They also provided wood, bark and fibres used to make tools, weapons and other pieces of equipment.’ It gives examples such as banksia, collected for nectar; melaleuca, ‘used as a wrap/blanket on which children were laid and in which babies were carried’; and grass trees (Xanthorrhoea) – the stems were used for spear shafts, the resin was used as an adhesive to make tools, to patch canoes or baskets, and to fasten objects into people’s hair, and the fronds were used in headdresses in ceremonies. (page 9)

Animals that would have been hunted in the heath and wooded areas of the parklands include ‘kangaroos, wallabies, possums, gliders, echidnas, bandicoots, fruit bats … birds, snakes, goannas and other lizards’. The freshwater wetlands would have been habitat for many types of fish as well as eels, tortoises, frogs and shellfish. Waterbirds would have been present in good numbers, and their eggs could have been eaten as well. Additionally, ‘emus are not on the current list of birds that inhabit the Parklands, [but] they would have been there in the past.’ (page 10)

I suppose the children of those times played in the water, hid from their parents and grandparents and balanced on logs, just as ours do today.

The local Aboriginal people would have used resources from a wider area than the parklands, so the report includes archaeological evidence from the surrounding area, the eastern Sydney peninsula. One find was at Sheas Creek at St Peters, where dugong bones were discovered when the creek was being turned into the Alexandra Canal. The report says:

Cut marks and scars on the bones suggest the animal was butchered and thus killed for food. Two ground-edged hatchet heads found in these deposits at the same time come from ca 70 m away from the dugong bones and whether they were deposited at the same time is not clear. The dugong bone has recently been dated to around 6000 years BP.[2]

The dugong is a sea creature, ‘a large grey brown bulbous animal with a flattened, fluked tail … no dorsal fin, paddle like flippers and distinctive head shape.’[3] They are mammals and can grow to 400 kilograms by grazing on sea meadows. They are thought to have inspired the idea of a mermaid, but you would have to say it was a mermaid with a very unfortunate face with their huge droopy noses and tiny eyes.

I keep thinking about that dugong. At that time, 6000 years ago, the coastline would have been roughly where it is now (18 000 years ago it was 12 km from the present coastline and the sea level was 140 metres below the present level) but that’s still a few kilometres from the spot where the bones were found. Why would you carry a dugong all that way? The creek itself was shallow, surrounded by swamps, so maybe the dugong got trapped there, having travelled up the Cooks River, making it easy prey. These days, when the Alexandra Canal is described as ‘the most severely contaminated canal in the southern hemisphere’[4], and the Cooks River has the unenviable title of ‘Australia’s most polluted river’[5], a dugong would die before it got anywhere near the bridge over Ricketty Street.

[1] https://www.centennialparklands.com.au/getmedia/e32ae90a-e730-4c28-82c4-4b17e9e3c5e1/Appendix_S_-_Pre-colonial_Archaeology_report_Val_Attenbrow.pdf.aspx

[2] Pre-colonial Aboriginal land and resource use in Centennial, Moore and Queens Parks, Val Attenbrow 2002, p22.

[3] https://australianmuseum.net.au/learn/animals/mammals/dugong/

[4] https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/from_sheas_creek_to_alexandra_canal

[5] https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/cooks-river-20190110-h19wqs.html

Convict makes good

Featured

Tags

, , ,

My mother tells me that, when she was very young, she was told by a great-aunt who was very old that she, the great-aunt, when very young, had met her (the great-aunt’s) grandfather William Spikeman, when he was very old.

This chain from me to my mother, to her great-aunt, to her grandfather carries us back exactly two hundred years to February 1819, when two young men were convicted of ‘theft from the person’ at the Old Bailey in London. They were charged with stealing a handkerchief. The owner of the handkerchief, Henry James Lloyd Esq, stated that at midnight on February 16 he was coming from Covent Garden Theatre when he turned and saw, ‘one of the prisoners reaching his hand to a person behind him – I saw my handkerchief on the ground which the other person was picking up.’ The two young men were sentenced to be transported for life.

One of the young men was William Spikeman, 18 years old with no formal education but experience as a labourer in his home town of Devizes in Wiltshire, attracted to London by who knows what tales, or forced to leave Devizes by who knows what hardships. Later that year he was sent with another 134 men – average age between 25 and 26 – on the Canada to Sydney. Their journey took 130 days, arriving on September 1.

Spikeman was initially sent to the newly-built Carters’ Barracks. Demolished in 1901, they were located on the edge of the Old Burial Ground, where Central station now stands. Convicts housed at the Carters’ Barracks worked with a horse and cart, picking up and dropping off loads of produce at the brickfields and the wharves. In 1822 Spikeman was listed as being a bullock driver at Grose Farm, on the edge of the city. In 1823 he was assigned to Reverend Samuel Marsden, who took him to the missionary settlement at the Bay of Islands in New Zealand to work as a herdsman for James Kemp at Kerikeri. Three years later he was allowed to return to Sydney to obtain his ticket of leave. He is recorded as having had savings of 17 pounds, from a salary of 20 pounds per year.

Convicts could apply for a ticket of leave half way through their sentence – for those transported for life this generally meant after 7 years, as they could be freed after 14 years. Obtaining a ticket of leave depended on having good references from your employer, and gave you greater freedoms, such as being able to conduct your own business.

Spikeman continued to obtain stable employment, possibly as a cedar cutter on the south coast of NSW. In 1832 he was granted his certificate of freedom, and in the same year he married Mary Ann Noonan, a young woman who had come from Cork on the Red Rover in 1832, one of a group of girls from orphanages and asylums.

Together, William and Mary Ann Spikeman went to New Zealand and bought land in Kaeo Valley from the Maori owners, remaining on good terms with the chief, Ururoa. When Mary Ann died in 1842 after bearing three daughters, Spikeman and Ururoa’s daughter, Mary Tiki Mangatae, formed a relationship and had five children together.

Spikeman went on to own 1420 acres of land, employing 12 people in his timber business, and became the first postmaster at Kaeo. He died in 1881, with many of his descendants living in the area.

So it’s a big hello to my Maori cousins in this 200th anniversary year of our great-great-great grandfather’s journey to the south.

Australia day

Featured

Tags

,

Warami.

I’ve been learning a new language, but it’s the language of the country I come from. It wasn’t spoken by my ancestors but it’s all around us. I’ve never learnt this language before but I’ve spoken it all my life.

Enough riddles? I’ve been learning Dharug – at least, as much of the language and culture as you can learn in seven and a half hours. It’s the language of the Sydney basin and we use it every day when we go to Parramatta or Cabramatta or Mulgoa, Maroubra, Dural, Bondi, Coogee. We use it when we talk about a wallaby or a wombat or when we call out to each other in the bush. Coo-ee.

I’ve been learning that warami means hello and yanu means goodbye. That dyin means woman and mulla means man. That bada-la means let’s eat and walan means rain.

I’ve been learning that it’s an agglutinative or polysynthetic language – you have a stem, generally a verb,  with a series of suffixes that add meaning such as tense, a pronoun, whether it’s an imperative (command), location.

I’ve been learning about the seasons and how to understand the place where I live. Our climate is best understood in six seasons, indicated by the movement of the animals, the flowering of the plants.

I’ve been learning how to wash away the whitewash.

I’ve been learning that it’s a language and culture that doesn’t like to say ‘no’. We paused and thought about the effect that would have had on brash colonisers.

I’ve been learning about the complex kinship system that ensures that there is a place for every person, and the sophisticated culture that developed this inclusive society over tens of thousands of years. An inclusive culture that taught every member how to live within their society, with a generosity that extended even to the people who tried to destroy it.

 

Sea fog

Featured

Tags

,

I was sitting at a café at the south end of Coogee beach on Wednesday with two friends, laughing about how cold the water had been, how long it took me to get fully immersed, when the beach started to disappear, a veil falling softly over it and its occupants. As we watched, the north headland succumbed. The haze thickened and soon we were marooned, our headland the only open space, all the beaches and headlands north of us blotted out, apocalyptically, as if they had never existed. ‘Sea fog is thick today,’ one of our neighbours said. The sea fog settled then shifted, exposing small sections of view then covering them again. We returned to our coffees and when we looked again it was gone, the golden beach littered with bodies on the sand, the waves coming and going, casually.

I was sitting on the harbour side beach at Manly on Friday, building a castle that became a birthday cake for all of my three-year-old companion’s friends (‘They’re pretend friends’, he explained. ‘We’re real’, he added, pointing first to me then to himself.) when the buildings started to disappear. ‘Look!’, I said. ‘The sea fog.’ My companion looked across, disturbed by the sight of the trees disappearing, the usual buildings behind them vanished by a mist that devoured everything in its way. ‘Will it come over here?’ he asked anxiously. ‘I don’t know’, I said, but later it did wisp across, like spirits whose allegiance you could only guess at.

The ferry captain had been unusually talkative on my way to Manly, replacing the usual drab explanation of the location of the lifejackets with an energetic announcement. ‘I don’t know where we are on the timetable any more! The sea fog was so thick earlier this morning that we’re just running as fast as we can, unloading and loading up and heading off again. We hope we’ll catch up with ourselves eventually.’ He talked on a bit more in this excited way, describing the speed of the vessel. ‘There’s not much traffic on the harbour this morning’, he added. ‘But quite a few fishing boats.’ As we approached the heads we sped past a cluster of small boats, tinnies mostly, with fishing rods hanging over their sides. Ahead of us the distinction between the land’s cliffs and the sea’s wash blurred, smoothed out by the opaque air. A sparse shimmer of sunlight opened a path between the two headlands, and the grey waters parted to make way for its silver sheen.

Bennelong

Featured

Tags

, , , ,

Bennelong must have been a very adaptable man. Captured by the British in November 1789 he stayed in captivity, learning the English language and customs and teaching some of his own to the British – an act that seems voluntary as the man captured with him, Colbee, was able to escape almost immediately. In May 1790 Bennelong went back to his people, but returned to the settlement after Governor Phillip was speared at Manly in September – an event that Inga Clendinnen convincingly argues was a ritual spearing, designed to redress the many wrongs that the colonists had committed since settling the area.[i]

Not only was Bennelong willing to change from a life within the only framework that he and his relations had ever known – he was then willing to sail, with Phillip, and Yemmerrawannie, to England. They left Sydney in December 1792. Bennelong was presented to King George III in 1793, and didn’t return to Sydney until 1795, with Governor Hunter. Yemmerrawannie succumbed to respiratory disease in the damp British climate, but Bennelong survived, adopting the new clothes and customs that he found.

It’s hard to imagine a more courageous act than the steps taken by Bennelong and Yemmerrawannie onto the Atlantic, sailing with strangers, on a strange vessel, to a completely unknown land, when only five years earlier their physical world had been defined by what could be walked or travelled in a canoe.

Bennelong was from the Wangal people – most sources say that their territory extended from Goat Island to Auburn and Silverwater, although other sources say it starts further west at Leichhardt.  He told the colonists that Goat Island (more tunefully called Me-mel) belonged to him and his family. Judge-Advocate David Collins noted:

… Bennillong, both before he went to England and since his return, often assured me, that the island Me-mel (called by us Goat Island) close by Sydney Cove was his own property; that it was his father’s, and that he should give it to By-gone, his particular friend and companion. To this little spot he appeared much attached; and we have often seen him and his wife Ba-rang-a-roo feasting and enjoying themselves on it. He told us of other people who possessed this kind of hereditary property, which they retained undisturbed.[ii]

Bennelong’s understanding of ownership would have been very different to ours. Heather Goodall explains it as:

In Aboriginal societies, individual men and women hold particular relationships to land, inherited from parents and arising from their own conception and birth sites … Yet despite the specificity of these relationships, they do not allow automatic rights. Instead they confer obligations and responsibilities … It is the fulfilment of one’s obligations, the active embracing of responsibility, which allows a custodian to be accorded the fullest benefits of their landholding role …[iii]

So if you were barred from carrying out your responsibilities, by a fence or a gun, you would lose your whole heritage.

[i]Inga Clendinnen, Dancing with Strangers, Text Publishing, 2003.

[ii]An Account of the English Colony of NSW Vol 1 by David Collins, Appendix 1X. http://gutenberg.net.au/first-fleet.html

[iii]Heather Goodall, Invasion to Embassy: Land in Aboriginal Politics in New South Wales 1770-1972, Allen & Unwin in association with Black Books, 1996, p9.

Fifty words for twenty-three days

Featured

17 September 2020

Bundanoon is beautiful with opulent magnolia and pink-tinged snowy-white blossom. Waving yellow wattle and delicate droops of sweet pea. I push the pram into the butcher’s shop as a passing woman wearing an ankle length wrap of finely-woven wool articulates to her companion, ‘How did you discover this little place?’.

Fifty words for twenty-six days

Featured

14 September 2020

Day twenty-five of my fifty days. What to write about to celebrate this auspicious moment? Being a great-aunt, the mystery of dust, the sudden shaft of western sun falling on the house across the street? Or maybe it’s time to consider the fast-approaching milestone of one million deaths due to

Fifty words for thirty-three days

Featured

7 September 2020

Last night’s news reported the survival of the glow worms in a damp tunnel near Newnes, spared, unlike the devastating three billion animals killed or displaced in last summer’s fires. ‘They’re like nature’s Milky Way,’ one person enthused. In these circumstances, you’ve got to get your laughs where you can.

Fifty words for thirty-six days

Featured

4 September 2020

These voices calling through light rain and grey sky remind me of Rome, that apartment behind Campo dei Fiori, the windowseat, the window onto trailing vines. They remind me of that agriturismo outside Agrigento, those children calling from the hillside, across the valley, running their goats down along the fences.

Fifty words for thirty-eight days

Featured

2 September 2020

The telegraph wires are mysterious at night, loops and stray pieces of wire forming shapes of enigmatic language. In the morning they shine like innocent children, laughing at my fancies, displaying their true twists and accretions. But a spider’s web, seen as a gauze in the streetlight’s slant, has vanished.

Fifty words for thirty-nine days

Featured

1 September 2020

The aquarobics music pumps and the teacher bounces, booming to her bobbing class. Lane markers, dark blue in the aqua pool, pucker on their edges, serrated like a breadknife, rippling like ric-rac. As my grandson learns overarm, the water surface melts. I sit in a Hockney with a Motown soundtrack.

Fifty words for forty days

Featured

31 August 2020

Combining Dharawal and western concepts of time, it’s the last day of Tugarah Gunya’marri here. Tomorrow Murrai’yunggory starts, when Ngoonungi, flying foxes, gather. I love this: they are ‘sky-dancing’. Miwa Gawaian, waratah, will start to bloom, its magnificent red flower demanding your attention whether you know its significance or not.

Fifty words for forty-five days

Featured

26 August 2020

Even when she was nearly blind my mother would eke her way through the death notices. Now that she has gone I do it for her, noting the names lovingly consigned to graves by grieving families. I am assailed by memories of childhood and since. Kindnesses offered, conversations left unspoken.

Fifty words for forty-six days

Featured

25 August 2020

The most eagerly anticipated thing was the ice-cream, but the park held surprises. A fence had been built to protect a nesting plover. We inspected both fence and supercilious plover. Then over there – slowly slowly – quietly! – we crept close to watch two vigilant wood duck parents and ten tiny ducklings.

Fifty words for forty-nine days

Featured

22 August 2020

I caught the bush in suffragette colours yesterday. Newly green trees, hardenbergia draping pointillist purple blooms over fences, shy unnameable bushes dotted in white and, in a low haze, the violet flowers of Patersonia, native iris, three triangular petals windmilling from the centre. Overnight they shrivelled, purple blobs on stems.

What can I do?

Featured

Tags

,

Climate change. What can I do? Four words, four questions. Just change the emphasis.

What can I do?

This is the easy question. There’s so much you can do. For starters:

  • Carbon offset your emissions
  • Use petrol that has the lowest emissions
  • Use public transport or walk
  • Change to ‘green’ electricity
  • Reduce your meat and dairy intake
  • Plant trees
  • Interrogate your purchases – do I need it? Can I buy it second hand? Is it produced by a sustainable method / company?
  • Question politicians / companies / superannuation / banks about their own sustainable practices and policies then change your superannuation / bank / who you purchase from / who you vote for
  • Use sustainable agriculture practices
  • Buy from people who use sustainable agriculture practices
  • Install solar panels
  • Consider how much energy you use every day and how you can reduce it, particularly at peak times.

What can I do?

This is a more despondent question. It asks whether it’s possible to do anything in the face of this all-encompassing threat fuelled by human greed – a greed that seems uncontrollable and unresponsive to the damage it’s causing, unwilling to accept its murderous consequences. But do you doubt your own ability to effect change, or the power of collective effort? Consider water restrictions. They’re put in place to limit our collective use of a natural resource. They’re used regularly, embraced by the community, and have a tangible effect.

What can I do?

This question is about the power or weakness of the individual. It’s a mess of individual choices and decisions that has got us into this mess – individual choices influenced by a group-think about ‘needing’ things and the devaluing of care for community and wider consequences. Has this devaluing been encouraged by technology replacing face-to-face interaction, reducing our possibility for empathy for others and the effects of our actions on the wider world? Or have we as humans always valued ourselves over others, unable to see ourselves as part of a web of interconnectedness of humans and the rest of the ecology of the planet, the universe? Either way, if individual choices got us into this mess, surely they can get us out of it again.

What can I do?

This question is about your willingness for action. The answer is that you can not give up, not accept that we are doomed. You can be bolder. You can voice your concerns. When people say, ‘Let’s not get political’ you can say ‘It’s not about politics. It’s about human survival.’ When people say, ‘That’s alarmist,’ you can say ‘What other body of scientific thinking do you question?’ If the car’s brakes are faulty do you just pretend nothing is happening or do you do something about it? You can think up your own metaphors. There is so much caution in our world, so many seat belts and helmets and little yellow things on posts – why aren’t we being cautious about this? Protest against the big businesses that are making money while the world burns. Protest against the politicians who think that a burnt house is an economic opportunity for builders.

If you don’t do it, who will?

We can be lyrebirds

Featured

Tags

Yesterday was hot. Oven hot. Even as the sun went down it was hot. Last night was hot. I woke from my final bit of restless sleep and, thirsty, reached for my cup of water. The water had become tepid overnight.

Today will also be hot. I sit in the shade with my breakfast and enjoy the light breeze – cool, disarming – while I can, before I’m forced into the house, blinds drawn, seeking out any habitable corner.

The bush is quiet. A small flock of birds flies overhead, quietly. Are they in mourning in this heat-scorched landscape? Lucky not to have burnt, large patches of trees are nevertheless covered in dead, brown leaves. I can almost see how the waves, the billows of heat came off the fire, landing in this patch, and this one.

A kookaburra calls. A deep throaty call. There is no reply. None of the hilarious groups of chuckling I was hearing a few months ago.

One of the good news bushfire stories I’ve read recently is about a group of lyrebirds sheltering in a dam while a fire raged around them. I’ve seen a photo, the lyrebirds in startled poses dotted awkwardly around the dam’s edge. The wonder is that they got there – fiercely territorial, they would have had to walk through each other’s territory to reach it – and the other wonder is that they stayed there, jostling, overcoming their innate competitiveness. Maybe ‘jostling’ is the wrong word. Maybe they were more like magnets with their same sides facing, only reaching a certain point of proximity before being repelled, maintaining a bare minimum gap. I look out at this silent bush around me and wonder if any unseen scenes of miraculous behaviour occurred around our muddy little dam. Last night, standing on the deck in the slightly cooler air, a sickly half-moon of cream-yellow above the trees, I heard a wallaby or kangaroo crunching through the leaves. I saw the quiet flight of an owl, felt a tiny bat shape its dive around my head. Did they all survive near the dam, each hunkered down in its own sweet way?

But I’m wary of these good news bushfire stories, these images of impossibly coloured leaves sprouting from thickly blackened trunks. Just as I’m wary of conversations that start with ‘We’ve always had fires’ or ‘This is how I remember summers in childhood.’ I’m wary of them being the beginning of a smoothing over, a covering up, a pretence of normality. A shrugging of the shoulders that accompanies a statement like, ‘Ah, nature! She’s a bastard.’ I want the agitation of emergency to endure. My little neck of the woods is safe for now but others aren’t. When Greta Thunberg says ‘Our house is burning’ she’s not talking about her family’s house, or her country’s house, she’s talking about the planet’s house. It seems to be human nature – and not an aspect of it that we can be proud of – to think small when we think of ‘our’, and to use ‘our’ as an exclusive force against ‘their’. The first – and maybe the hardest – step to take against climate change seems to be that we have to see ‘our’ in a different way. We have to quell the basic human desire to improve our lot at the expense of others, where ‘expense of others’ might mean exploiting others, ignoring others or using up the resources of others. If lyrebirds can challenge their instincts in order to survive, why can’t we?

Thank you firies

Featured

Tags

When I turn off the highway I notice handmade signs dotted along the road. ‘Thank you firies’ they say. These are heartfelt messages. There are patches of burnt out bush and the ground is covered in leaf-litter from trees shedding their leaves to survive. Everything looks exhausted, drooping. The bush is quiet: few birds, nothing bigger. This is the land that the fire approached, having jumped the Shoalhaven River after days of sitting at its edge, slavering. You can see that the land itself couldn’t have resisted. You can see how the fire would have gobbled up that leaf-litter and bounced into the trees themselves, crawling up the trunks. How it would have leapt through the canopy, looking for more to devour.

The stories I hear from my neighbours are of miracles and lucky breaks. We’re lucky the firies chose this spot to try to draw a line against the mighty Currowan fire, so it didn’t spread down to the more inhabited parts of north Nowra. We’re lucky they contained it where they did, that a neighbour was here to show the firies from Queensland where the overgrown fire trails were. That a firebreak got out of hand but they firebombed it back into control. We’re lucky our houses didn’t explode like one neighbour’s friend. We’re lucky another neighbour has a son who’s a firie, who came up here to check on how it was going, sending back messages of reassurance.

We shake ourselves and say it again. We’re lucky that we didn’t join the hundreds of thousands, millions, of Australians disastrously affected by the bushfires that have been burning across the country since September. That we didn’t, along with so many others, lose our much-loved house. We had some days of worry, one night of complete resignation facing the worst. It is a holiday home, not our only house. And it is a house, not our lives, or our livelihoods. But it is our house. The house we’ve built over the last two years, and only lived in for the past year. Planned and furnished and filled with love. It’s the house Martin was taken from to the Shoalhaven hospital. It’s the house I returned to the same night, after a day of hospital staff stabilising Martin’s breathing, to find the whole community gathered nearby around the pizza oven. They flocked to me, invited me in, loaded me up with food and warmth. It’s the house and community I have planned to live in in years to come.

But even though the house is still standing and even the plants in the planter box have survived, something has gone. Through the missing trees I can see houses I never knew were there. I stand on the ashy ground and see burnt leaves everywhere. No insects bang at the night-time windows. More than that, it’s a sense of trust that has gone. The trust that fires can be controlled. That this little house would be here for me, that I would add to the garden and learn all the plants, all the birds in the bush around me. Having imagined the destruction of such a raging fire, I can’t unimagine it. It’s a version of the world that stays with me. In one moment, it all could have been lost. The fact that it wasn’t means I’m sitting in a ghost house, where ruins might have been. I can’t look at the bush or be in the house without that knowledge. It all looks transient now, shaky, the lines blurring in and out of view, dream-like.

 

Fires in NSW

Featured

Tags

These are the fires in NSW today, December 6 2019.

A bush fire is burning in the Mount Marsh, Tullymorgan, Mororo Road, Ashby Heights, Woombah and New Italy areas. The fire is more than 115,000 hectares in size and is being controlled.

A bush fire is burning in the Yengo and Dharug National Parks. The fire is more than 11,000 hectares in size and is out of control.

There are multiple bush fires burning in the Yengo National Park area. The fire is more than 43,000 hectares in size and is out of control.

A fire is burning between Batemans Bay and Ulladulla. The fire is more than 73,000 hectares and is not yet under control.

A bush fire is burning in the Wollemi National Park area. The fire is more than 250,000 hectares in size and is being controlled.

A bush fire is burning west of Garland Valley and Howes Valley areas. The fire is more than 10,000 hectares in size and is out of control.

A bush fire is burning in the Goulburn River National Park, south-west of Merriwa. The fire has burnt more than 9,500 hectares and is being controlled.

A bush fire is burning in Carrai East, north west of Kempsey. The fire is more than 121,900 hectares in size and is being controlled.

A bush fire is burning in the Lake Burragorang area. The fire is more than 35,000 hectares in size and is out of control.

The bush fire is burning through the Tallaganda National Park, and the Bombay and Braidwood areas. The fire is more than 31,000 hectares in size and is being controlled.

The Carrai Creek bush fire is burning across a large area including the Oxley Wild Rivers area and Yarrowitch. The fire is more than 226,700 hectares in size and is being controlled.

A bush fire is burning to the south of the Katoomba and Leura area. The fire has burnt close to 1,100 hectares is being controlled.

A bush fire is burning in the 50km west of Grafton area. The fire is more than 107,100 hectares in size and is being controlled.

A bush fire is burning at area of Pelaw Main near Cessnock. The fire is more than 300 hectares in size and is being controlled.

The fire is burning in the Corrabare State Forest, east of Wollombi. The fire is more than 2,700 hectares and is out of control.

A bush fire is burning in the area of Martins Creek, east of Paterson. The fire is over 290 hectares and is out of control.

A bush fire is burning in the area of the Cataract National Park near Paddys Flat, north of Drake. The fire is more than 1,000 hectares in size and is out of control.

A bush fire is burning in the Washpool and Billilimbra State Forests. The fire is more than 98,000 hectares in size and is being controlled.

At a minimum that is a total of 1,136,590 hectares, or 11,365.9 square kilometres, of land burning, or burnt, today in NSW.

The radio broadcasts reports every 15 minutes. The message changes. Sometimes it is to tell people in certain areas that it is too late to leave, and that they should seek shelter as the fire approaches. I feel for those people. It feels like they’re being abandoned by the rest of us, listening to the bushfire reports in our cars, blanketed by smoke for the last week, each day feels worse. But not as bad as being told that it’s too late to leave, that you should seek shelter. Wait out the fire burning around and over and through your house, seeking shelter here then there, wondering if this shelter will hold, or whether you’ll need to run to the door as your shelter collapses, out into the heat, the burning, the crashing and the blazing.

The news on the radio also reports that 150 more Australian Federal Police are being posted at airports because of a perceived threat, and I wonder – why isn’t the real threat being addressed?

My September challenge

Featured

Tags

, ,

A couple of weeks ago I decided to set myself a challenge: to do something personal about climate change each month. My challenge for September was to find out which was the least damaging petrol for the environment. Spending time in the bush at Tapitallee is a wonderful antidote to the pressures of city living, but driving down here is an environmental burden.

It turned out there was no simple answer to my question. And the answers I found were dispiriting – more evidence of woeful environmental leadership in Australia. The articles on the subject were unanimous – ‘compared with most of the rest of the world, our fuel is filthy’[1]  and ‘… this country still uses much dirtier fuel than most of the rest of the world. Indeed, Australia is ranked 70th in terms of fuel quality because of the relatively high percentage of sulphur permitted.’[2]  and ‘Australia’s 91-octane standard fuel is allowed to have sulphur levels as high as 150 parts per million. The world standard in markets such as China, Europe, India and Japan is 10 ppm.’[3]

The levels of sulphur in our petrol are a problem because our petrol is ‘pumping significantly more sulphur dioxide – a common cause of breathing problems and generator of acid rain – into the atmosphere than other OECD members, creating excessive engine wear for consumers and even costing us more at the pump, because the dirty fuel doesn’t burn as efficiently as if it had less sulphur.’[4] Moreover, because our petrol has these high levels of sulphur, ‘the latest-technology, low-emission engines cannot be supported in the domestic market. “If you go to a higher quality fuel, the vast majority of vehicles on our roads automatically (become) more fuel efficient,” said Mr Weber [chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI)]. “There would be an improvement in the fuel economy of vehicles across the fleet of 17 million vehicles in Australia, not just the new ones”.’[5] The FCAI has said that ‘improving Australia’s fuel quality would offer a “3% to 5%” improvement on CO2 performance “overnight”.’[6]

We have four types of petrol available: 91RON, 95RON, 98RON and E10. (RON means Research Octane Number – ‘Octane is the measure of a fuel’s ability to resist the phenomenon known as ‘knocking’ … [which] is the uncontrolled combustion of fuel that can destroy engine internals.’[7]) 91RON petrol has a 150 ppm sulphur content, while 95RON and 98RON have a 50 ppm sulphur content. So even our best petrol has five times more sulphur than the world standard.

E10 is not the obvious choice either. ‘E10 is a blend of regular unleaded (RON 91) petrol and between 9% and 10% ethanol. Blending the ethanol at this ratio increases the RON to 94.’[8] So E10 has 90% of the sulphur of 91RON petrol (so, 135 ppm). The manufacture of the ethanol is probably less environmentally detrimental than the production of petrol, and ethanol ‘is a clean burning fuel that produces less greenhouse gases than unleaded petrol’[9]. However, ‘the sustainability certification of Australian produced ethanol is not transparent. We know from studies conducted by organisations including the European Commission that when coal is used to produce ethanol, it can result in “little or no greenhouse gas emissions saving for ethanol compared to gasoline” on a well-to-wheel basis. This is a significant consideration for Australia, given our current reliance on fossil fuels.’[10] Also, ‘E10 has around 3% less energy than the equivalent amount of RON 91 petrol. On average, this can translate to an increase in fuel consumption of around 3%, which has about the same effect on fuel consumption as driving on tyres with inadequate air pressure.’[11]

So what, I hear you clamour, is our government doing about this? High levels of sulphur polluting our air and choking our people; dirty fuel leaving us unable to use the latest technology of low-emissions vehicles; unclear certification on ethanol – surely they’re keen to listen to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries and improve our CO2 performance ‘overnight’?

Well, in December 2016 the Department of the Environment and Energy released a discussion paper called ‘Better fuel for cleaner air’ which set out the problem succinctly:

  • Motor vehicle emissions can be split into two categories: noxious emissions which affect human health and the environment and contribute to respiratory illness, cardiovascular diseases and cancer, and greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change.
  • Petrol fuelled light vehicle emissions are one of the major causes of air pollution in urban Australia. Our expanding vehicle feet, increasing urbanisation and aging population mean that further action is needed to improve air quality and reduce the health impacts of air pollution.
  • Improving fuel quality can help reduce the level of noxious emissions, which improves air quality and health outcomes.
  • Some advanced vehicle technologies (including advanced emissions control systems and certain fuel efficient engine technologies) require higher quality fuel to work effectively. The quality of fuel influences which engine and emission control technologies can be supplied to the Australian market.

It also states that ‘Catalytic converters in vehicles are designed to filter emissions and reduce noxious substances emitted from vehicles. Sulfur clogs the catalytic converters making them less effective.’ It then outlines five alternative approaches, ranging from ‘no change’ through to the staged introduction of world standards from 2020. Sadly, the decision that was reached was closer to the ‘no change’ than introducing the world standards[12]. The sulphur in petrol will be reduced to 10 ppm – from July 1 2027. The aromatic content in petrol will be reduced from 42 per cent to 35 per cent, effective 1 January 2022, to be reviewed and reduced by 2027. [‘Aromatic content’ refers to chemicals like benzene, toluene and xylene used to increase the petrol’s octane rating since lead was banned. The effect of these chemicals is being increasingly questioned. ‘The chemicals get released into the air as nano-sized particles – ultrafine particulate matter, or UFPs – that can be absorbed through the lungs or skin. Studies in peer-reviewed journals like the Journal of Environmental Science and HealthEnvironmental Health Perspectives and Particle and Environmental Toxicology, have linked these particles from aromatics to diseases ranging from ADHD to asthma.’[13]]

So where does that leave us? I’m thinking that E10 is only 10% ethanol, has 135 ppm sulphur, is less efficient, and even the production of the ethanol is not necessarily clean. So for now I’m opting for the petrols with less sulfur (RON95 and RON98). But I’m also looking into carbon offsets, and electric cars. My October challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.whichcar.com.au/features/australias-petrol-is-one-of-the-dirtiest-in-the-world

[2] https://www.afr.com/opinion/cleaner-petrol-a-bigger-help-than-electric-cars-20180124-h0nnfg

[3] https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6079636/our-poor-quality-petrol-slows-the-drive-to-improved-emissions/

[4] https://www.whichcar.com.au/features/australias-petrol-is-one-of-the-dirtiest-in-the-world

[5] https://www.caradvice.com.au/714921/why-australia-needs-better-quality-fuel/

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/sep/02/eu-to-push-australia-to-clean-up-petrol-standards-as-part-of-free-trade-deal

[7] https://www.mynrma.com.au/membership/my-nrma-app/fuel-resources/can-premium-fuels-clean-your-engine

[8] https://www.e10fuelforthought.nsw.gov.au/facts

[9] https://www.racq.com.au/cars-and-driving/cars/owning-and-maintaining-a-car/facts-about-fuels/ethanol

[10] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-07-04/e10-cheapest-petrol-fuel-emissions-biofuels-ethanol-australia/9922938

[11] https://www.e10fuelforthought.nsw.gov.au/facts

[12] https://www.environment.gov.au/protection/fuel-quality/standards

[13] https://morningconsult.com/2015/04/22/growing-chorus-of-complaints-on-chemicals-in-gasoline/

Sydney ferries

Featured

Tags

, ,

I’ve been reading an article about seafaring and trade between Australia and Papua New Guinea that describes the distinctive boats of the Motu people, with crab-claw shaped sails, and their well-established trading set-up dating back at least two thousand years. But the boats I want to talk about are the Sydney ferries, that have been operating for about 150 years.

In 1861 the North Shore Ferry Company started running the first formal ferry services on the harbour, between Circular Quay and Milsons Point. By the early 1930s Sydney Ferries Limited was the world’s biggest ferry operator, carrying 40 million passengers per year. When the Harbour Bridge opened in 1932, patronage dropped to 14 million passengers per year and the number of ferries was reduced by half.[1] The ferries were recycled to a number of different uses, with Kuttabul being converted into HMAS Kuttabul to house seamen at Garden Island. On May 31 1942 three Japanese mini-submarines entered Sydney Harbour and released a torpedo – possibly aiming at the US warship USS Chicago – that hit the sea wall at Garden Island. The explosion sank HMAS Kuttabul instead. While the incident was kept as quiet as possible, eventually 19 Australian and two British men were declared dead from the action.

Sydney ferries still carry about 14 million passengers every year. In the twelve months April 2018–March 2019, over a million trips were made on Sydney Ferries each month. The highest month was January, with 1,620,000 trips made and the lowest month was August, with 1,103,000 trips.[2]

There are currently 29 wharves in the ferry system throughout Sydney, from Manly to Parramatta, but ferries were used far more widely in the past. In 1900 there were ten different ferry wharves for Balmain alone, from Elliott St on the north side of the peninsula, round to Reynolds St on the south side,[3] and in the 1940s there were eleven public wharves on the Hunters Hill peninsula.[4]

These days eight lines of Sydney Ferries have routes around the harbour and to Parramatta along the Parramatta River, with seven of them running from Circular Quay and one from Pyrmont Bay to Watsons Bay. There are six classes of ferries, with three of those being catamarans. The Freshwater class ferries are the large ferries that operate in and out of Manly (when Sydney hosted the 2000 Olympic Games, Collaroy (Freshwater class) carried the Olympic torch across Sydney Harbour); the First Fleet class ferries are the smaller, jaunty little ferries that ply their trade back and forth across the harbour to destinations such as Taronga Zoo and Mosman; Emerald class ferries are the latest introduction to the fleet, replacing the “Lady’ class ferries in 2017, on inner harbour runs; the RiverCat class ferries operate on the Parramatta River and all seven are named after famous female Australian athletes; the HarbourCat class ferries operate on both the Parramatta River and inner harbour lines, and are also named after famous female Australian athletes; and finally the SuperCats which operate on the eastern suburbs and cross harbour lines. A number of private ferry companies also run ferries on Sydney harbour, including the fast ferries to Manly.

International company Transdev has been running Sydney’s public ferry routes (‘on behalf of the NSW government’[5]) since 2012, and has recently won the contract to continue until at least 2028. To celebrate their extended contract they have quietly changed the name from ‘Harbour City Ferries’ to ‘Transdev Sydney Ferries’. They have also raised doubts about keeping the Freshwater class ferries running after next year[6], despite the mooted replacement ferries (Emerald class) only carrying 400 passengers compared to the Freshwater class’s capacity of 1100 passengers. In more privatisation news, developers and infrastructure groups have been asked to submit plans to redevelop and run the wharves at Circular Quay.[7]

[1] https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/ferries

[2] https://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/data-and-research/passenger-travel/ferry-patronage/ferry-patronage-top-level-chart

[3] Max Solling and Peter Reynolds 1997. Leichhardt: On the margins of the city. Allen & Unwin.

[4] Ewald, C. 1999. The Industrial Village of Woolwich. The Hunter’s Hill Trust, p24.

[5] https://www.transdev.com.au/media/14136/190227_press-release-transdev-australasia-to-operate-sydney-ferries_final.pdf

[6] https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/sydney-s-beloved-manly-ferries-face-prospect-of-last-sailings-20190404-p51awh.html

[7] https://www.realcommercial.com.au/news/shortlist-for-sydney-ferry-wharves-overhaul-narrows-to-two

Centennial Park

Featured

Tags

, ,

For a very long time before Centennial Park featured a purpose-built waterplay area and ‘wild’ garden for children, it was a source of food for the local people. But in 1811 Governor Macquarie proclaimed 490 acres to the south of South Head Road as common grazing land, and the area that was to become the Centennial Parklands (Centennial Park, Moore Park and Queens Park) was cut off from its previous users.

A report by Val Attenbrow, assessing the evidence for the use of the area by Aboriginal people prior to colonisation[1], finds that the parklands would have provided many types of food and other resources. There were ‘plants that provided fruits, berries, seeds, tubers, nectar as well as leafy vegetables. They also provided wood, bark and fibres used to make tools, weapons and other pieces of equipment.’ It gives examples such as banksia, collected for nectar; melaleuca, ‘used as a wrap/blanket on which children were laid and in which babies were carried’; and grass trees (Xanthorrhoea) – the stems were used for spear shafts, the resin was used as an adhesive to make tools, to patch canoes or baskets, and to fasten objects into people’s hair, and the fronds were used in headdresses in ceremonies. (page 9)

Animals that would have been hunted in the heath and wooded areas of the parklands include ‘kangaroos, wallabies, possums, gliders, echidnas, bandicoots, fruit bats … birds, snakes, goannas and other lizards’. The freshwater wetlands would have been habitat for many types of fish as well as eels, tortoises, frogs and shellfish. Waterbirds would have been present in good numbers, and their eggs could have been eaten as well. Additionally, ‘emus are not on the current list of birds that inhabit the Parklands, [but] they would have been there in the past.’ (page 10)

I suppose the children of those times played in the water, hid from their parents and grandparents and balanced on logs, just as ours do today.

The local Aboriginal people would have used resources from a wider area than the parklands, so the report includes archaeological evidence from the surrounding area, the eastern Sydney peninsula. One find was at Sheas Creek at St Peters, where dugong bones were discovered when the creek was being turned into the Alexandra Canal. The report says:

Cut marks and scars on the bones suggest the animal was butchered and thus killed for food. Two ground-edged hatchet heads found in these deposits at the same time come from ca 70 m away from the dugong bones and whether they were deposited at the same time is not clear. The dugong bone has recently been dated to around 6000 years BP.[2]

The dugong is a sea creature, ‘a large grey brown bulbous animal with a flattened, fluked tail … no dorsal fin, paddle like flippers and distinctive head shape.’[3] They are mammals and can grow to 400 kilograms by grazing on sea meadows. They are thought to have inspired the idea of a mermaid, but you would have to say it was a mermaid with a very unfortunate face with their huge droopy noses and tiny eyes.

I keep thinking about that dugong. At that time, 6000 years ago, the coastline would have been roughly where it is now (18 000 years ago it was 12 km from the present coastline and the sea level was 140 metres below the present level) but that’s still a few kilometres from the spot where the bones were found. Why would you carry a dugong all that way? The creek itself was shallow, surrounded by swamps, so maybe the dugong got trapped there, having travelled up the Cooks River, making it easy prey. These days, when the Alexandra Canal is described as ‘the most severely contaminated canal in the southern hemisphere’[4], and the Cooks River has the unenviable title of ‘Australia’s most polluted river’[5], a dugong would die before it got anywhere near the bridge over Ricketty Street.

[1] https://www.centennialparklands.com.au/getmedia/e32ae90a-e730-4c28-82c4-4b17e9e3c5e1/Appendix_S_-_Pre-colonial_Archaeology_report_Val_Attenbrow.pdf.aspx

[2] Pre-colonial Aboriginal land and resource use in Centennial, Moore and Queens Parks, Val Attenbrow 2002, p22.

[3] https://australianmuseum.net.au/learn/animals/mammals/dugong/

[4] https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/from_sheas_creek_to_alexandra_canal

[5] https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/cooks-river-20190110-h19wqs.html

Convict makes good

Featured

Tags

, , ,

My mother tells me that, when she was very young, she was told by a great-aunt who was very old that she, the great-aunt, when very young, had met her (the great-aunt’s) grandfather William Spikeman, when he was very old.

This chain from me to my mother, to her great-aunt, to her grandfather carries us back exactly two hundred years to February 1819, when two young men were convicted of ‘theft from the person’ at the Old Bailey in London. They were charged with stealing a handkerchief. The owner of the handkerchief, Henry James Lloyd Esq, stated that at midnight on February 16 he was coming from Covent Garden Theatre when he turned and saw, ‘one of the prisoners reaching his hand to a person behind him – I saw my handkerchief on the ground which the other person was picking up.’ The two young men were sentenced to be transported for life.

One of the young men was William Spikeman, 18 years old with no formal education but experience as a labourer in his home town of Devizes in Wiltshire, attracted to London by who knows what tales, or forced to leave Devizes by who knows what hardships. Later that year he was sent with another 134 men – average age between 25 and 26 – on the Canada to Sydney. Their journey took 130 days, arriving on September 1.

Spikeman was initially sent to the newly-built Carters’ Barracks. Demolished in 1901, they were located on the edge of the Old Burial Ground, where Central station now stands. Convicts housed at the Carters’ Barracks worked with a horse and cart, picking up and dropping off loads of produce at the brickfields and the wharves. In 1822 Spikeman was listed as being a bullock driver at Grose Farm, on the edge of the city. In 1823 he was assigned to Reverend Samuel Marsden, who took him to the missionary settlement at the Bay of Islands in New Zealand to work as a herdsman for James Kemp at Kerikeri. Three years later he was allowed to return to Sydney to obtain his ticket of leave. He is recorded as having had savings of 17 pounds, from a salary of 20 pounds per year.

Convicts could apply for a ticket of leave half way through their sentence – for those transported for life this generally meant after 7 years, as they could be freed after 14 years. Obtaining a ticket of leave depended on having good references from your employer, and gave you greater freedoms, such as being able to conduct your own business.

Spikeman continued to obtain stable employment, possibly as a cedar cutter on the south coast of NSW. In 1832 he was granted his certificate of freedom, and in the same year he married Mary Ann Noonan, a young woman who had come from Cork on the Red Rover in 1832, one of a group of girls from orphanages and asylums.

Together, William and Mary Ann Spikeman went to New Zealand and bought land in Kaeo Valley from the Maori owners, remaining on good terms with the chief, Ururoa. When Mary Ann died in 1842 after bearing three daughters, Spikeman and Ururoa’s daughter, Mary Tiki Mangatae, formed a relationship and had five children together.

Spikeman went on to own 1420 acres of land, employing 12 people in his timber business, and became the first postmaster at Kaeo. He died in 1881, with many of his descendants living in the area.

So it’s a big hello to my Maori cousins in this 200th anniversary year of our great-great-great grandfather’s journey to the south.

Australia day

Featured

Tags

,

Warami.

I’ve been learning a new language, but it’s the language of the country I come from. It wasn’t spoken by my ancestors but it’s all around us. I’ve never learnt this language before but I’ve spoken it all my life.

Enough riddles? I’ve been learning Dharug – at least, as much of the language and culture as you can learn in seven and a half hours. It’s the language of the Sydney basin and we use it every day when we go to Parramatta or Cabramatta or Mulgoa, Maroubra, Dural, Bondi, Coogee. We use it when we talk about a wallaby or a wombat or when we call out to each other in the bush. Coo-ee.

I’ve been learning that warami means hello and yanu means goodbye. That dyin means woman and mulla means man. That bada-la means let’s eat and walan means rain.

I’ve been learning that it’s an agglutinative or polysynthetic language – you have a stem, generally a verb,  with a series of suffixes that add meaning such as tense, a pronoun, whether it’s an imperative (command), location.

I’ve been learning about the seasons and how to understand the place where I live. Our climate is best understood in six seasons, indicated by the movement of the animals, the flowering of the plants.

I’ve been learning how to wash away the whitewash.

I’ve been learning that it’s a language and culture that doesn’t like to say ‘no’. We paused and thought about the effect that would have had on brash colonisers.

I’ve been learning about the complex kinship system that ensures that there is a place for every person, and the sophisticated culture that developed this inclusive society over tens of thousands of years. An inclusive culture that taught every member how to live within their society, with a generosity that extended even to the people who tried to destroy it.

 

Sea fog

Featured

Tags

,

I was sitting at a café at the south end of Coogee beach on Wednesday with two friends, laughing about how cold the water had been, how long it took me to get fully immersed, when the beach started to disappear, a veil falling softly over it and its occupants. As we watched, the north headland succumbed. The haze thickened and soon we were marooned, our headland the only open space, all the beaches and headlands north of us blotted out, apocalyptically, as if they had never existed. ‘Sea fog is thick today,’ one of our neighbours said. The sea fog settled then shifted, exposing small sections of view then covering them again. We returned to our coffees and when we looked again it was gone, the golden beach littered with bodies on the sand, the waves coming and going, casually.

I was sitting on the harbour side beach at Manly on Friday, building a castle that became a birthday cake for all of my three-year-old companion’s friends (‘They’re pretend friends’, he explained. ‘We’re real’, he added, pointing first to me then to himself.) when the buildings started to disappear. ‘Look!’, I said. ‘The sea fog.’ My companion looked across, disturbed by the sight of the trees disappearing, the usual buildings behind them vanished by a mist that devoured everything in its way. ‘Will it come over here?’ he asked anxiously. ‘I don’t know’, I said, but later it did wisp across, like spirits whose allegiance you could only guess at.

The ferry captain had been unusually talkative on my way to Manly, replacing the usual drab explanation of the location of the lifejackets with an energetic announcement. ‘I don’t know where we are on the timetable any more! The sea fog was so thick earlier this morning that we’re just running as fast as we can, unloading and loading up and heading off again. We hope we’ll catch up with ourselves eventually.’ He talked on a bit more in this excited way, describing the speed of the vessel. ‘There’s not much traffic on the harbour this morning’, he added. ‘But quite a few fishing boats.’ As we approached the heads we sped past a cluster of small boats, tinnies mostly, with fishing rods hanging over their sides. Ahead of us the distinction between the land’s cliffs and the sea’s wash blurred, smoothed out by the opaque air. A sparse shimmer of sunlight opened a path between the two headlands, and the grey waters parted to make way for its silver sheen.

Bennelong

Featured

Tags

, , , ,

Bennelong must have been a very adaptable man. Captured by the British in November 1789 he stayed in captivity, learning the English language and customs and teaching some of his own to the British – an act that seems voluntary as the man captured with him, Colbee, was able to escape almost immediately. In May 1790 Bennelong went back to his people, but returned to the settlement after Governor Phillip was speared at Manly in September – an event that Inga Clendinnen convincingly argues was a ritual spearing, designed to redress the many wrongs that the colonists had committed since settling the area.[i]

Not only was Bennelong willing to change from a life within the only framework that he and his relations had ever known – he was then willing to sail, with Phillip, and Yemmerrawannie, to England. They left Sydney in December 1792. Bennelong was presented to King George III in 1793, and didn’t return to Sydney until 1795, with Governor Hunter. Yemmerrawannie succumbed to respiratory disease in the damp British climate, but Bennelong survived, adopting the new clothes and customs that he found.

It’s hard to imagine a more courageous act than the steps taken by Bennelong and Yemmerrawannie onto the Atlantic, sailing with strangers, on a strange vessel, to a completely unknown land, when only five years earlier their physical world had been defined by what could be walked or travelled in a canoe.

Bennelong was from the Wangal people – most sources say that their territory extended from Goat Island to Auburn and Silverwater, although other sources say it starts further west at Leichhardt.  He told the colonists that Goat Island (more tunefully called Me-mel) belonged to him and his family. Judge-Advocate David Collins noted:

… Bennillong, both before he went to England and since his return, often assured me, that the island Me-mel (called by us Goat Island) close by Sydney Cove was his own property; that it was his father’s, and that he should give it to By-gone, his particular friend and companion. To this little spot he appeared much attached; and we have often seen him and his wife Ba-rang-a-roo feasting and enjoying themselves on it. He told us of other people who possessed this kind of hereditary property, which they retained undisturbed.[ii]

Bennelong’s understanding of ownership would have been very different to ours. Heather Goodall explains it as:

In Aboriginal societies, individual men and women hold particular relationships to land, inherited from parents and arising from their own conception and birth sites … Yet despite the specificity of these relationships, they do not allow automatic rights. Instead they confer obligations and responsibilities … It is the fulfilment of one’s obligations, the active embracing of responsibility, which allows a custodian to be accorded the fullest benefits of their landholding role …[iii]

So if you were barred from carrying out your responsibilities, by a fence or a gun, you would lose your whole heritage.

[i]Inga Clendinnen, Dancing with Strangers, Text Publishing, 2003.

[ii]An Account of the English Colony of NSW Vol 1 by David Collins, Appendix 1X. http://gutenberg.net.au/first-fleet.html

[iii]Heather Goodall, Invasion to Embassy: Land in Aboriginal Politics in New South Wales 1770-1972, Allen & Unwin in association with Black Books, 1996, p9.