Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Robertson needs a rainbow

As I write, a fog hangs over Robertson - but the sun is shining!

The town is quiet, wondering how all this could have come about. Consider the innocent children in the Robertson school who are friends with the children of both parties.

Not a Robertson photo. Just the best Rainbow photo I could find. Robertson needs a good rainbow, right now.

Photo: R. Morrison - Crepuscular Rainbow.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Kangaloon Aquifer must not be drained

The Kangaloon Aquifer must not be allowed to be drained.

To drain the Kangaloon Aquifer, as has been proposed by Mr Iemma, would threaten the entire character of the Southern Highlands, and its economic viability.

His statement that the Kangaloon Aquifer could be drained and that it would refill within 5 years is “Voodoo Science”. In its simplistic stupidity it is insulting to the electorate. Worse, it is dangerous nonsense.

Photo: Mr Iemma - from the NSW Parliamentary Website.

Draining an aquifer would be analogous to pulling the plug from the bottom of a bathtub - there is plenty of water at the bottom for a relatively long time, but the level of the water at the top drops immediately.

Draining the Kangaloon Aquifer would mean that the level of water in bores which local farmers use would start to drop. How can dairy farmers run their businesses without water for their cattle?

The springs in the hillsides around Robertson are fed by groundwater. If the springs were to go dry, the very existence of the ancient forests would be threatened. The green hills of Kangaloon (pictured, from Tourist Road) would be at risk.

The largest and most “productive” aquifer in the USA is the Edwards Aquifer. It has been established that if that aquifer is drained below 90 - 95% of its maximum capacity, the springs start to dry up. That means, that only 5 to 10% of the water in that aquifer can be “tapped” before environmental impacts start occurring. I acknowledge that not all aquifers are the same - it depends upon the rock types in the local area, and the volume of water, etc, etc. However, this is not just my personal nightmare. I am reporting factual overseas experience. At the very least it warrants independent research (not just a few test bore pumpings by the Sydney Catchment Authority). It also warrants public debate.

On the issue of how fast an aquifer can refill, let me just point out that the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation has tested the ground water in the Sydney Basin already. They estimate that, on average, the water at 200 metres depth in the rock is 1000 years old. How can Mr Iemma be allowed to peddle dangerous nonsense about the Kangaloon Aquifer refilling in 5 years.

And, anyway 5 years is a long time between drinks for a dairy cow, or an ancient tree with its roots in soil which has been kept moist all of its life by a “permanent spring”.
Photo: the future of Kangaloon?

If 5 years is a long time, 998 years is a “bloody-sight longer” to wait for a drink.

I have written about this issue before. If you wish more background on Mr Iemma’s proposal, please check my bulletins of 13 February and 25 February.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Kangaloon Aquifer

Now that the gaol issue "appears" to have passed over to the Shoalhaven, who is going to stop the madness of draining the Kangaloon Aquifer?

(Photo: Kangaloon hills - from Tourist Road)

Wingecarribee Shire Councillor, and local representative, Clr Larry Whipper issued a statement about the proposal to drain the Kangaloon Aquifer, the day after the Premier announced the proposal. However, little seems to have been heard of the proposal since.

Unfortunately, I believe that the State Government has the power to simply go ahead and drain the Kangaloon Aquifer without any consultation. The Sydney Catchment Authority owns the land where the test bores are located. They presumably own the water, or more importantly, they think they do.

We might hear not another word about this proposal, until it starts to happen. By then it will be too late.

We need the local Council and all Environmental Organisations to start directly lobbying the Government and local Members of Parliament. At the very least, there needs to be an independent "audit" of this proposal. And I do not mean asking the SCA to prepare a "Draft Environmental Impact Statement" for their own proposal. It needs to be independently researched.

Photo: Mixed Eucalypt forest, Tourist Road, Kangaloon. This "dry" sandstone country is where the Kangaloon Aquifer is proposed to be "drained". (100 metres from a "test bore"). It is on sandstone rock, which has a highly porous surface, but which traps subterranean water at deep levels.

<>However, subterranean aquifers are not just "deep water", they actually support the springs in the basalt hills which sit above the sandstone country. The first photo (above) was taken about 5 Kms from this site. In all probability, draining the Kangaloon Aquifer at this point (at left) will have more effect on the first site (above) than here, at the actual point of extraction of the subterranean water.

So, the proposal actually threatens the classical "Green Heart of the Highlands" and the "Yarrawa Brush". It is the springs at the tops of the hills which will be the first to be affected. From then on, everything else will be affected, in turn. The springs maintain the tree growth (and the farms). Bores operated by farmers will be affected. Then creeks will be affected. If the creeks are affected, then the rivers which feed the Dams operated by the SCA will also be affected. So the proposal for the SCA to steal water from itself.

This is short term opportunism, which risks long-term damage on the local environment. Classic politics.

The only way to "drought proof" Sydney is to introduce measures to prevent the huge waste of water which occurs there on a daily basis.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Wingecarribee Shire Council playing the "Blame Game"

On Wednesday, 22 February, 2005, Wingecarribee Shire Council voted to not submit an "Expression of Interest" to the State Government for the proposed gaol in the Illawarra Region. Good.

Council brought in Police to "protect" themselves. What a farce!

According to a report in the Illawarra Mercury:
"Wingecarribee Shire Council general manager Mike Hyde said the security was necessary after the "shameful" display of behaviour during a public meeting at Robertson last week. Wingecarribee Shire Council general manager Mike Hyde said the security was necessary after the

"shameful" display of behaviour during a public meeting at Robertson last week."

I have been somewhat critical of the behaviour of the Robertson protestors at the Public Meeting, last week. After the meeting I wrote:"From the point of view of the Council, they were not treated with respect, and certainly the mood of the meeting was hostile to them. It was not as bad as it might have been."

However, it needs to be recorded that it was Council's poor preparation of the entire bid, and in particular its poor attempt at "consultation" with the Robertson community which is the truly shameful part of this whole "shabby" exercise by Council.


As I wrote on 8 February in a blog entry entitled: "A Script by Gilbert and Sullivan"

"Where do Gilbert and Sullivan enter into the story? Well already, of course. Because none of this is real. It is "just a proposal". Other areas are dead keen to get a jail (of course). Don't worry about that - we can use it anyway. We'll "offer it" to Robertson, and just watch them scream! Great. The more noise they make, the better.


"Sure, from Council's point of view, the more noise the Residents make, the better, as it means they will never have to offer Robertson a thing, ever, ever again. They can simply say: "Remember when we were going to give you a jail to solve your local unemployment problems, and diversify and modernise your rural-based economy. You could have had it all, and you said NO!".


"Well, let us ask a few pertinent questions, before we allow Council to get away with that scam."


It seems from Mr Hyde's comments that Council is sticking to their farcical script. That is shameful.

Now it is up to Robertson people not to let Council get away with playing a cheap "Blame Game". Council was never serious in its proposal to bid for Robertson to be the site of the proposed gaol. The location at Robertson was never suitable, for reasons of the lack of instrastructure (which was never addressed by Council), and for the difficult physical conditions of the site (which Council ignored).

The "consultation" process was totally inadequate. In my view, Council was never serious. Or if they claim to have been serious, then, at the very least, they still have to answer for their preparation of the "bid" being so unprofessional.


Fact: Shoalhaven Council voted to bid for this process on 29 June 2005.

Fact: Premier Iemma announced this proposal in State Parliament on 19 October 2005.

Fact: Shoalhaven Mayor welcomed the Premier's announcement - 19 October 2005

Fact: Wingecarribee Council staff told us last week that the "first thing they knew" of this process was at a "briefing" by the Corrective Services Department at Bombaderry on 7 December 2005.

Question: Was the W.S.C. "asleep at the wheel"? Or are they misleading us?

Thursday Music Nights @ CTC Robertson

Regular readers will know that I make a point of going to the CTC on Thursday nights for the Music Night, from 6:00 pm. The timing is a bit variable, I would have to say, but the event itself is a definite fixture. Anthony (Bone) Bonito is our host and MC, but he has revised the format in recent weeks.

The Music Night starts with an informal "jam session" to warm things up. Greg (at left) was back in form last night, with "Wonderful World", which is always popular. It is good to see some other local musicians bringing their instruments along for the first time. Tim and a young Exchange Student, Christian, as well as Ian all made a contribution last night, which is great to see.

About 8:00 pm we order in Pizzas, from "Pizzas in the Mist", of course. Then, we dim the lights and a slightly more formalised musical presentation kicks in, featuring individual artists (or groups).

Steve and Celeste have featured largely in this part of the routine, with some of Steve's original songs, as well as his tear-jerkingly beautiful presentation of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" (which had people all around the room swaying gently to the rhythm, and singing along quietly with Steve). Bone, James (seen at left) and Dave (see photo below) have usually combined for a few popular numbers. Last night Chris and Dan sang a few numbers before doing a sterling rendition of Bob Dylan's "The mighty Quinn" (Quinn the Eskimo), a sure-fire crowd pleaser.

Last night there was a bigger than usual crowd in, which was great to see. It is always a happy bunch of people, and we all get to sing along with crowd favourites. Last night we gave a sterling rendition of "Those were the days (my friend)" which Mary Hopkin made famous in 1968 (led last night by James and Dave).

We also knocked over another favourite, Bob Dylan's "The Weight".
"Take a load off Annie, take a load for free;
Take a load off Annie, And (and) (and) .....
you can put the load right on me."

It is good to see a bit more Rock 'n Roll as well as the more traditional "Blues" which have been the main stay of the Music Nights in the past. I think this has to do with the new format which Bone (seen on the right in this photo, with Dave) has introduced, and the microphones and amps, which help the players to boost the sound level.

Great stuff, folks. Keep it up!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Wingecarribee River junction with the Wollondilly

Local members of the National Parks Association (NPA) led a walk to the confluence of the Wingecarribee River and the Wollondilly River on Wednesday. This river junction is located about 25 Km west of Mittagong, about 5 Kms off the Wombeyan Caves Road. (Two satellite Images are based on Google Earth pictures, with my own additions, labels and coloured lines to indicate the tracks of the 2 rivers in question.)

Leaving Welby via the Wombeyan Caves Road, we drove across the plateau, and then entered some heavily forested country, passed through the Rock Tunnel (Arch), then passed the Burrogorang Lookout. The soil-type changed from sandstone to black soil, and then back to sandstone, then to red basalt soil. Then abruptly it changed to decomposed granite. At that point the shape of the valleys changed from the familiar sandtone plateau with abrupt cliff lines, to deep V-shaped valleys. This is very rugged country.

The NPA had arranged for our group to travel across private property, down a 3 Km long steep and windy track. Eventually we reached the river bottom, and parked on a broad sandy beach, with tall
River Sheoaks (Casuarina cunninghamiana). Granite boulders dominated the local river bank. Clearly we were no longer within the sandstone terrain so familiar to residents of the Southern Highlands.

As soon as we got out of the cars, we looked towards the towering hilltops and were rewarded with a wonderful view of no less than 4
Wedge-tailed Eagles (Aquila audax) flying together. They circled, rising and dropping, as they played on the gentle updrafts produced by the light breezes passing across the tops of these mountains.

Following the very turgid Wollondilly River upstream, we came to the confluence of that river with our own local Wingecarribee River (it rises in Robertson, as the Caalang Creek). Note the extremely rough terrain, and the convoluted path of these 2 rivers, but especially the Wingecarribbee River (marked in red).

I am pleased to report that, compared to the Wollondilly, it was pretty clean. The water had a greenish tinge to it, but it was at least translucent. It was not the pale creamy colour of its fellow river. There were a few large fish visible in the river, (I hope that they were not Carp). There were many small fry in the river, but what species they were, I could not guess.

Aunty Val Mulcahy, a representative of the Wingecarribbee Local Reconciliation Group, was invited by David Tranter to tell us the Aboriginal stories of the creation of the rivers where we were. Firstly she welcomed us to Gundungarra Land. Then she told us the story of the great battles between two creatures Mirringan (the Tiger Quoll), and the other a great fish/serpent character, called Gurrangatch. As the story was told, “One of this fella's main camping spots was in a large deep billabong that is at the junction of the Wollondilly and Wingecaribee rivers”. That was the very spot at which Aunty Val was re-telling this Gundungarra Dreaming story. These characters chased each other around the bends of the Wollondilly, Wingecarribbee and Cox’s Rivers, creating the steep cliffs, and sharp bends in these rivers, and even creating the Wombeyan Caves in the process of their legendary battles.

After Aunty Val told us her people’s story, we had lunch beside the Wingecarribbee. We were fortunate to have an excellent view of a pair of Azure Kingfishers (Alcedo azurea), (Image: birds flew low, just above the river surface (which is very typical behaviour), and then perched, conveniently for us, on low branches of the Sheoaks on the opposite bank of the waterhole.

I was delighted to see these beautiful birds. Not only were they a joy to behold, their presence also indicates that the Wingecarribee River is in pretty good condition.

(Editor's note: I have corrected a previous mis-spelling of the name "Wingecarribee" (not "bb"). Oops! DJW 24.2.06)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


I know I keep writing about it, when discussing the origins of Australian plants, most recently with discussion of the Eucryphia trees of Robertson. And before that, when discussing the Proteaceous plants (Waratahs, Banksias, Hakeas and Persoonias, Grevilleas, etc.)
Well, the “boffins” tell me that before Gondwana was “Pangea”, a supercontinent which included Laurasia (basically the northern continents we know today) and Gondwana (basically the southern continents, plus India). This drawing comes from John W Kimball’s website called “Biology”.

Well I have found an animated image of the breakup of Gondwana, which shows 200 million years of the Earth’s surface movements in about 10 seconds. Cute. Better than that, you can run it backwards and forewards, and watch bits of the great gondwanan continent split off. The speed with which India breaks away and crashes into Laurasia, to create the Himalayas is quite striking.
So too is the yo-yo movement of Australia, first north, then south again, before heading relentlessly north again until it reaches its present position.

I invite you to go to this site and have a look.

It requires the Macromedia “Shockwave Plug-in”, but this is available, free, from this site.
The part of this theoretical reconstruction which puzzles me most is that South America and Australia do not ever appear to have been close together, which makes their common heritage of plants, in the Proteaceae family, and also the Eucryphia genus more puzzling than I had first imagined. (They were, at some stage linked by that part of Gondwana which is now Antarctica.) None-the-less, I am not yet satisfied with my understanding of these early continental relationships.
I suspect that this is possibly a distortion introduced because of the somewhat arbitrary orientation of the “map” on which these maps are based. I would like to see a “globe” reconstruction, rather than a flat map, to see if these distortions disappear.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Consider Nova Scotia

After our brief but spectacular thunderstorm of last Saturday, I wrote to my friend in Nova Scotia, Canada. I happened to mention the weather.

Leo, for such is my friend's name, informed me that at that far corner of the world, they had also had a huge storm, but it was a cold one. Wind, howling wind, without the familiar snow. Their storm produced power outages over 8 hours, because of trees falling across power lines.

Temperatures were pretty spectacular, with -13 degrees Celsius, but with a Wind Chill factor giving them an effective -30 degrees C. Leo, being a gardener, described it as "Rhododendron-killing weather". (His herbaceous Peonies are safely buried under snow, protected from these icy blasts.)

Nova Scotia has a relatively mild climate, for Canada, being part of the Maritime Regions on the far eastern tip of Canada. (Look for the mid-pink coloured peninsula, below the purple coloured Newfoundland. Halifax, the capital is marked.) Their climate is tempered by the Gulf Stream. Goodness knows what sorts of temperatures were being recorded in the really cold places, elsewhere in Canada.

I mention this, on my little blog about the Nature of Robertson, to put our weather into a wider context.

Monday, February 20, 2006

life and death in the garden

The last few days have seen Robertson's summer season revert to a more normal pattern - of summer storms. We had a dry start to February. Then we got several fierce storms, the one on Saturday afternoon resulted in a 6 hour power outage. The rainfall has not been great, but 16 mls and 11 mls is better than nothing.

As a gardener, I would have to bemoan the damage which these fierce storms can inflict. Swirling winds can cause damage, by blowing trees in unexpected directions, for which the trees have not developed enough "strength". Trees develop their strength in a way akin to an athlete developing muscle tone. So, in an area with predominantly southerly or westerly winds, trees lean slightly with the wind, and the main strength of the trunk is also developed to withstand winds from those directions. So, it is not surprising that several young trees in my garden have been snapped over, and have fallen to the south. The storms came up from the south - from Kangaroo Valley - but the winds associated with the storms obviously caused a swirling, ripping effect upon these trees. And so they have snapped in the unexpected direction, as the winds have swirled around, briefly, from the opposite side to the prevailing wind.

Oh well! I have tried to apply a Darwinian approach to gardening - survival of the fittest. Some trees grow quickly, then get snapped off or have their roots loosened in the light Robertson soil, ("wind-rock damage") causing them to be permanently weakened or damaged.

Meanwhile, a thick fog has enveloped Robertson, allowing those plants which survived the storm to grow in a warm, moist atmosphere, and to put on even more growth.

Such is life; Such is death - in the garden.


Oh, and if you think I am being melancholic, try having a look at Anni's blog. Today's entry is ironically entitled "On a cheerful note". You can take the woman out of Finland, but you cannot take Finland out of the woman. (Nor should one!)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Nature and Society - officially launched

Yesterday, at the CTC in Robertson, David Tranter's book - "Nature and Society" was officially launched.

Local poet and author, Arthur Jackson gave an excellent introductory speech. He made the point that the book is simple in its language, but profound in its meanings. It has a message for us all. David Tranter then talked about the process of writing such a book, so different from his more familiar "genre" of scientific reports and articles. Penny Osterhaus, who illustrated the book, spoke of how much she had enjoyed the process of working with David, who had very clear ideas of the types of illustrations he wanted for the various sections of the book.

Anni Heino spoke about the physical design of the book, speaking both for herself and Ian Foster, who as Graphic Designer, was largely responsible for the "look" of the book, and especially its cover photo, as well as the page layout. Anni had the task of translating the ideas into the physical reality of a totally type-se, formatted and illustrated document, still in electronic form, on a CD-ROM, ready to be sent to the printers. Anni will also be helping David again, in the near future, by creating a web site for the book.

Rebecca Price ("B.J."), the Mananger of the CTC thanked the speakers, and then introduced Nick Rheinberger. Nick is a musician, in addition to his day job with ABC Illawarra, as presenter of the Morning Show on 97.3 FM. In his modest way, he claimed to be a children's entertainer, primarily, but he did a fine job of giving us a musical impression of the themes of the book. He included a song by the Celibate Rifles, an event surely sufficiently rare in itself as to be symbolic of an endangered planet. The particular song title I cannot recall, but it did pay homage to the beauty of trees and fishes, with the refrain: "I hope there'll be some left for us". Ever so slightly consumer-centric I thought, but at least addressing the theme of the endangered planet.

The last item Nick played on a "charango". This was suitably symbolic in many ways, as the instrument is a Bolivian musical instrument, traditionally made using the carapace of an Amadillo (see photo) - an endangered South American Anteater.

Nick's own instrument is made from Cedar (I don't know for sure, but it might well be made from the endangered Australian Red Cedar, (Toona ciliata) which was a very popular timber for early Australian colonial cabinet-makers - the reason for its own endangered status today.)

The photo at the top is of a timber-cutter preparing to "harvest" an ancient "Red Cedar" tree. Source: CSIRO, Forestry and Forest Products.

This timber is still popular with Australian craftsmen who specialise in hand-made musical instruments. Nick sang this little song, having coached the audience to sing along with the repeated refrain from the song: "Forever, Forever". A truly suitable refrain - for a musical interpretation of David's book.

"B.J.", thanked everyone for attending, and thanked the Robertson Senior Citizens Association for doing the catering. She then invited us to enjoy some refreshments, and to buy the book ($25 ) and read it, and read it again, and then to pass it on to a friend.

"Nature and Society" will continue to be on sale through the CTC in Robertson.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Nature and Society

David Tranter will "launch" his book, called Nature and Society this afternoon at the CTC at Robertson,

David's language is deceptively simple, as he uses ordinary words to describe things which the rest of us ignore. Microscopic organisms, which we give scant attention to, are living organisms too.

In fact, David goes further, to suggest that those boundaries between living creatures and "inorganic'' elements may not be as definite as we like to think. Consider a box of metallic shavings. Certainly they are inorganic. We say they are not "alive". But if you put a magnet near them, those inorganic iron particles will start to dance. They form patterns and swirls. Yes, this movement is produced by a "magnet", but what is a magnet, but another piece of iron?

Living "creatures" are often complex structures. It is well known that "corals" are in fact 2 different organisms - one a plant, one an animal, working in cooperative harmony. But in a sense, we also are not just a single organism ourselves. For one thing what about the bacteria which live in our gut? We do not just "have" them, we need them. We would not function without them. They actually transform our food for us. So, are they not also "part of us". All is not as it seems. Life has far more mysteries up its sleeve than most of us have ever dreampt of.
David addresses many more issues than just these few, in his little book. I do hope that you get the chance to read it. It is available at the CTC in Robertson, for $25. I is a refreshing read - it is like having a massage for your brain.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Eucryphia - 65 million years old. 100 years to go?

Today we had a cracker of a thunderstorm, with big chunks of hail, and a bit of rain. Robertson's summer started to feel almost normal. And, right on cue, the Eucryphia has started to flower. It always flowers from mid-February, through till the Robertson Show weekend.

Eucryphia moorei, or "Pinkwood" as the early settlers knew it, is the archetypal tree of the Robertson area. Its name is used for the REPS magazine (Robertson Environment Protection Society). The Robertson Garden Club uses it for its logo, too.

This tree is found from East Gippsland (in Victoria) through to the Robertson district. We are on the northern limit of its distribution. I loves shaded gullies, in wet coastal mountainous country. No wonder it likes Robertson!

Bees love this plant. Its close cousin, Eucryphia lucida, or Leatherwood, is famous in Tasmania as a honey producing flower.

Botanist love this plant too. There are only 4 Australian species of Eucryphia. And there are 3 species of Eucryphia in Chile! A mere 7 species - spread half-way around the globe - on either side of the vast Pacific Ocean.

This is plant distribution gives us a botanical demonstration of the existence of the great archaic continent of Gondwana, and the break up of that super-continent, and subsequent spreading apart of the disparate elements, owing to sea-floor movements. That is generally known as "Continental Drift". Geologists date the last time these continents were linked, in Gondwana, as being some time in the "Tertiary Period" (roughly from 65 million years ago).

I find it fascinating that these plants have been around for such a vast period of time, and yet have diversified so little.

Their flower structure is so close that they are classified within the same genus. The Eucryphia family has but one genus, with just 7 species. That is a miniscule diversification over such a vast span of time. Clearly they found their suitable ecological niches, and stayed put in them. The Eucryphias have a South American/Australian connection.

By contrast, another famous Gondwanan family of plants, the Proteaceae, are vastly diversified, with about 80 genera, and literally thousands of species. They have a predominantly South African/Australian connection. While the original members of the Proteaceae family can be traced back to some 75 million years ago, it is regarded that they adapted to sudden shifts in climate in the Miocene Era (some 5 to 10 million years ago). As the Southern coninents dried out, these plants adapted, and diversified into the huge family of plants which we know today.

Both families of plants are Gondwanan in origin, though.

The local Eucryphias are just coming into flower along the top of the Jamberoo Mountain Road, as you start to run down the big hill, towards Vandenbergh Road. There are also a few just near the start of the "The Old Road", which the Council roadside clearing people famously slashed back to ground level a few years back. Fortunately, they have slowly built up again. There is a great specimen along Mackeys Lane. When driving down any of these roads, in the next few weeks, look out for a dark foliaged tree with clear white flowers, about the size of a 5 cent piece.

Eucryphia moorei is not exactly rare, but it is definitely in need of protection, for it is extremely slow growing and is slow to propagate. But, hey, if it has been around for 65 million years, it clearly has a different sense of time from us impatient human beings.

In fact, this tree, and a few other relic trees from Gondwanan times, such as the Antarctic Beech and the now famous Wollemi Pine, are the plants which are most threatened most by the prospect of catastrophic climate changes, such as Global Warming. They are all restricted to tiny pockets of remnant rainforest, dotted along the east coast of Australia.

Hot dry conditions threaten the future of the local Eucryphias, as does the careless clearing of roadside verges.

Love your local Eucryphia now, for your Great-great Grand-children might never see it.

Please bear that in mind, if you ever find yourself discussing Global Warming with the Federal Minister for the Environment, or the Prime Minister, won't you.

65 million years is such a long time to wait, just to be wiped out by 100 years of human carelessness!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The public meeting

Like a moth to a flame, I was drawn to tonight's public meeting about the proposed gaol.

11 of the 12 Councillors were present, which I was very pleased to see. The General Manager of the Council and the Economic Development Officer were also there, of course, seeing as it was really their function. Let me say that it was a "tough gig" - in old-fashioned Aussie parlance they were on a hiding to nothing.

The School of Arts was full to overflowing. I did not do a head count, but I would estimate 250 people were there. Nearly everybody was wearing "No Jail" stickers (don't you just hate American English?). Apart from that issue, the meeting went reasonably well.

There was an element of theatre about it, some set piece speakers (from the floor, I mean); one speaker did the standard routine: "do you want a gaol? No! I cannot hear you. Do you want a gaol? No!" But other speakers gave logical summaries of why the Robertson area is not suitable, physically, for such a large development.
The Interjection of the Night Award goes to the man who asked if the Council was either incompetent, or corrupt. The "blogger" knows who you are, and will personally deliver your Award tomorrow night! Apart from the slightly risky nature of the comment, (Clr Lewis was quick to warn against libellous comments) I liked the old dilemma, inherent in the suggestion - "choose the lesser of 2 evils".

Eventually, the meeting was wound up, with the Councillors making it clear that the mood of the meeting had been "noted". That was abundantly clear, so, it actually means little to say that. It depends on the 12 Councillors now to put that mood into action, by deciding not to submit an expression of interest. If they proceed with an "Expression of Interest" for the gaol, there will be local mutiny.

However, I still am concerned that Robertson might have "overplayed" its hand, and locked Council into an anti-Robertson position for years to come. But as some people say - what is different, they never do anything for us any way. From the point of view of the Council, they were not treated with respect, and certainly the mood of the meeting was hostile to them. It was not as bad as it might have been.

Before the Councilors blame Robertson too much, they were very poorly advised by their EDO. It was an unsuitable proposal; poorly researched; very tardily handled, in terms of leaving little time for consideration of an important proposal; and unimpressively presented at the meeting. So the Councillors should look to their own camp, before blaming Robertson for the beating that was inflictd on them tonight.

Everything that happened tonight was entirely predictable. In fact I predicted it here, last week. It is not acceptable for supposedly professional staff, especially senior staff, to say that "public speaking is not in my job description".

Any senior Council Officer who cannot handle a meeting like that, is not up to the job.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A fog hangs over Robertson

It is almost refreshing to be able to write about the weather. Indeed a fog does hang over Robertson tonight, as I write. It is the first in about 10 days. We have had an unseasonably dry spell. February and March are the classic wet months in Robertson, statistically. But not this season.

And, yes that other fog does also hang over Robertson as I write. Anni is urging me to stay away from "the meeting" - for the sake of my own sanity, I believe. She does have a point. <>For the record, I do not think a gaol would be appropriate in Robertson - for all the physical reasons listed previously.

More personally, I am not sure I wish to have much to do with the people who run gaols. GEO Group Australia is an Australian subsidiary of a large American company (GEO Group Inc.). It is the largest provider of "correctional services" in Australia. It also runs Australia's "Immigration Detention Centres". You will have heard of "Baxter" and "Port Headland" and "Villawood". It sees running prisons as a business - one with good opportunities for growth. As such they have a direct incentive to encourage Governments to open new gaols, and expand (and "privatise") existing ones. It might be a good corporate strategy, but is this good public policy?

Have a look at their Newsletter No 6, dated October 2005 - its the one with a front page photo of 2 men locked in hand-to-hand combat with the caption: "The need for training that is stimulating and challenging was clearly expressed in the 2005 GEO Employee Survey".

Corporate brutality is not a frame of mind with which I feel comfortable. Mind you, GEO at Junee does boast that they sponsor the local Rugby League teams With "training" such as that illustrated in the photo the GEO Junior Spuddies - would not just win "the comp" - they would be invincible.

The award for the "2004 employee of the year" at the Junee Correctional Facility went to the woman who runs the in-house methadone clinic at Junee Prison. She may well be a good nurse, and a good manager - that is not the point.

It was the "reward" which the GEO company offered her so proudly which had me stumped. She "won" a 10 day long trip to South Africa, "for a visit to the 3024-bed "GEO" correctional facility, Kuthama-Sinthumule, at Louis Thichardt, in the Northern Province, to observe how the medical treatment of the 3600 inmates is handled." What sort of corporate mentality does that illustrate? Whatever happened to those incentive schemes which promoted genuine holiday trips to Fiji?

What about their maths, by the way - 3024 beds, with 3600 inmates? Are they a broadminded company, or are they "economical", and manage the use of beds in "shifts"?

For the record GEO's own website reports that 20% of the inmates at the Junee prison are on the company-run Methadone Program.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Draining the Kangaloon Aquifer

What is this about the Kangaloon Aquifer? The Sydney Catchment Authority has drilled a series of “test bores” along the edge of the “Special Area” which basically is the reserved “water board” land below Tourist Road.

Photo: Upper Nepean catchment area - mixed Eucalypt forest, over sandstone, just a few metres from one of the test bore sites, beside Tourist Road. (Just outside the "special area").

Before Christmas the SCA was pumping from one bore about 1 Km north of the Macquarie River crossing on Tourist Road. They had a pipe running from this bore down to the Nepean River, with a small pump running continuously for a few weeks.

Well, last week, the Premier Mr Iemma announced that “two aquifers at the Nepean River, at Leonay, and at Kangaloon in the Southern Highlands, could be tapped to feed into Warragamba Dam.” He said: “The aquifers could supply two years of backup water until they were emptied. They would take five years to replenish” (SMH 8.2.06)

This is a seriously dangerous threat to the ecological integrity of the Southern Highlands. Water is the key to the Robertson area. The Robertson Business Association uses the slogan “The green heart of the highlands”. The reality on which this is based could be threatened by the Premier’s plan.

Photo: Rainbow after storm - Old Kangaloon Road, Kangaloon.

Robertson has the highest rainfall in the State. However, we do not just depend upon rainfall for the charactersitic green colours of the district. Partly it is soil. That is not threatened. However, the basalt soils are very porous. In fact they are very bad at holding water. So, heavy rain falling on porous soils means that the rain water drains into the ground very readily - and becomes “ground water”. Some of this water re-appears as “springs, soaks and oozes” to keep the local rivers running all year. (If that were not true, then the rivers would only run after rain. OK?) The rest of the ground water very slowly seeps through the underlying rock, into the rock substrate and forms deep “ground water” or what are known as “aquifers”.

Basalt rocks are generally very heavily fractured, because of their explosive volcanic origins, and the nature of the crystals which form the rock. So, as rocks go, they are relatively permeable. The basalt caps on which Robertson is located sit over a sandstone substrate. That rock is also somewhat permeable, as it is relatively soft, and relatively coarse-grained. It is also laid down in multiple layers, a fact which is immediately apparent when you examine any of the local cliff-faces, on the escarpment or in the spectacular gorges nearby (Carrington Falls, Belomore Falls, Fitzroy Falls).

So when ground water starts to permeate the sandstone, it might find a harder layer of rock (with, for example, more iron content than the layer above it). Then the water will either travel very slowly sideways, if the substrate has a slight tilt on it, (as the local sandstone plateaux have), or it can become permanently blocked at a particular level of impermeable rock. This is when it is called an “aquifer”. It is not, however, as Mr Iemma called it an “underground lake”. It is water trapped between the tiny grains of the rock, or in fissures of cracked rock. But it is water, none the less.

What happens to that water? Well, it is under pressure, from the weight of more water trying to soak down through the rock above it. So, where there is a fissure in the rocks above, it can come back up, as a spring, or a soak, or an ooze. Then it feeds a local creek, which becomes the Nepean River, which then drains into one of the catchment dams for Sydney.

In the meantime, these springs, which are all over the highlands, are absolutely critical to the health of the local environment, for not only do they they keep the creeks running, but before that, they moisten the soil, which is critical to keeping alive the vast numbers of old trees which make the area’s environment what it is. Everything depends upon the trees - insects, micro-organisms like fungi, bacteria, etc. Then, finally, the larger animals - the birds and the “animals”, and we humans and our farm animals, such as cattle.

There is one last link in the chain which I need to spell out. If the aquifer is drained, (even at a depth of 100 metres or more) it will disrupt the flow of all other ground water in the district. For springs come from the ground water - perhaps deep, or perhaps just from water which is blocked because there is already water underneath it.

Perhaps the simplest analogy I can use is to say that as the ground water has to flow slowly through tiny cracks in the rock, or to ooze between large particles within the rock itself, it behaves like vehicles blocked in a traffic jam. Cars at the back of the traffic jam, take diversions to avoid the blockage. They duck up side streets, they even go by long, circuitous routes, to avoid the blockage. However, eventually the blockage, when cleared, allows free flow of traffic again, and the cars pass easily through. So in the analogy, the cars ducking up the side streets, etc are like the water finding its way out of the sides of hills in springs and soaks.

But if the Aquifer is drained, it would be like clearing the blockage on the highway, and the water will have less resistance to drifting down ever lower, and lower in the rock. So there will be no need for the ground water to ooze up and out of the hills, as springs and soaks. So, the springs might dry up, the soaks might cease to ooze, and the green hills might dry up; the ancient trees might die. And the farmers’ bores, by which they water their cattle? Well they have already dropped some 10 metres over the last 10 years anyway (P 53 - Audit of the Sydney Drinking Water Catchment - December 2005). That drop has been caused by an increase in bore water usage, and from the drought. Imagine what would happen if Sydney Catchment Authority starts to drain the Aquifer, as the Premier has said they might do.

Try telling a dairy cow that it cannot get a drink for another 3 years, but, don’t worry, Daisy, Mr Iemma says it will be OK again after that.

On that point, water from the aquifiers has been tested, and shows that at about 200 metres depth, the water is roughly 1000 years old. (SMH Feb, 9, 2006 - “The myth of Sydney being drought-proofed”). So, do remember to tell “Daisy” she can have her drink in 998 years, not the 3 years Mr Iemma promised her, OK?

This is a proposal which threatens the very Nature of Robertson, for our green hills sit above the Kangaloon Aquifer, but all the ground water acts as a single entity. It makes no more sense to say it is OK to drain the aquifer, but the rest of the area will be OK, then to say that a flat tyre is only flat at the bottom.

This is a far more important issue than the proposal for a gaol. It does not just threated our comfortable "lifestyle" - this treatens the very Nature of Robertson.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Robertson under threat - part 1 - the proposed gaol

The "Nature of Robertson" is under threat this week from two entirely separate arms of the NSW State Government - the Department of Correctional Services and the Sydney Catchment Authority. I shall deal (again) with the gaol issue today, and with the threat to suck dry the Kangaloon Aquifer tomorrow.

You may already have read about the proposal for a gaol in the Robertson area. Quite simply, to build a gaol of the size which is envisioned, is the equivalent f building a whole new township, of the size of Robertson. That is not appropriate, and is not acceptable within the Local Environment Plan for the Wingecarribee Shire, or the specific Development Control Plan for Robertson. These are formal planning instruments, and cannot simply be ignored by Council, or its employees.

Photo: The NSW Minister inspecting the Junee Correctional Facility. March 2005 Photo- Wagga Wagga Daily Advertiser.

The Robertson area simply does not have the infrastructure to cope with that level of population increase. Everything would need to be upgraded to meet the needs of a whole new prison township.

Electricity? We have many, many powerlines crossing the district. However, they are running at near their capacity, and the power they transmit is dedicated to other areas (Wollongong, Shell Harbour, etc?) already. The Robertson area, on the edge of the escarpment is a high-wind zone. As such it is subject to frequent power "outages" - sometimes for as long as 36 hours at a time. That would create a serious threat to the electronic security systems on which a high-tech gaol is based. Has a dedicated, "fail-safe" electricity supply for the gaol/township been costed?

Sewerage? Sewerage for Robertson is non-existent. Plans for a Sewerage System have been debated for years, and plans have been drawn up, but it has not yet been funded. How can a separate township (the gaol) the size of Robertson can be proposed overnight, without consideration of its sewerage needs? It is an insult to the local residents to "debate" for years whether or not the State and the Shire Council can afford a sewerage system for Robertson, yet to "presume" that a commercial enterprise, such as a gaol, can have a sewerage system built for it, without any problems.

Pollution risks: The supposed location for the proposed gaol, on the flat part of Jamberoo Road, is in the headwaters of the Kangaroo Valley. Pollution risks in that area are extreme, as it is on shallow soil, over a nearly flat Sandstone rock plateau, which is very poorly drained. Furthermore, it is in close proximity to a major scenic attraction (Carrington Falls) as well as the popular swimming points at Blue Pool and Nellie's Glen, and the pool just above the Falls themselves. Furthermore, this is the headwaters of the catchment for the Tallawa Dam from which both Nowra and Sydney take water. Such a large population centre would require a "fail-safe" sewage treatment facility. Has this been costed?

Roads? The Macquarie Pass is a dangerous road at the best of times. It is one of the heaviest fog-bound parts of the State. It is routinely closed due to accidents on the road. The Jamberoo Road is already classed as a dangerous road, not suitable for trucks and buses. It was the scene of a multiple fatality accident last year, involving a tourist bus. So road access is sub-standard to say the least

Hospital services? Non-existent in the local area. Bowral is the nearest - 30 minutes drive away. That is a long time in an emergency situation.

Integration with the community? I find it intriguing that the Junee Correctional Facility claims on its website to be an active part of the local community. But that the Junee Shire Council makes no mention of the prison on its website.