Notebook

Some notes and reflections

The last post at the Menin Gate

8th June 2014

In the Belgium town of Ypres, the last post is played each day on at the Menin Gate. Ypres was at the centre of major battles during World War I with major casaulties on both sides.

I had read about this ritual 30 years ago and thought it was extraordinary that the last post was still played each day. I then had the opportunity to visit Ypres in 2004 and attend the ceremony. I imagined that it would be a rather modest affair with an elderly Belguim playing a rather beat-up bugler and just a very small crowd in attendance.

How wrong I was. I arrived with my wife and son to find that the police and blocked off the main street and the crowd was in the hundreds. And not one bugler but six. I asked aftwerwards the main attendant whether this was a special occasion. And no crowds in the hundreds were common and in the summer many more.

The Menin Gate was destroyed in the war and rebuilt as memorial to all those Allied soldiers who died on the Ypres salient but their bodies were never recovered - more than 50,000 names are on the memorial.

From the archive: Chopsticks - an environmental hazard

12th December 2005

Chopsticks

It is hard to imagine that the humble chopstick is an environmental problem. But it does become one when chopsticks are the principal eating implement for a country such as China and when the use of disposable chopsticks is rising rapidly. A recent article in the China Daily suggested a return to fingers. Why?

China has 300 plants with 60,000 workers exporting some 140,000 to 165,000 tons of chopsticks. China itself uses 45 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks per year. That consumes 25 million fully grown trees per year - about 2 million square meter of wooded land. Yes a problem indeed.

Crohamhurst images

1st June 2014

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Two images that exemplify the impact of closer settlement on the environment in the 1890s. These images were taken by the Department of Agriculture and Stock photographer (Source: Queensland State Archives)

Cycling through the web

27th May 2014

The growing world-wide popularity of cycling is reflected in the number of bikes sold annually, increase in number of people riding either for pleasure, competition, or commuting, television coverage of major events, etc etc. Another indicator of the growth in cycling in the number of websites, blogs and online articles.

Here are a few of interest

INRNG The Inner Ring

A site with excellent analysis of the major European races, also book reviews and other interesting insights.

Things you can do on a bike

This is not for the faint-hearted.



Great Infrastructure for bikes

Some cities are investing heavily in improving bike infrastructure. Indeed very heavily for some of the projects shown here.


Bike stunts - Edwardian style

Now for something completely different. The bike has always seemed to invite challenges for the ridiculous and extraordinary. Stunts from 100 years ago.

Flood markers

7th July 2012

Flood marker on the Bremer River

It is not uncommon to see next to rivers that flood freqently, posts or markers indicating flood heights in the past.

This is a flood marker with a difference. A piece of timber lodged in a tree next to the Bremer River that indicates the height of the flood in January 2011. This timber is about 19 m above the river. Viewed from normal river level in a kayak, it provides a striking sense of the height of the flood and enormity of water that is missed when viewed from above.

A cyclist’s map for Brisbane

26th April 2011

Cyclists map of Brisbane

Cycling is increasingly popular in Brisbane where I live. There are plenty og guides and maps about cycle routes throughout the city. Online sites such as Bikely.com have a extensive number of routes constantly being updated by local rides. The Brisbane City Council has published a series of maps highlighting dedicated bike paths.

If you think bicycle maps are a relatively new phenomenon, think again. In 1896 the Queensland government produced a Cyclists’ Road Map for Brisbane and Surrounding Districts. The above image is a detail of the map and indictaes the interesting comments about the difficulities encountered on various routes.

View the complete map

Of drought and flooding rains - a history of floods in Queensland

27th February 2011

Queensland has experienced some of the most widespread and devastating floods since European occupation in the past two months. Arguably never before has the floods been so extensive in the extent of area inundated and the number of towns and cities affected.

But floods are not a rare occurrence in Queensland. Most towns and cities have all experienced serious and very damaging floods at some point in their history. Brisbane has had major floods in 1890, 1893 and 1974. Rockhampton had experienced major flooding on numerous occasions with the worst in 1918.

Surprisingly the impact of floods has not attracted little attention by historians. Certainly there is no definitive history of floods in Queensland and the general histories of Queensland only mention floods in passing. The most notable exception is Barbara Webster’s Marooned Rockhampton’s Great Flood of 1918 (2003). This publication provides a detailed analysis of the social, economic and political impact of the flood on Rockhampton and district.

There is a urgent need to research how floods have shaped Queensland. Some questions include:

  • economic impacts - the cost of rebuilding infrastructure, how many businesses went bankrupt or never recovered;
  • the impact on the natural environment with the changing of watercourses, erosion, subsequent dredging and straightening of rivers;
  • the relocation of towns and settlements; for example the township of Clermont was relocated after a major flood in 1916 - likewise Texas in 1890;
  • flood proofing and migration. The construction of the Wivenhoe Dam on the Brisbane River in the 1970s was widely regarded as a means of flood proofing Brisbane. Various towns in western Queensland have been extensive levee banks to prevent flooding - some have been very successful such as at Goondiwindi.

Of course there are numerous other questions but certainly worthy of systemic research.

The Middle East - where to begin?

6th August 2006

The current conflict in the Middle East highlights that, even for the most optimistic, enduring peace in the region is long way away. What is the answer. The claims of Bush, Blair er al that the battle will be won have become increasingly hollow as they are incapable of preventing the ongoing violence in Lebanon and Israel. Is there an solution, a way forward ?

The most useful comment I have read was quoted by Alan Ramsey in his column in the Sydney Morning Herald (29 July 2006). He cites an article by Rami Khouri, editor at large of the Beruit Daily Star.

“The Lebanon and Palestine situation today reveal a key political nd psychological dynamic that defines several hundred million Arabs. It is that peace in the Middle East requires three things: 1) Arabs and Israel must be treated equally 2) domestically and internationally, the rule of law must define the actions of governments and all members of society; and 3) the core conflict between Palestine and Israel must be resolved in a fair, legal and sustainable manner.”

These ground rules seem utterly reasonable and certainly not ‘radical’ or - but how long before they are acknowledged as the basis for a way forward and lasting solution for peace.

The Age of waste

6th August 2006

What will be the epitaph for the late 20th early 21st century. A possible candidate is surely the Age of Waste. Never before has waste and excessive consumption been so rampant. Twenty years, domestic garage was collected weekly in a modest size bin. Today, it is two wheelie bins - one for waste and the other for recycling. While recycling is commendable, the volume points to the amount of material that is used for packaging or as containers.

In a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald Weekend Magazine (10 June 2006), Fenella Souter presented some alarming statistics on waste in Australia. In 2004 Australians spent $5.3 billion on food we did not eat!! That includes fresh food, uneaten takeaways, leftovers, frozen food. This amount equates to about $260 per person in Australia per year. But food is only one part of the equation of waste - clothes, electronic equipment, mobile phones, cars - the list goes on and on. Partly the problem is the cheapness of goods and so it becomes so much easier to buy something new rather that repair or re-condition.

At the moment little thought is given to the long term consequences. But all of the world’s population cannot go on consuming and waste at the current rate. It surely is time to be more prudent about how much we consume and waste less.

The new tyranny

25th May 2006

Tennesse Williams, I think, once commented about the thin veneer of civilisation over barbarism. Alan Ramsay in a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald (12 Nov 2005) highlights some of the signs of tyranny in contemporary society. He quotes from a speech by Dr Davidson Loehr, a US pastor with the First Unitarian Church in Texas. He also quoted by an essay by Dr Lawrence Britt a politcial scientist ‘Fascism Anyone?’

Britt identifies 14 identifying characteristics of fascism. ‘These included the constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs. Flags are seen everywhere. Disdain for human rights: because of fear of enemies and the need for national security, people are persuaded human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of ‘need’. People tend to look the other way or even approve. Identification of enemies and scapegoats: people are rallied into a unifying patriotice frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe - racial, ethnic ore religious minorities; liverals, communists, socialists adn terrorists.

Supremacy of the military [which receives] a disproportionate amount of government funding. Obsession with national security: fear is used as a motivational tool. Corporate power is protected, labour power is suppressed. Uniosn are either eliminated or severely suppressed, the industrial and business aristocracy are often the ones who put the government leaders into power. Disdain for intellectuals and the arts.

It is too easy to think never in Australia but …

Chopsticks - an environmental hazard

12th December 2005

Chopsticks

It is hard to imagine that the humble chopstick is an environmental problem. But it does become one when chopsticks are the principal eating implement for a country such as China and when the use of disposable chopsticks is rising rapidly. A recent article in the China Daily suggested a return to fingers. Why?

China has 300 plants with 60,000 workers exporting some 140,000 to 165,000 tons of chopsticks. China itself uses 45 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks per year. That consumes 25 million fully grown trees per year - about 2 million square meter of wooded land. Yes a problem indeed.