A miscellany

My Molong Express page 10 — 16 May, 2019

The lies and selective truths infesting the airwaves and muddying up the newspapers are becoming a bit overwhelming, so I thought I might give the politics a bit of a miss this week. Except for something I recently stumbled across. What follows is only a brief excerpt from an article in National Geographic (NG),that venerable US publication that has been almost a household name since the 19th century. Published in April this year, it looks at the cost of global warming and, in light of our current PM’s ardent desire to be enlightened on the subject, I thought I’d slip the relevant paragraph in. The article refers to the latest findings on warming in the Arctic regions, adds them to what has been estimated as the global cost of the challenge Earth is facing and claims that:

“The $25 to $70 trillion cost of Arctic warming adds four to six percent to the total cost of climate change—which is estimated to reach $1,390 trillion by the year 2300 if emissions cuts are not better than the Paris Agreement. However, the costs of the current business-as-usual path could be more than $2,000 trillion.”

Using the lower estimate, and if my maths is right, that’s about $4.5 trillion a year if we start now. In 2016, the world’s entire GDP was about $76 trillion. I’ll leave it there, but if you’d like to know more, here’s the link to the story: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/04/arctic-climate-change-feedback-loops-cost-trillions/

And now the Namoi

According to the latest scientific reports, the Namoi has now joined the list of threatened rivers in the Murray Darling Basin: “at tipping point” was one description used. Once again, the gross lack of oversight – not to mention foresight – on the part of regulators and legislators has been brought to light. And until real changes are made, until truly independent, science-based, expert bodies are appointed to manage the ecosystems vital to our survival, it will not change. The key word here is manage, not advise. Since when have politicians listened to advice they didn’t want to hear?

No matter how many dams we build, how many aquifers we tap, how many rivers we divert, there will never be enough water. Governments, individual politicians, their corporate backers and good old human greed will see to that. Some day, someone will come up with a scheme to grow roses in the Simpson Desert and will convince a political party that it is vital to the national interest that he do so. The politicians will commission a feasibility study into the damming of the Finke River, and a committee of rural economists will claim that if the scheme doesn’t go ahead, 200 Queensland jobs will be at risk. Back to square one.

Far-fetched? Well not so long ago, a mega-rich American (with no experience in viticulture) planted grapes at Nundroo, in the country abutting the Nullarbor. Now Nundroo gets its water from bores by means of windmill power, using the old-fashioned, traditional type of windmill. Not much forward thinking there. I was through there not so long ago and didn’t see any evidence of a burgeoning wine industry.

If you don’t want to read the linked article, here’s an excerpt:

Case, 72, formed a trust to buy a 50,000-acre spread in South Australia and planted the 10-acre test plot earlier this year. Next, he wants to add some Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The first crop won’t come until 2005, but he is betting that the resulting wine (which he expects to sell for $25 a bottle) will outshine other Australian Cabernets and give Napa a run for its money.

“The Australians don’t know what they’re doing,” sniffed Case. “Their Cabernets are wimpy. I hired some viticulture consultants, and they just wanted to treat the vineyard like they do in McLaren Vale. I hate McLaren Vale Cabernet.”

Case has no prior experience growing grapes or making wine. He is a chemical engineer with four degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds more than 20 patents, and his current big project is to get a catalytic fusion plant working. That’s right, cold fusion. His process involves converting heavy water to helium using palladium and carbon as catalysts.

Note: I’m searching for more up-to-date information on this proposal to put at risk more of Australia’s scarce and fragile natural resources.

Why we used to have proofreaders and copy editors

We all make mistakes, of course we do, but increasingly we are being bombarded with news stories, political handouts and company public-relations releases that make absolutely no sense. They are written in such a way as to obfuscate or at best appear intelligent, educated and well-read, leading to the stripping of any real meaning from the reporting of even the most serious events. This piece I wrote for the USA’s LiketheDew springs to mind:

Writing in Kentucky News Review, Lu-Ann Farrar said that “Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University had told the Detroit Free Press that paramilitary troups are being used more often in police situations.”

Now right there I’m puzzled. What’s a police situation, a job with the service? And do paramilitary services have entertainment units, even misspelled ones? She goes on:

“A Detroit imam, Luqman Ameen Abdullah, was arrested and shot by an elite FBI Hostage Rescue Team.” Arrested and shot? In that order? By a rescue team? She continued: “Abdullah is the first time a religious leader has been killed by government forces since…”

Abdullah is the first time? Wouldn’t “Abdullah’s is the first death of a religious leader at the hands of…” have been a little less confusing? Then Ms Farrar quotes the professor: “We’ve seen…real serious problems with various SWAT tragedies…Real problems arise when it’s misapplied to the wrong circumstances.” Pardon me; could you repeat that, please, professor? Doesn’t writing an article about something this serious warrant a little care?

This sort of stuff crops up all the time these days, and yet just five minutes work by someone could have made the story more readable. Of course, there’s the old Golden Rule to take into account: “Never proofread your own work”. Why? Because you understand what you have written but a reader may not – and there is also a tendency to overlook your own literals, which is trade jargon for spelling mistakes; technically speaking, typos are very different things.

I’ll never forget my chagrin when, on receiving the first edition of a book I’d written (and proofread/copy edited) from the printer, I opened to the Introduction: the first thing to hit my eye was a spelling error. I’d ignored the golden rule I’d always preached to writers whose work I copy edited.

I wonder if, given the chance, the ABC Breakfast News anchor MJ Rowland, would like to do a retake of his part in the “promo” for ABCTV’s election night broadcast, the part in which he says “…you can almost hear the audible sigh”.

Of course you should always review your own work, making improvements and correcting errors where you find them. But if it’s something written for general consumption, then get someone else to cast an eye over it before you send it “out there”.

A long-held passion

I’ve kept pigeons of one sort or another off and on since I was about 13. Even in my most nomadic years, if I looked like being in one spot for more than a couple of months, I’d put together a small flock to keep my hand in.

Why? Because I like them, I suppose is the best I can offer in this brief introduction to that passion. People keep them for all sorts of reasons: some are hooked on racing them, others like to show them, still others enjoy the high-flying or aerobatic varieties. Me, I’ve always liked tumblers, aerial acrobats that do flips of various sorts while in flight. But I also like pigeons for the romance associated with them, the images they conjure up. They were domesticated long before the horse was tamed in Europe and were being bred for special attributes at least contemporarily with ancient Mesopotamia – famous in antiquity for its white ‘doves’. (In the strictest sense, the words ‘dove’ and ‘pigeon’ are interchangeable, the former coming to us from the Germanic languages, the latter from Latin via Old French. These days, however, dove is used mainly to describe the smaller members of its large tribe – except by poets who prefer it over pigeon on every occasion.)

Pigeons figure in the myths and legends of many of the ancient civilisations. To the Hebrews, they were an acceptable sacrifice to their god. The pigeon informed Noah that the waters were subsiding, a story common to all the Abrahamic religions, and the pigeon is still symbolic of the Holy Sprit to Christians.

They were carried with the caravans that plied the Silk Road and traded along the way. The ancient cities of Bokhara, Lahore, Damascus, Istanbul, Iskenderun and others are commemorated in the names of pigeons that first came to the West from them, sometimes carried among the chattels of returning crusaders.

Pigeons are bred in bewildering variety: for their voices; for their speed, endurance and ability to navigate over hundreds of miles; for their plumage; their aerobatic abilities; their colours, and yet they all share many common traits. They are intelligent and affectionate to their keepers, whom they recognise by their facial characteristics, and feral pigeons will remember for years the face of someone who once fed them. Darwin kept pigeons and they helped shape his thinking on evolution.

I once produced and edited the magazines of Australia’s National Pigeon Association and its US counterpart, and was commissioned by Ivy Press (UK) to write the text of a small coffee-table book titled Beautiful Pigeons. These days I keep Iranian Highflyers, an ancient breed of Persian origin, bred for its ability to fly for an extended time at great height, occasionally performing elegant backward somersaults.

If you’d like to learn a little more about what Andrew D Blechman called “the world’s most reviled and revered bird”, please ask me. If not, then forgive us pigeon keepers our passion – it takes all sorts, as my Grandmother would say.

A Jacobin pigeon, one of the more extreme of the feather breeds, with its hood trimmed for the breeding season. One of Queen Victoria’s favourite breeds, the Jacobin was once known as the Cyprus pigeon, having been brought to that island by Crusaders, who had headquarters there. From Cyprus it was introduced to Europe by Crusaders returning home.

An idyll of Butler’s Swap

A prizewinning Old-Style Saddleback Muffed Tumbler
shown by Mr George Fontaine. Photo: NPA/Layne Gardner

Butler’s Swamp has gone. Confined, sanitized and renamed Lake Claremont, it has been incorporated into a ritzy housing subdivision with its own golf course.

I’ve written previously of tin canoes, and I once covered every square foot of that old swamp in one such, exploring its reed beds and mud-bars, looking for water rats and reed-warblers’ nests and hoping against hope to encounter a norn – a black tiger snake – lying in wait for some unsuspecting frog. At dusk, squadron upon squadron of little black and little pied cormorants flew in from the Swan River to roost in the paperbarks and drowned gums. During the spring their untidy nests clung precariously to limbs along with those of herons and egrets, while along the shores and in the cumbungi and tree hollows, grebes, swans and ducks nested. There were quolls there in those days, chuditch we called them, living in the thick scrub and remnant gum forest, and the water abounded with snake-necked turtles and sooty grunter. On hot, summer nights, thousands of moaning frogs counted down the hours to dawn with their incessant “wh-o-o-o-ooooop, wh-o-o-o-ooooop”, sliding up the scale a tone and a half on the final “oop”.

Why am I telling you this? Well as anyone who has read or listened to any of my tales will tell you, my Celtic and Australian genes endow me with a propensity to approach every tale widdershins – this one doubly so. I was going to jump straight in, boots and all, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, and as is usually the case with me, one thing led to another. So to add insult to injury, I’m going to introduce the story with a poem – doggerel I suppose in some eyes but in the tradition of a bygone Australia – and allow the main narrative to writhe and bubble and smoke in my brain until I write the next instalment. It will be a story about Australian childhood, about backyards and swamps and sleepouts (that’s a noun) and chickens and pigeons, or at least in this stage of its fermentation it’s shaping that way. So here’s the introduction.

The Butler’s Swamp Pigeon Society

More than 60 years have flown, since the kids next door and me,
Formed ourselves a little club, with a membership of three;
We argued long about a name, all choices seemed to rub,
But the name seemed more important than a rulebook or the sub;
And so we tossed it back and forth in youthful anarchy,
Till we settled on The Butler’s Swamp, Pige-on So-cie-ty;
The rules were few and simple – no trouble to live by:
We’d breed the nicest birds we could, and let them out to fly.

Now the boys next door weren’t short of cash, their father ran a book,
And their pigeon lofts were built to spec, whatever cash it took;
My birds, on the other hand, were in a hut of flattened tin,
That leaned against the bigger shed Ma did the laundry in;
But the BSPS didn’t care, about parental dough,
Or the cost of lofts, the clothes you wore, it didn’t want to know;
It was pigeons first and pigeons last and pigeons do or die,
We lived our lives with pigeons, and we let them out to fly.

The breeding stock was varied, when first our club began,
Unusual colors, crests or muffs, that’s where the fancy ran;
One member bred just black and white, that’s all that he’d give space,
While the other two would argue that, all colors had their place;
We’d trap a few on railroad tracks, where we also scrounged for wheat— Peas were hard-earned luxuries, kept to give a treat —
And trade for birds we really liked, ones that caught the eye,
Then wait impatient for the day, we could let them out to fly.

You’d do some fierce trading, for birds you liked back then,
One day I went to bargain for a pretty little hen;
A sort of dunnish-yellow with a dainty, rounded head,
A short, sharp beak and little muffs, a real knock-‘em dead;
She strutted round her owner’s loft, a kid from miles away,
His price, a dozen glassies, he wasn’t there to play;
But I loved her from the moment that her antics caught my eye;
And I hoped she wouldn’t disappoint, when I let her out to fly.

I put her in a cardboard box and strapped it to my bike,
Then pedalled home like fury – about a ten-mile hike;
I couldn’t wait to get her back and lock her in a box,
With a red and black peak-crested mate, the favorite of my cocks;
And show her to the membership (who said that pride was sin?),
To recount the gripping story of the haggling and the win;
But right deep down inside my heart, and here I will not lie,
I knew I’d be a nervous wreck, when I let her out to fly.

And so at last the day came round, when the little hen,
Could go outside and stretch her wings in freedom once again;
I opened up the sliding trap to let the birds outside,
So they could climb and circle, in their world blue and wide;
And watched in nervous wonder as the kit began to climb
Led by the little yellow hen, that costly jewel of mine;
The other pigeons levelled out to circle in the sky,
But the little hen kept climbing, when I let her out to fly.

My heart was thumping in my chest, I thought that she was lost,
Returning to the other loft, where I’d bargained at such cost;
But as I watched she clapped her wings, and held them like a sail
Above her head, as she rocked back, while fanning out her tail.
She repeated the manoeuvre, three times or four in all,
Then like some magic clockwork toy, my hen began to fall;
She tumbled over backwards, dropping through the sky;
That bird was pure amazement when I let her out to fly.

And though the day’s so long ago, I still can see that hen,
Tumbling there above my yard, then climbing up again;
All through my life, it’s ups and downs, the wild times of my youth,
The birds have been a constant, a refuge and a truth;
When I am down or troubled and my spirit feels boxed in,
A kit of soaring pigeons can free it once again;
So when I leave this world I love, if you want to say goodbye;
Just watch a kit of tumblers, I’ll be with them as they fly.

First published 2012, LikeTheDew

An introduction to a passion

Untitled-1

I’ve kept pigeons of one sort or another off and on since I was about 13. Even in my nomadic years, if I looked like being in one spot for more than a couple of months I’d put together a small flock to keep my hand in.

Why? Because I like them, I suppose is the best I can offer in this brief introduction to a passion. People keep them for all sorts of reasons – some are hooked on racing them, others like to show them, still others enjoy the high-flying or aerobatic varieties. Me, I’ve always liked tumblers, aerial acrobats that do flips of various sorts while in flight. But I also like pigeons for the romance associated with them; the images they conjure up. They were domesticated long before the horse was tamed in Europe and were being bred for special attributes at least contemporarily with ancient Mesopotamia – famous in ancient times for its white ‘doves’. (In the strictest sense, the words ‘dove’ and ‘pigeon’ are interchangeable, the former coming to us from the Germanic languages, the latter from Latin via Old French. These days, however, dove is used mainly to describe the smaller members of its large tribe – except by poets who prefer it over pigeon on every occasion.)

Pigeons were carried with the caravans that plied the Silk Road and traded along the way. The ancient cities of Bokhara, Lahore, Damascus, Istanbul, Iskenderun and others are commemorated in the names of pigeons that first came to the West from them, sometimes carried among the chattels of returning crusaders.

There are pigeons bred in bewildering variety: for their voices; for their speed, endurance and ability to navigate over hundreds of miles; for their plumage; their aerobatic abilities; their colour – and yet they all share many common traits. They are intelligent and affectionate to their keepers, whom they recognise by their facial characteristics, and feral pigeons will remember for years the face of someone who once fed them.

I once produced and edited the magazines of Australia’s National Pigeon Association and its US counterpart, and was commissioned by Ivy Press (UK) to write the text of a small coffee-table book titled Beautiful Pigeons. Among the more exotic breeds I have kept re Dewlaps – originally from the region around Syria – and Szegeds, a breed introduced to Hungary by the “Moors” and bred for its ability to fly above its loft at great heights for an extended time.

These days I have Iranian Highfliers, an attractive breed from ancient Persia bred to fly at great heights over several hours, occasionally tumbling as they do so.Some have a sharp crest at the nape of the neck, others have plain heads.

If you’d like to learn a little more about what Andrew D Blechman called “the world’s most reviled and revered bird” follow this (intermittent) blog. If not, then forgive us pigeon keepers our passion – it takes all sorts as my Grandmother would say