Dust and snowflakes add up to gongs for standout scientists

Professor Praeger studies symmetries through a branch of pure mathematics known as group theory, which tries to understand the possible configurations of a connected series of items. A Rubik’s cube is a great example.

“You have these 27 little cubes that move around. They cannot just move completely independently – the corners stay in the corners. And you try to work out, under those constraints, do I have complete freedom to move around the little cubes? Trying to understand what is possible, that’s all part of the symmetry challenge,” she said.

Professor Praeger was born in Toowoomba and spent her childhood travelling from one country town to another.

A career adviser tried to dissuade her from pursuing maths when she finished high school.

“He told me the only job for a mathematician was to be an actuary – and that Queensland already had two so we would not need any more. And so I would not get a job – which terrified my mother, and made me very angry and stubborn.”

After ignoring his advice about a career in nursing and studying at the University of Queensland and Oxford, she was appointed a full professor at the University of Western Australia in 1983, the second female maths professor at an Australian university. She resides there still.

Sydney scientist Brien O’Brien’s dust detector experiment was on Apollo 11.

Dr Brian John O’Brien

The Australian scientist who helped astronauts identify the challenge posed by lunar dust during the Apollo missions to the moon has been posthumously made an officer of the Order of Australia.

Dr Brian John O’Brien, who passed away last year, landed five experiments on the moon that remain the only published measurements of the movement of fine lunar dust.

Dr Brian O'Brien in 1970 with equipment related to one of his lunar experiments.

Dr Brian O’Brien in 1970 with equipment related to one of his lunar experiments.Credit:Fairfax Media

Dr O’Brien made a string of contributions to the space race, including working on the first satellite to use digital telemetry and launching a series of rockets and satellites.

An expert on radiation, Dr O’Brien’s charged particle lunar environment experiment flew aboard Apollo 11.

However, his most famous experiment, which travelled on Apollos 11 through 15, was perhaps his most simple. A box with solar cells attached fed electricity back to a radio transmitter. As dust accumulated on the cells, the voltage dropped – giving scientists an accurate measure of how fast dust accumulated.

Dr O’Brien helped identify dust as a major problem on the moon. With no gravity, it flies around and will stick to anything. Apollo astronauts described it as the biggest environmental problem they faced. Dr O’Brien spent much of the latter part of his career campaigning for NASA to take the threat seriously.

Dr O’Brien, a father of four and grandfather of nine, passed away on August 7, 2020.

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Fifteen fun ideas to help you get fit — and leave 2020 in the dust

After a challenging 2020, nobody could blame you for wanting to stay on the couch instead of grinding your way through boring exercises in the name of fitness.

But there’s lots of ways to be more active and have a good time doing it — no matter where you’re starting from.

Here are 15 fun ideas to help you get moving this summer. (And if none of these float your boat, never fear: there’s plenty more covered on the Sporty podcast!)

Ocean swimming

Awaken your senses and build stamina with ocean swimming.

Instructor Linda Goodwin says open water swimmers feel the power of Mother Nature and learn to adapt to different conditions while conquering fears (like sea creatures and deep water).

“It’s so much more fun and exhilarating and you literally never regret being in the ocean no matter what. You always get out super charged,” she says.

Hear more of Linda’s tips for ocean swimming here.

Stair climbing

Woman in running clothes jogs up colourfully painted stairs.
Tackling the stairs improves your cardio and leg muscles.(Unsplash: @evstyle)

Strengthen your leg muscles by taking the stairs.

Stair Climbing Australia president Maria Pia Piemontese says you can start off small at home and gradually work up to larger challenges like races in building stairwells.

“It’s an upward lunge … that’s a great way to strengthen the muscles,” she says.

Learn more about stair climbing.


A girl smiles at her female friend while walking a dog basked in sunset light on a hill overlooking a city.
Walking is free and allows people to be social and explore their neighbourhood.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Malcolm Sutton)

It’s free, it something you already know how to do, and it’s Australia’s most popular recreational activity.

International Federation of Pedestrians vice president Ben Rossiter says walking is a great way to connect with other people while getting some exercise in nature.

And if you want to improve your heart health, just step up the pace.

“The best exercise is the one you are going to do, that’s the clear message,” Ben says.

“And walking is the one people are most likely going to do.”

Here’s some tips to get started … or help you step up to the challenge of running.


Luke Boon, Jake Eve and Lilly Barker skipping
Skipping isn’t just for kids and boxers.(ABC News: Ashleigh Stevenson)

It might sound like child’s play, but 10 minutes of skipping is equivalent to 30 minutes of running, according to skipping world champion Luke Boon.

“I wanted to be involved in a sport that I could do absolutely anywhere,” he says.

“This is a sport where I could literally pick up my rope now in my bedroom and I could skip, where I couldn’t really play a game of cricket!”

You can build up to some pretty fancy footwork, but the simply jumping rope is enough to get the heart pumping.

Get the jump on the basics.


Three cheerleaders in mid air in front of their team during a competition.
One of the world’s best cheerleading teams is based in Australia.(Supplied: Southern Cross Cheer)

Reach new heights and mix of sports acrobatics and gymnastics by taking up cheerleading.

“At the end of the routine I feel such a rush that I’ve never felt with any other sport,” Southern Cross cheerleader Sophie Aston says.

“I think that’s why a lot of people once they fall into cheerleading can’t get back out.”

Find out why there’s more to cheerleading than pom poms.


Together the brothers hope each garden they look after creates change in how people view people with autism and depression.
Gardening gets people into different positions and uses different muscles.(612 ABC Brisbane: Jessica Hinchliffe)

Get out into the garden to boost your mood with incidental exercise.

Sustainable gardening instructor Angelo Eliades says gardening is all about functional movement and it often ends up being a full body workout.

“It gets you up and around and it also gets you into positions you don’t normally assume, like squatting down.”

Digging works out the shoulders, carrying things like bags of manure or watering cans are load bearing exercises and pruning up a ladder is a core workout.

Ponder pottering in the garden while listening to this podcast.

Wheelchair fitness

Shae Graham (left) working hard at a Steelers training session.
Wheelchair rugby is a tough sport where upper body strength is essential.(Supplied: Paralympics Australia)

“You can do just about do anything. You can be quite fit and active from your wheelchair.”

That’s Greg Smith, a Paralympian and head strength and conditioning coach for the Australian Wheelchair Rugby team.

He lists a range of sports like wheelchair AFL, wheelchair rugby league, wheelchair rugby, swimming, athletics, basketball and hand cycling.

“There’s so many things now that have become adaptive to people with disabilities and it is certainty making life far more enjoyable in that regard,” he says.

Listen in for more tips and tricks around wheelchair fitness.


men and women battle it out on the quidditch field during a state of origin match
Quidditch is a full-contact sport with a thick rulebook which includes gender balance on teams and broomsticks lengths.(Supplied: Quidditch Australia)

It’s just like in Harry Potter — except there’s a human Snitch and no flying.

Victorian Quidditch Association president Gen Gibson says some people play because the sport is challenging, while others play because they are fans of J.K Rowling’s series.

“[The broom] is more like an added challenge,” Gibson says.

“I think they kept it to keep the ties with Harry Potter so that means you pretty much have to do anything with one hand.

“It is so much more challenging than any other ball sport because you can’t run and hold a broom and catch a ball and throw a ball at the same time.”

Grab your broom and get ready “muggles” for this full-contact game.


Mother and son bouncing on a trampoline.
Trampolining is a great way to strengthen muscles.(Getty: Westend61)

A bit of bouncing can be a ripper cardiovascular workout.

“There’s a whole heap of physical benefits from that you get from jumping and that really relates to the fact that you are using your whole body,” trampolining coach Bianca South says.

The Olympic sport is great for developing strength in your arms, legs and core.

Learn about how to move from bouncing to somersaults.

Bollywood dancing

A group of women wearing colourful clothing smile and dance.
Bollywood dancing is vibrant and energetic.(Getty: ferrantraite)

Feel the beat with modern Bollywood dancing.

“It’s a very energetic form of dance. There’s lots of beats, it’s a vibrant colourful form of dance activity,” dance teacher Natasha Baweja says.

“Modern Bollywood is infused with Latin beats, with hip hop beats. It’s something people come to to release their stress.”

Listen to the music and the benefits of Bollywood dance (or maybe tap dancing is more your style…?)

Roller skating

People with their skates on at a skating rink.
Strapping on your skates and heading to the rink is making a comeback.(Unsplash: Lukas Schroeder @lukasschroederdotpng)

It’s time to glide at high speed.

Roller skating is trendy again, and really enjoyable. It’s also good for you.

“You use every muscle in your body for roller skating. You burn calories, a lot of cardio,” instructor Brian Inglis says.

It could also lead you into something figure skating, speed skating or roller hockey.

Tune in to learn more about skating.

Stand-up paddle boarding

A boy wearing a life jacket on a stand-up paddle board.
When on a stand-up paddle board you should look to where you want to go.(Unsplash: Ben White @benwhitephotography)

Time to test your balance with this low impact water sport.

Instructor Andrew Weatherhead says it’s up to you how hard your push yourself out on the water.

“When you are stand-up paddling you are using your core strength as well as your legs, your stomach, your back and not so much on the arms,” he says.

His big tip is always look where you are going.

For more tips listen to his conversation with Sporty’s Amanda Smith.


A woman bends down to pick up rubbish from a walking track.
There are many plogging community groups you can join for a walk or run.(Getty: Jozef Polc)

Bit bored of running? Plogging might be for you.

It involves picking up rubbish while you’re jogging. Some organised community groups weigh your haul and give prizes for weird things found.

The workout involves running, a lot of bending and carrying the extra weight of the trash found.

“For me it gives it [my running] a bit of meaning because I think it’s really nice to give a bit back … I mean this is my training ground,” ultra trail runner Karin Traeger says.

Learn more about the active clean-up.

Pole dancing

A group of women hole a pose during a pole dancing class.
Pole dancing is a fun group fitness class for both men and women.(Getty: andresr)

Pole dancing has shaken off its stigma to become a physically demanding workout class.

“It’s very physically exerting. More women started to do more tricks and that became more and more challenging and it was like ‘OK this is more of a sport than just something for someone else’,” instructor Brianna Pannekoek says.

There’s different types of class including fitness, artistic dance, tricks or exotic.

“Sometimes you can get sexy, sometimes you can be strong and can definitely for both at the same time.”

Learn more about how to get started with pole dancing.

Dog agility

A small dog jumps through a circle on a dog agility course.
Running with your dog through an agility course is a great cardio workout.(Unsplash: Lena Balk @leanbalk)

We might just have saved the best for last. This is all about embracing incidental exercise — with a canine companion.

Dog agility involves you directing your pooch to manoeuvre through the obstacles, while you run the course yourself.

“It is very active for the dog. For the person it can be really active — so you can run right next to your dog and pretty much keep up with them the whole time or you can be less active if you’re not able to run with your dog,” Millicent Burke says.

She says owners are often concentrating on what the dog is doing, what’s coming up next on the course and where their feet and shoulders are because that gives the dog cues and don’t realise how far they’ve run.

Learn more about the ultimate incidental exercise.

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Record-Shattering Flows Into Stock ETFs Leave Bond Funds in Dust

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About 95% of stock funds posted gains last month, with around two-thirds of them beating the S&P 500.

The clear winner from the renewed appetite has been Vanguard Group thanks to its line-up of low-cost products. The $189 billion Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI) has seen the most inflows this year at $27.2 billion, followed by the $177 billion Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO), which has absorbed $26.7 billion.

They may have been overtaken for flows, but it remains a banner year for fixed-income ETFs.

After a violent selloff created a liquidity crunch across bond markets, the Federal Reserve announced in March that it would buy ETFs for the first time. Billions poured into credit funds in the aftermath, curing deep discounts and putting them on track for a record 12 months.

The Fed has only purchased about $8.7 billion worth of corporate bond ETFs in total, but the central bank’s presence has been enough to give the products a stamp of approval. BlackRock Inc.’s $58.6 billion iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond ETF (LQD) has attracted $18.3 billion so far this year, putting it in third place behind VTI and VOO.

Total assets in U.S. bond ETFs stand at roughly $1.1 trillion, while their stock counterparts hold $4 trillion. If the equity rally gains further steam, that gap could grow even bigger.

“Flows follow performance,” said Dan Suzuki, deputy chief investment officer at Richard Bernstein Advisors. “Investor confidence over the past couple months has also benefited greatly from positive vaccine news.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.


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Black hole’s structure possibly glimpsed as dust ring casts shadows and rays far across space — RT World News

Astronomers believe they are getting a glimpse of the structure of a black hole, after the Hubble Space Telescope spotted a collection of rays and shadows beaming out from the center of a galaxy millions of light-years away.

Black holes are the universe’s greatest monsters, rapidly consuming everything in their vicinity. Their gravity is so powerful that not even light can escape them, an extraordinary fact which also makes them invisible to us and thus incredibly hard to study.

However, experts have noticed vast shadows and narrow, bright rays stretching out from the center of the galaxy IC 5063, as if something enormous is standing in the way of the intense light. 

Experts believe this could be a black hole in the heart of the galaxy casting its shadow into space, and a quirk of alignment may be allowing them a glimpse of its structure.

Some shafts of light penetrate the gaps in the dust ring, creating bright rays that resemble the beams of light that can be seen radiating from the sun at sunset. 

“We think we’ve found evidence that there is probably dust all over the galaxy scattering light from the accreting black hole in the galaxy’s active nucleus, and that the light can illuminate almost the whole galaxy,” explained astronomer Peter Maksym of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Because scientists have never witnessed this phenomenon before, it may take them some time to definitively prove that a black hole is causing the strange shadows and beams. However, the development presents a tantalizing scientific discovery and a rich opportunity for further research.

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Bureau of Meteorology calendar includes hail, dust, double rainbows in 2021 selection

David Foote was with the former Prime Minister John Howard in Washington DC the morning of September 11, 2001.

The official photographer for Parliament House was walking with Mr Howard around the White House moments before a plane flew into the Twin Towers. It was one of Mr Foote’s 70 overseas trips with seven different prime ministers in 28 years.

Not just politicians and their guests, Mr Foote was responsible for capturing Parliament House’s iconic building throughout the year.

He captured the world’s attention earlier this year with a photo of giant hailstones on the hill out the front of Parliament House.

It is one of 12 photos selected from 1,400 entries to feature in next year’s 2021 Bureau of Meteorology Calendar — all depicting Australia’s diverse weather events.

Putting your body on the line for the perfect shot

Mr Foote was in his office when he heard the roof rocked by turbulent rain. He grabbed his cameras and headed outside to face the following dilemma.

“I didn’t have a raincoat, I didn’t have protection for the cameras, and I didn’t even have a hat to protect my head from the hail that was falling at the time,” Mr Foote said.

He is not the only photographer featured in the calendar to put himself in weather’s harm’s way for an epic shot.

Robert Klarich has vague recollections of seeing a dust storm this big as a child but doubts he will see anything like it again.(Supplied: Robert Klarich)

Despite growing up with dust storms in Mildura, Robert Klarich had never seen anything like one in November 2019.

The photographer was on the phone to his mum at the time when she suggested he look out the window.

“There wasn’t much of a breeze around but there was this sort of silent, eerie cloud coming in and it gave this kind of false sense of security,” Mr Klarich said.

When the phone photos failed to do it justice, he grabbed the drone.

“By the time I got … flying it was about five minutes away, so I had to work pretty fast,” Mr Klarich said.

Green array of light over dark night sky of Hobart
Who says purple and green should never be seen together? The aurora australis from Cassidys Bay, Tasmania, is breathtaking.(Supplied: Robert Cassidy, Cassidy Photography)

Crazy clouds, circular rainbows, and the aurora australis

In a year of big weather events across Australia, dust storms were not the only storms to feature in the calendar.

Port Macquarie’s Ivan Sajko set up camp at one of his favourite vantage points — Tacking Point Lighthouse — to capture this thunderstorm.

Dark clouds over a beach, Port Macquarie
Thunderstorm over Port Macquarie, New South Wales taken by Ivan Sajko.(Supplied: Ivan Sajko, Ocean Drive Images)

The local photographer had been following storms since 2013 and said this was by far the biggest one he had seen.

“There was a crowd building at the lighthouse, and I decided to try and get a different shot … Luckily I chose the perfect location to get the whole structure of the cloud. If I’d been in town the storm would have passed overhead and it would have told a completely different story.”

This year’s theme, ‘Weather, climate, water and ocean services’ — attracted many photographs of wonderful cloud formations.

A winning entry of a mammatus cloud at Oberne Creek, New South Wales, reflected a deep connection with the land for local cattle farmer Robert Ellis.

Round balls of clouds droop out of the sky over the mountain range, Oberne Creek NSW
Mammatus clouds are just one weather wonder at Oberne Creek in New South Wales.(Supplied: Robert Ellis)

“My father bought this property just after the Second World War in 1949, and this is the only life I’ve ever known,” Mr Ellis told the Bureau of Meteorology.

Aerial view of circular rainbow over the Lake and mountain range in Kununurra Western Australia
Not everyone gets to see a circular rainbow like this one over Lake Argyle, Kununurra, Western Australia.(Supplied: Col Leonhardt, Birdseyeview Photography)

Photos as educational as they are stunning

Senior BOM forecaster Paul Lainio said the calendar was as much about education as entertainment.

“We’re after trying to save lives and property largely,” Mr Lainio said.

“We now have ways to get that information out … to help people understand the weather better and the changes that are happening and the way it affects them.”

Streaks of Grey fog through high rise buildings against a bright orange morning sky
The one urban shot for the 2021 calendar, fog over Brisbane at sunrise.(Supplied: Michael Coombes)

For Helen Commens from Queensland’s Ourdel Station, her aerial photo of the local catchment system represented a deep appreciation for the ecosystem there.

“You can drive through Windorah and the Barcoo Shire and lots of places out here and think it’s really hard country,” Ms Commens said.

“It’s not until you see from the aerial perspective how amazing the country is.”

Having a husband as a chopper pilot allowed her to capture the Channel Country from the air.

Aerial view of a dark web of rivulets between green and islands of red sand, Channel Country of Queensland
Helen Commens’ photo of floodwaters and new growth in the Channel Country near Windorah, Queensland.(Supplied: Helen Commens)

“Our cattle put on so much weight — equal to a feedlot — when the rivers come.”

Big achievement to be featured

It was third time lucky for Ms Commens, who had entered the calendar competition twice before.

“It’s bloody hard to get on it,” Ms Commens said.

Not just for Australian audiences, the calendar has sold 1.4 million copies in 80 countries since its inception in 1985.

A little boy sits in a full cattle trough after rain in the Channel Country
Helen Commens’ son in a full cattle trough, after rain in the Channel Country.(Supplied: Helen Commens)

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Canberra stone company tries to protect workers from silica dust as silicosis disease cases rise nationally

Canberra stonemason Aaron Grima decided to get checked for silicosis after seeing videos about the disease on social media, “just to be safe”.

The 35-year-old, who has worked in the industry for 17 years, was shocked when he was diagnosed with chronic simple silicosis.

In his case, it should not shorten his life, but it means he needs to get regular check-ups, limit his exposure, and stay fit and active to safeguard his lungs.

Mr Grima is one of hundreds of workers across the country to have contracted the potentially deadly disease after breathing in silica dust.

There is currently no cure or effective treatment for the disease, which is surging in Australia, driven by a boom in engineered stone products such as kitchen benchtops.

“There wasn’t much safety when I first started — especially compared to nowadays,” Mr Grima said.

“Definitely, if I’d heard about it back then, different precautions would’ve been taken.”

Calls for national approach to safety laws

The growing popularity of stone benchtops has driven a rise in silicosis cases.(ABC News: file photo)

Australian authorities have responded to the emerging crisis by tightening safety rules and testing more workers, but silica-related laws differ from state to state.

Most jurisdictions mandate health checks and air-contamination limits to reduce exposure, but the types of tests and limits vary.

There have been attempts to develop a national approach, but the coronavirus pandemic has slowed these efforts.

Federal government agency Safework Australia has drafted a national silica-exposure code of practice and discussions have been held about creating a national dust diseases board.

“Currently, we have different jurisdictions doing different things and trying to approach this emerging work health and safety risk in different ways,” ACT Work Safety commissioner Jacqueline Agius said.

“We need to approach this in a holistic way. This isn’t just related to the stonemason, manufacturing, engineering stone — many products have silica dust in them.”

In the absence of a national framework, the ACT Government recently reduced the legal limit of silica dust exposure and required businesses to pay for workers to get yearly health check-ups, including lung-function tests and chest x-rays.

WorkSafe ACT also hosted a recent symposium on silica dust and the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining And Energy Union launched a silica dust training program.

But local businesses want the Government to introduce a dust diseases levy, mandate more thorough tests and subsidise the health checks — as happens in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.

Canberra business invests to protect staff

Sam Kromar, standing in a factory, smiles at the camera.
Pacific Stone manager Sam Kromar says the business decided to act rather than wait for better safety laws.(ABC News: Luke Stephenson)

Pacific Stone — one of the ACT’s largest manufacturers of stone benchtops — has pushed ahead with a strict health-monitoring regime for its workers. It includes CT scans and kidney function tests.

It costs the business about $850 per worker each year, which equates to about $4 a day for each employee.

“I don’t think that’s a high cost to pay to make sure your staff are looked after,” Pacific Stone business development manager Sam Kromar said.

“[But ACT Government support for the testing] is something we would be looking for in the future.”

Working cutting stone
Pacific Stone has invested in equipment that removes silica from the air in the workplace.(ABC News: Michael Inman)

The business has also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading its factory, in the suburb of Beard, to make its machinery safer.

Its wet-cutting system traps silica dust in water, which then drains away to a water-recycling plant, where it is filtered out as a sludge to be sent to landfill.

Mr Kromar said it was expensive but the deadly dust would otherwise be breathed in by workers.

“You don’t want to look back on your career and say that it’s something that killed you.

“At the end of the day, the duty of care doesn’t just rest with the regulator. It starts at the top of the line with suppliers, runs through commercial construction companies and builders, through to the fabricator like ourselves, to everyone on site.”

‘You’ve only got one life’: Worker wants tougher laws

Worker buffing stone
Today, most stone workers are tested regularly for signs of the potentially deadly disease.(ABC News: Michael Inman)

Despite the changes, Mr Grima said he did not feel authorities had taken the silicosis surge as seriously as the industry had.

He said awareness and safety precautions were poor when he began his career, and he worried about the health of other stone workers.

“I hope there are some changes made in the industry … to prevent people ending up in my situation,” he said.

“I was young when I started in this trade. I absolutely loved it, felt I was good at it, and I don’t want any else falling into the same [trap].

“You’ve only got one life.”

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North Korea warns China desert dust could spread Covid-19, tells citizens to stay indoors

North Korea has warned its citizens to stay indoors, saying seasonal yellow dust blowing in from China might carry the new coronavirus into the country.“As the new coronavirus infections continue to spread around the world, the need to deal with the yellow dust and take thorough measures has become more critical,” North Korea’s official party newspaper Rodong Sinmun said on Thursday.How a President Joe Biden would rethink US strategy on North KoreaThe claim that the virus that causes Covid-19…

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Port Hedland covered by dust from iron ore mining, residents resist buyout


September 11, 2020 06:30:50

Profits from iron ore line the pockets of Australia’s biggest miners and are vital to treasury coffers. The fallout is a thick layer of dust that covers everything.

Iron ore brought Arnold Carter to Port Hedland in the 1960s.

It was early days for an industry that would become critical to Australia’s economy, no more so than in this current recession.

Profits from iron ore line the pockets of the nation’s biggest miners and are vital to treasury coffers.

But Mr Carter says Port Hedland wasn’t always an iron ore town. Back then, it was mainly wool that left the wharf.

Now, big mining dominates — so much so the WA Government, on behalf of industry, is offering to buy out people living in the historic end of town.

The idea is to reduce the number of people living beside the dust-polluted port, but locals don’t want to be forced out of their homes.

“Honestly and truthfully, it’s the greatest rort I’ve ever seen in my life,” Mr Carter said.

“I find it incredible that they are coming up and asking people to leave.

“I’ve been in my house for 40 years. You’ll never get me out of it, and there is a lot of people in that position.”

Four generations of Kerry Jacoby’s family have lived in their house overlooking the busy port.

Her father-in-law, like many local men, went to war from Port Hedland.

He was a builder, so when he returned to Australia he built a family home running down to the beach on Richardson Street.

“The kids loved growing up in Port Hedland. It was an amazing place to grow up,” Ms Jacoby said.

Almost half the town of 14,500 people is employed directly or indirectly by the iron ore industry.

People are proud of their contribution to the nation — they’re keen to tell you that if it wasn’t for the red dirt leaving the port, the economy would’ve ground to a halt during the coronavirus lockdown.

The Jacoby family is no exception.

“We all accept industry has to stay,” Ms Jacoby said.

“What’s done is done, but leave us here.

“And if they do force us out, make it worthwhile — an ocean view for an ocean view.

“There is no consideration for what we think about where we live.”

New Zealander Lynne Taylor came to Port Hedland as a single mum of four children 23 years ago.

She ran a business providing security for events across the Pilbara. Now, she has the oldest drinking establishment in Port Hedland, the Pier Hotel.

It’s what locals call a skimpy bar.

“It used to be a bustling community and now it’s not,” she said.

“They have made sure of that.

“You go down the middle of town now and you would be lucky to pass two people. It’s dead.”

“They should be paying for our cleaning here.

“They should be paying for replacing our roofs.

“They should be paying for our water bill and our air-con maintenance and repairs bill.

“They should be paying for replacement of any rusted structures, because they’re causing it.”

Ken McCorry owns Hedland Launch Services, which runs tugboats out to the iron ore ships.

He reared his children in Port Hedland and his son works with him in the business. Over time, he has seen the town change.

“Realistically, with the amount of money that comes through this town, we should have footpaths made of gold blocks,” he said.

“Basically we’ve got nothing, we’ve got nothing, and we are getting stripped of it every day.

“It’s a shit town, but it’s our shit town and we love it.”

The property buyback comes more than a decade after the WA Environmental Protection Authority flagged it was concerned about the possible health effects of dust on people living near the port — in particular, its links to heart and lung disease.

Despite the EPA’s concerns, in 2012 the State Government launched a flashy campaign encouraging people to live and invest in Port Hedland.

It was boom times in the Pilbara, so investors like Gary Wightman decided to sink millions into the town.

He built two apartment blocks in the heart of town, no more than 800 metres from where BHP loads its shipments of iron ore bound for China.

“I thought it was a lifetime investment,” he said.

“This is the Government putting it out that they were going to build two high schools by 2021.

“The last seven years, I’ve just seen a complete scale back.”

Mr Wightman wasn’t the only investor caught out.

The historic Esplanade Hotel broke records when it sold for $30 million in 2012. Its new owners were keen to capitalise on the Government’s promise that Port Hedland would become a bustling Pilbara town.

China’s appetite for iron ore was voracious and miners were getting top dollar for their product.

But as shipments increased, so too did dust pollution and the expense of maintaining the grand hotel.

The hotel was put back on the market. The owners told the ABC that as part of the eventual sale, they had to sign a non-disclosure document.

Land title documents show the hotel was bought by BHP and its Japanese business partners for at least half of what the previous owners paid.

What is acceptable?

Last year, iron ore was worth $64 billion to the Australian economy.

For the port’s biggest exporter, BHP, iron ore accounted for 66 per cent of its profits in the 2019–20 financial year.

With iron ore prices climbing, BHP, Fortescue and Roy Hill are seeking approval to ship more — 85 million tonnes on top of the 491 million tonnes exported in 2019.

It’s a stipulation of their licence that miners do not exceed levels of dust particulate in order to protect people living near the port.

In Port Hedland, the air quality standards vary from what the National Environmental Protection Council recommends.

The state government put in place an interim level of acceptable dust pollution for Port Hedland 40 per cent higher than the national standard.

Numerous health studies have found PM10 dust (particles with a diameter of 10 micrometres or less) can get deep into the lungs and is linked to respiratory disease.

The interim standard has been allowed for 10 years.

RMIT University environmental engineer Gavin Mudd said it was unacceptable.

“If I’m in Port Hedland, why am I being forced to accept poorer air quality than the rest of Australia? That’s not fair, that’s not equitable,” Dr Mudd said.

“Certainly if you are looking at speeding fines, all sorts of aspects of the way we apply our laws, we don’t allow special cases to be exempt like this.”

Ms Taylor believes the dust affects her breathing.

Two years ago she was prescribed an asthma-prevention puffer, and she has deliberately increased her exercise.

“So that builds my lungs up to make them stronger,” she said.

“So I’m not going to become an invalid because of it, if I can help it.”

Something’s broken

The mining industry has been responsible for monitoring its own dust output in Port Hedland.

There are eight monitors throughout the town feeding information about dust pollution 24 hours a day.

Each year, these monitors have found dust levels regularly exceed the national standard.

In 2019, the regulatory monitor on Taplin Street, which is written into the big miners’ licences, did not work.

The broken monitor was reported in the Port Hedland Industry Council annual report.

Chief executive Kirsty Danby said although the PHIC was alerted to the issue in April 2019, it did not start to investigate until January.

“We had a suspicion that maybe because we had zero exceedances in that financial year that there might be an issue with it,” she said.

For nine months last year, there was no data showing what the dust levels were for that residential area.

Both the PHIC and the Government have confirmed that despite the prolonged failure of the Taplin Street monitor, there have been no repercussions for industry.

Both said it was not a compliance matter.

“If you were caught speeding, you don’t turn around and say, ‘Sorry, my odometer is not working, my speedo isn’t working’,” Dr Mudd said.

“That doesn’t hold. The police or the court system would never let anyone argue that.

“It’s your responsibility to make sure it’s working properly.”

The responsibility for dust monitoring in Port Hedland was meant to transfer to the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation in 2018. It is yet to happen.

In an internal memo obtained by the ABC through freedom of information, DWER senior staff noted the current “air quality network does not satisfy Australian standards”.

In the minutes from a 2019 meeting, DWER staff said they were concerned the buyback scheme might “disincentivise industry” from spending money on dust control.

“It is not possible to know what the dust levels will be in five years’ time,” it said.

“If there is an increase in dust from current levels, there may be health impacts that impact more Port Hedland residents.”

It noted there was potential for the problem to push east of Taplin Street. Just east of Taplin Street is St Cecilia’s primary school.

Standing their ground

In June, the Minister for Ports, Alannah MacTiernan, announced the $200 million industry-funded buyback for people living near the port.

She says she does not believe the buyback will stop miners from spending money on curbing dust levels in the community.

In the next five years BHP says it will spend $300 million on dust control; in the preceding decade, it spent $400 million.

The company made a $20 billion operating profit from West Australian iron ore last financial year.

The voluntary buyback scheme offers 400 residential properties the indexed value of their home as at August last year plus 35 per cent and expenses.

Some residents have sold to BHP or the Government, and some of those houses have since been demolished.

BHP declined to be interviewed and referred the ABC to the Port Hedland Industry Council.

“There will be people who will not want to move, I understand that,” Ms MacTiernan said.

“People like Arnold Carter has said he wants to be carted out in a box, and we totally respect that, but we do have to recognise that this town has been built on iron ore.

“We’re not giving the mining companies a free pass.”

Tighe O’Donoghue is a production technician in the iron ore industry. He lives overlooking Port Hedland beach with his pregnant partner.

He says if it has been deemed safe for him to work during the day in the industry, it should also be safe to go home to his house overlooking the port at night.

“I’d like to trust the Government has done enough research,” he said.

“Now, that might be a bit naive, but I’d like to believe that the companies have done enough research on the industry.”

Mr O’Donoghue doesn’t plan to sell as part of the buyback. He, like many residents, doesn’t think the Government’s offer is fair.

Many bought in the boom when an unrenovated house sold for more than $1 million on the beachfront.

Despite being in one of the more remote parts of Australia, the rise of property prices in Port Hedland during the peak made it more expensive than real estate in Manhattan.

That’s when long-term Port Hedland resident Rod Brown bought his modest property, hoping to develop the large block looking out over the ocean.

He said if he were to sell his house as part of the three-year buyback, he would go into retirement $500,000 in debt.

The buyback offer is based on 2019 property prices, when the housing market had fallen up to 80 per cent since the boom.

Fred Riebeling, who was appointed as commissioner when Port Hedland’s council was dissolved last year, says while the scheme is the most generous ever put in place in WA, he believes many locals expected more money.

Residents disputing the buyback are concerned that if they don’t agree to sell, the local government is going to force them out anyway by rezoning the area as an industrial precinct.

Mr Riebeling says that is highly likely.

“The hope of the state is that everyone uses the buyback scheme and it becomes an industrial part of Port Hedland,” he said.

But Mr O’Donoghue says he will not be selling.

“I will pursue it to the highest court in the land,” he said.

“You can build around me if you like.

“Have you seen The Castle? It’s pretty much that sort of battle.”

Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landline at 12:30pm on Sunday, or on iview.


Reporter: Sinead Mangan

Videography: Chris Lewis

Photography: Chris Lewis and Alex Hyman

Digital Producer: Daniel Franklin












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