Aussie anthem doesn’t ring true for all

Our national anthem is back on the playlist and, as always, for the wrong reasons. 

The lyric ‘For we are young and free’ is not being sung by Indigenous Australians, who make the salient point that since they have been around for tens of thousands of years, they can hardly be regarded as adolescent; so obviously only those arriving since 1788 or later can be part of the celebrations.

So a small change is being mooted. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian suggests that substituting the word “one” would help boost our anthem up the charts. Others prefer “strong”.

And naturally, there are the usual troglodytes. Senator Matt Canavan, emerging briefly from his coal pit, is outraged; any such censorship would be an insult to his ancestors, he huffs. Presumably, they never left infancy, Canavan’s intellectual acme.

The NSW Premier’s idea would certainly be an improvement, but a pretty minor one. The problems with our anthem cannot be fixed with a single word. They go back to its inception when it was chosen not by general acclamation but as a fallback, a least-worst option after the rest had failed.

And, of course, it was all the fault of the terrible Government of Gough Whitlam. Well, before assuming office, he had promised to ditch ‘God Save the Queenand gives us an anthem of our own — not one we had to share with our imperial masters.

So, he inaugurated a national competition; anyone could enter and the winning entry would become a farewell to embarking soldiers, a fanfare for international sporting events and a celebration for Olympic Games gold medallists — not to mention something to be played when he arrived at official functions, which he rather enjoyed.

But in 1974, the contest had to be abandoned because no entry could be found that would not evoke embarrassment and derision. One losing entrant, Bob Ellis, complained that the problem was that the only rhyme for Australia was “failure”.

I reassured him there were plenty of others and proffered a poignant ditty:

“Australia, you’re not a failure, wherever there’s azalea to espalier.

In your regalia, bright as a dahlia. We’ll hail you, not bewail you, our Australia.”

A more ambitious effort might have incorporated: inter alia, paraphernalia, echolalia, Saturnalia and of course, genitalia. I wasn’t game to try former Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu, but of course, we now have Senator Michaelia Cash – an embarrassment of poetic riches – as well as political embarrassment.

However, Whitlam’s team decided on the pedestrian course of offering a set of three existing melodies, the kind of multiple-choice provided by cheap quiz shows. We could tick Advance Australia Fair‘, Waltzing Matilda or The Song of Australia‘. And in the poll that followed, ‘Advance Australia’ nudged out ‘Waltzing Matilda’ with doleful ‘The Song of Australia’ nowhere.

And so, our anthem was enshrined. But it was never embraced. Reactionary Anglophiles still insisted on intoning ‘God Save the Queen’.  And those who thought the whole idea was to get away from the mother country felt there was still work to do before we could call it a clean break.

The original second verse of our new anthem went:

‘When gallant Cook from Albion sailed, to trace wide oceans o’er,

True British courage bore him on, till he landed on our shore. 
Then here he raised Old England’s flag, the standard of the brave;
“With all her faults we love her still Britannia rules the wave.”’

This anglogrovel has mercifully been suppressed, but what is left can hardly be called inspiring.

However, we were stuck with it and remain so. And at least, its supporters maintain, the music is not too awful — suitably martial when needed, which was surely the point of the exercise.

And indeed it is. Anthems are supposed to be triumphant, claiming national superiority, assertions that they have defeated all opposition. There are always hints of a victory over unpleasant and unworthy foreigners or at times internal subversives. They are, to put it mildly, seldom welcoming.

The United States’ anthem is actually set on a battlefield and is frequently complemented with appropriate sound effects. The French gloat about watering their fields with the impure blood of their adversaries. The Germans simply declare that they are the best at everything.

The British want to be victorious and have worked out the tactics to defeat their enemies: ‘Confound their politics, frustrate their knavish tricks’. South Africans will fight for freedom and even little old New Zealand offers a plea for divine protection. Wherever, it is about winning — beating down and beating off the rest of the world.

The contest of popularity between our national anthem and national song

So perhaps, dare I say it, we can grow up a bit and realise that as the world becomes smaller, as the old prejudices, racial and ethnic feuds and vendettas diminish, it is time to consign the jingoists to their use-by dates and celebrate the common heritage of humankind.

Rather than just tweaking a word here or there, junk the whole bloody thing. And while we’re at it, forget about the endless debate over our flag and furl it forever.

If we really need a symbol to tell the world who we are, we don’t need anthems and flags — a national song, to be strummed on appropriate occasions, more often festive than official, will be more than sufficient. The obvious candidate is We Are Australian‘ — a trifle kitsch, but wonderfully inclusive.

And of course, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ is much loved and far more widely recognised than ‘Advance Australia Fair’ will ever be. Bring back the swagman’s ghost. Or in time, perhaps we could learn one of the great song chants from one of our many Indigenous languages.

It will never happen of course; the pompous and the hidebound would never allow it, they would see it as a serious slide in status for what they still regard as our young nation — always punching above its weight, determined to move another couple of notches up the international league table.

So, we will just have to muddle and mumble along with ‘Advance Australia Fair’, while always realising it is no more than a default solution.


Mungo MacCallum is a veteran journalist who worked for many years in the Canberra Press Gallery.



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Changing the culture and facing the true cost of war

Australians will be disheartened by the inspector-general of the Australian Defence Force’s report on war crimes committed by our special forces soldiers in Afghanistan. But they should not be surprised.

The demands placed upon the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) and Commando Regiment have stretched our soldiers to the point where some have failed themselves, each other and the Anzac tradition. They may not deserve our sympathy, but we do need to understand what brought them to this point.

Specifically, we need to consider if these crimes are an aberration or part of a systemic cultural problem in how the Australian Army trains, debriefs, deploys and then redeploys special forces soldiers in war zones.  

Importantly, the SASR badly needs to examine how it relates to the Australian Army, of which it is a part.

Selected for relentless ‘kill and capture’ missions

In Afghanistan, special forces soldiers were fighting a war within a war. Selected through recruitment courses to stand out and stand alone, the SASR distinguished itself — even from the commandos who shared the burden of Australia’s war-fighting missions.

Drawing on a few hundred soldiers and two units from an army of tens of thousands, only a small body of troops was selected for relentless “kill and capture” missions of Taliban militants.

They fought with the constant reality of potential death or maiming through close-quarter combat, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and “green on blue” attacks by Afghan allies. Special forces saw the very worst of their enemy and eventually of each other.

Other Australian service personnel were constrained by strict rules of engagement in projects ranging from school construction to counter-intelligence operations to building trust with local warlords. Meanwhile, SASR and 2nd Commando Regiment returned again and again to combat. This likely desensitised, then dehumanised, some of the soldiers.

The army command offered too little by way of integration of SASR and 2nd Commando with other units. SASR even demarcated its own compound within the confines of the larger Tarin Kowt base.

There was also inadequate rotation away from the battlefield, and no significant or complementary support from other units (such as regular infantry battalions). There was no mandatory rest and renewal for soldiers who might thrive on operational adrenalin, but at a long-term cost to their physical and mental health.

‘Throwdowns’ and ‘blooding’ in a ‘warrior culture’

The redacted findings in Justice Paul Brereton’s report are painful in their detail and damning in their conclusions. It finds special forces personnel unlawfully killed 39 non-combatants – prisoners, farmers, civilians – between 2009 and 2013. The report also recommends 36 matters to the AFP for criminal investigation.

The report found “credible information” about two practices that make for particularly distressing reading. The first is a “throwdown”, which involved soldiers planting equipment on bodies.

The report says:

‘This practice probably originated for the less egregious though still dishonest purpose of avoiding scrutiny where a person who was legitimately engaged turned out not to be armed. But it evolved to be used for the purpose of concealing deliberate unlawful killings.’

Second, is the practice of “blooding”, where unit commanders encouraged junior soldiers to execute unarmed prisoners as their first “kill”.

‘Typically, the patrol commander would take a person under control and the junior member would then be directed to kill the person under control. “Throwdowns” would be placed with the body, and a “cover story” was created for the purposes of operational reporting and to deflect scrutiny. This was reinforced with a code of silence.’

Chief of Defence Force General Angus Campbell accepted all 143 recommendations from the Inspector-General’s report. He acknowledged the findings were a “bitter blow” to the morale and prestige of the ADF.

What to make of it all?

Beyond reputational damage, defence needs to undergo a rehabilitation of culture. This includes organisational deficiencies, which Campbell acknowledged extended beyond special forces and into the wider organisation.

Among a toxic competitiveness between SASR and 2 Commando, which he termed a “disgrace”, Campbell acknowledged a “reckless indifference” to the rules of war among junior commanders at unit level, sanitised and misleading reporting, and inadequate oversight from operational command, among a systemic failure of unit and higher command.

In defending the need for special forces capability, he stressed ongoing reform within SASR. This included disbanding an SASR squadron which, he argued, bore “collective responsibility” for unlawful unit culture.

He noted measures to strengthen ethical standards and enhanced levels of oversight and governance across the army.

The winding down of operations in Afghanistan and changes in serving personnel might offer special forces a chance for cultural change.

But long history suggests issues of character and culture are a tough nut to crack.

Perhaps unlike any other institution in contemporary Australian society beyond the priesthood, the military is distinctive in recruiting young, with virtually no external points of entry or cultural comparison until retirement.

Defence assumes, as it must given the reality of constant unit rotation, an equivalence of character and capacity based largely on military rank and duties.

In Afghanistan, the influence of some warrant and non-commissioned officers over more junior ranks, as well as the (often younger and less experienced) officers who were ostensibly their superiors, promoted a dysfunctional and finally criminal culture that unit or higher command never confronted or challenged. Beyond mere negligence, such an obvious ethical failing in an organisation that relies on an explicit chain of “command and control” is unforgivable.

Improving SAS culture is no quick fix

In the closed culture embraced by the special forces and enabled by army leadership, a lack of objectivity was always at risk: the soldier to your left was at once your therapist, emotional crutch, brother-in-arms and (oftentimes damaged) arbiter of right and wrong.

But this type of role demands a clear, fully formed moral compass and a constant measure of external regulation.

As a series of Department of Defence inquiries over decades make clear, cultural change requires unending toil. The Australian Army is in constant flux; it changes with every intake of young soldiers who will eventually sign on for special forces training.

Good culture requires many things, among them:

  • an unrelenting clarity and consistency of expectation in matters large and small;
  • constant internal and external review of practice;
  • a willingness to accept that so-called “troublemakers” are often in fact “truth-tellers” who need to be protected, and indeed honoured, as agents of change;
  • better training of soldiers in the ethical demands and responsibilities of “lawful violence”; and
  • counselling and psychological support both during and after operations.

All of this requires more than just recommendations in a report; it requires unbending political and institutional will and close scrutiny of organisational leadership.

Assange, Collaery, Snowden, Smethurst: criminalising truth

Scrutiny of those at the top matters, too

Some army leaders are to be commended for their willingness to drill down into SAS culture with an eye to change. However, it was the courage of Australian journalists and SAS and commando whistle-blowers — not the actions of politicians or army leaders — that pushed these alleged crimes into the national conscience.

If military honours are to be stripped from soldiers, a thorough examination of unit command and delegated authority is vital, extending to the very top. This includes the actions of those highly decorated senior officers who provided command during the Afghanistan campaign.

Over the past few decades, a strong orthodoxy has evolved, wrapped in the mystique of “Anzac” nationalism, that any criticism of the ADF is taboo. This has served as a convenient cloak to obviate harsh public examination of everything from politically driven procurement deals to massive spending overruns.

But, in choosing to investigate and possibly prosecute alleged war crimes, Australia is stepping out onto ground resisted by our “Five Eyes” allies, who have avoided similar interrogation of their own special forces.

T.S. Elliot long ago observed that humanity could not ‘bear very much reality’. By definition, fighting wars is a murderous business. Beyond apportioning blame, or any new recommendations on how to change the culture of our special forces, we have the chance to reflect on the painful truths of war.

Now is also the time to reflect carefully on what we ask of, and how we best support, those soldiers who serve in our name.

How many Arabs have we killed?

Dr Damian Powell is a historian and principal at Janet Clarke Hall, University of Melbourne. This article was originally published by ‘The Conversation’ under the title ‘Changing the culture of our SAS forces is no easy fix. Instead, we need to face the true costs of war’.

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| The Resurrection of Father Earth and the Return of True Partnership Between Men and WomenTalking About Men’s Health™

I was introduced to Father Earth in 1993 and wrote about my experience in an article, “The Resurrection of Father Earth and the Return of True Partnership Between Men and Women.” Since then my life has never been the same. When Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run With The Wolves, offered her poem, chills ran down my spine and a feeling of homecoming stirred in me. The first line, “There is a two-million-year-old man no one knows,” awakened an ancient connection that I thought had been reserved for women only.

What would it mean if the Earth was masculine and not feminine? The thought was intriguing. But the last lines of the poem offered an even more exciting possibility. “He has laid upon his two-million-year-old woman all this time, protecting her with his old back, with his old scarred back. And the soil beneath her is fertile and black with her tears.” Estes offers a vision of the Earth being neither feminine nor masculine, but feminine and masculine, a true partnership.

At a time when there is so much conflict in the world and so much separation, there is definitely a need to bring us together. As cultural historian Thomas Berry reminds us,

“The natural world is the largest sacred community to which we belong. To be alienated from this community is to become destitute in all that makes us human. To damage this community is to diminish our own existence.”

In the research I did for my book, 12 Rules for Good Men, I learned that males and females share a long evolutionary history. In their book, The Universe Story, Thomas Berry and cosmologist, Brian Swimme say that one billion years ago, a momentous change occurred. Rather than life in the ancient seas being propagated by a single-cell organism splitting into two identical sister cells, for the first time, a male sperm cell and a female egg cell were created, touched, and shared their DNA. The mystery of sexual reproduction came into existence and has been going strong ever since.

In order to understand the New Partnership Revolution, we have to go back to the evolutionary arrival of the first humans. In their book, Our Human Story, Louise Humphrey and Chris Stringer, researchers at the London’s Natural History Museum, they say that our human ancestry goes back at least two million years to the time of Homo habilis (Handy man). Our human ancestors lived lightly on the land, hunting and gathering, until approximately ten thousand years ago when we began to domesticate plants and animals.

It has been common to view our earlier ancestors as “primitives” and our more recent ancestors as “civilized.” The 17th century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, imagining our ancestral life-styles famously wrote, “No arts; no letters; no society; and worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Human life since the advent of agriculture has been viewed as one of continual progress and improvement. Yet, an objective view of the last 10,000 years is clearly not all positive. Anthropologist and historian, Jared Diamond, wrote an essay in 1999 titled, “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race.” Diamond wrote:

“To science we owe dramatic changes in our smug self-image. Astronomy taught us that our earth isn’t the center of the universe but merely one of billions of heavenly bodies. From biology we learned that we weren’t specially created by God but evolved along with millions of other species. Now archaeology is demolishing another sacred belief: that human history over the past million years has been a long tale of progress. In particular, recent discoveries suggest that the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered. With agriculture came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism, that curse our existence.”

It’s becoming increasingly clear that what we have euphemistically called “civilization” has offered many benefits—more humans living longer lives and a host of technological innovations–but the drawbacks have outweighed the benefits and we can no longer continue on our present path. The global climate crisis was one wake up call. The Coronavirus may be our final call to change our ways. We can’t go back to the past, but we can go back to the future and bring the new Partnership Revolution into being.

We are out of balance with the laws of nature. Historian of religions, Thomas Berry addresses our current reality directly.

“We never knew enough. Nor were we sufficiently intimate with all our cousins in the great family of the earth. Nor could we listen to the various creatures of the earth, each telling its own story. The time has now come, however, when we will listen or we will die.” 

There is no one I know who has been listening longer, or offering more creative solutions, than Dr. Riane Eisler, President of the Center for Partnership Studies. I met Riane shortly after the publication of her 1987 best-seller, The Chalice & the Blade: Our History Our Future. In this groundbreaking book she describes two alternate possibilities for humankind:

“The first, which I call the dominator model, is what is popularly termed either patriarchy or matriarchy—the ranking of one half of humanity over the other. The second, in which social relations are primarily based on the principle of linking rather than ranking, may be best described as a partnership model.”

In her recent book, Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future, written with peace anthropologist Douglas Fry, they demonstrate that for more than 99% of human history our ancestors lived with the following partnership practices:

  1. Overall egalitarianism.
  2. Equality, respect, and partnership between women and men.
  3. Nonacceptance of violence, war, abuse, cruelty, and exploitation.
  4. Ethics that support human caring and prosocial cooperation.

It was only in the last 10,000 years that humans settled in one place, developed surpluses that needed to be stored and defended and “civilization” or more accurately, “dominator culture” began to spread throughout the world through violence and war. Anthropologist Stanley Diamond describes our hunter-gatherer ancestors as “conscripts to civilization, not volunteers.”

As Eisler identified, unlike partnership values, dominator practices include the following:

  1. Top-down authoritarian rule in both the family and society.
  2. The subordination of women to men and greater valuing of stereotypically “masculine” traits and activities.
  3. A high degree of institutionalized violence, from wife and child beating to warfare and terrorism, as fear and force ultimately maintain domination.
  4. The belief that rankings and domination are divinely or naturally ordained and that the threat or use of violence to impose or maintain them is normal and moral.

Although our roots are in partnership, humans are also quite capable of domination. We are at a crossroad in human history. Our only hope for survival is through Partnerism, yet we seem addicted to domination. How do we resolve the dilemma? There is a Native American parable that offers guidance.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Like the grandfather in the story, we all hold the seeds of partnership and domination inside us. It does no good to look for enemies “out there” or to blame “them” for the mess we are in. As the comic strip character, Pogo, remarked, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The real question we must each answer is do we feed the wolf of partnership within us or the wolf of domination? The choice is ours.

I often get guidance and solace from Pema Chödrön, an American Buddhist nun in the lineage of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. In her book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times she offers words which seem just right for these times.

“Look at your mind. Be curious. Welcome groundlessness. Lighten up and relax. Offer chaos a cup of tea. Let go of ‘us and ‘them.’ Don’t turn away. Everything you do and think affects everyone else on the planet. Let the pain of the world touch you and cause your compassion to blossom. And never give up on yourself.”

I look forward to your comments. You can read more of my work here.

Image by beate bachmann from Pixabay 

This article first appeared on Jed’s blog.

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On 100th anniversary of Qantas, Longreach, Winton and Cloncurry all claim to be airline’s true home

It started as a dream to link outback towns by air and grew into a global icon, flying more than 50 million passengers a year around the world.

Over the past century, the legacy of Qantas has grown to become much more than an airline — the flying kangaroo is now a globally recognised brand.

Today, 100 years since the airline was founded in western Queensland, a good-natured outback rivalry over the story of the airline’s formation shows no signs of losing breath, as three towns lay claim to being the birthplace of Qantas.

Longreach, Cloncurry and Winton — located in the state’s remote outback — each say they are the true home of the national carrier.

“It’s a very proud western Queensland story that couldn’t have happened anywhere else,” said Jeff Close, an amateur historian from the town of Winton, 1,300 kilometres north-west of Brisbane.

Jeff Close is so passionate about Winton’s role in the Qantas story, he wrote a play about the airline for its 90th anniversary in 2010.(ABC Southern Queensland: Nathan Morris)

Dream springs from Cloncurry riverbed

A century ago, on November 16, 1920, Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited was registered.

Its co-founders, Sir Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness, had wanted to establish an airline to alleviate the tyranny of distance facing residents living in Australia’s outback.

A black and white archive photo of two men in pilot uniforms.
Sir Hudson Fysh (left) and Paul McGinness (right) wanted to create an airline to connect outback towns.(Supplied: Qantas Founders Museum)

“We go with what Sir Hudson Fysh himself said,” Mr Close said.

In 1919, then prime minister Billy Hughes announced a prize of 10,000 British pounds for a Great Air Race for Australians who wanted to fly home from Great Britain after World War I.

Fysh and McGinness were tasked with surveying possible aircraft landing strips across western Queensland and the Northern Territory.

As they travelled over rough terrain from Longreach to Darwin in a Ford Model T, at an average speed of 25 kilometres per day, the pair hatched a plan to establish an air service connecting remote communities.

A black and white archive photo of three men standing in front of a Model T Ford in 1919.
Paul McGinness (centre) and Sir Hudson Fysh (right) were in outback Queensland preparing for the Great Air Race in 1919 when they devised a plan to establish an airline.(Supplied: Qantas Founders Museum)

But according to Hamish Griffin, a Cloncurry resident and advocate for cheaper regional airfares, it was in the dry riverbed of the Cloncurry River that the idea really gained traction.

“If people really, really do a deep dive into the story of how it came about, they would really know that Cloncurry was definitely the founding place of Qantas,” Mr Griffin said.

In December 1919, McGinness came to the aid of a wealthy grazier whose car had broken down in the riverbed.

They formed a friendship and the grazier, Fergus McMaster, agreed to financially back the plans for an airline.

An archival black and white photo of a Model T Ford crossing a river bed in 1919.
It was in the near-dry riverbed of the Cloncurry River that Qantas co-founder Paul McGinness met grazier Fergus McMaster, who went on to financially back the airline.(Supplied: Qantas Founders Museum)

Early moneymen hail from Winton

But Mr Close says it was 347 kilometres away in Winton, to the south-east of Cloncurry, that Qantas really took flight.

“Winton really is and was the mover and shaker as … the early money mainly came from Winton,” Mr Close said.

He said five of the company’s eight original shareholders were from Winton.

The outside of an RSL in a country town surrounded by gum trees on a sunny day. Two signs say "Winton Club".
The Winton Club, site of the airline’s first board meeting in 1921.(ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds)
Model airplanes hang from the air above a bar with fridges and bottles of alcohol in a country town pub.
The Winton Club is filled with Qantas memorabilia.(ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds)

“They put the money up and got it going,” Mr Close said.

The airline’s first board meeting was held at the Winton Club on February 10, 1921.

The club is still there today, proudly displaying the company’s original articles of association, which list Winton as the airline’s headquarters.

Mr Close feels so strongly about Winton’s role in the airline’s story, he wrote a play about Qantas and performed it at the Winton Club on the airline’s 90th anniversary.

Next year he plans on putting on another play, to recreate the first board meeting in the room it took place in a century earlier.

Longreach becomes airline’s home

A decision was made at that meeting to move operations to Longreach, for logistical reasons.

The town is now home to the Qantas Founders Museum, where visitors can tour significant aircraft including the Super Constellation, the first pressurised plane, and the first jet aircraft the airline owned — the Boeing 707-138 VH-EBA, named “City of Canberra”.

A black and white archive photo of two men building a small aeroplane in a hangar.
A DH-50 fuselage under construction in the Longreach hangar circa 1926.(Supplied: Qantas Founders Museum)

“Longreach had the rail head, the major services came into Longreach, the railway stopped here,” said Tony Martin, the museum’s CEO.

The hangar built in 1922 to house the planes is now a national heritage-listed site.

It’s the oldest civil aviation building in Australia.

“It’s the place where the airline began its operations,” Mr Martin said.

“How exciting is that?”

A close-up of a silver and red propeller plane in an old aviation hangar that says "Q.A.N.T.A.S Ltd Longreach" on the fuselage.
Qantas built seven DH-50 planes in the Longreach hangar from 1926 to 1929.(ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds)

Qantas is ‘Vegemite, thongs … it’s home’

A century on, the residents of Cloncurry, Winton and Longreach still like to wind each other up about which town can really claim to be the birthplace of Qantas.

Mr Griffin said that because the museum was located in Longreach, it could be “forgiven” for portraying itself as the birthplace of the airline.

But he said, with a wry smile, the record needed to be set straight.

A Boeing 747 and an older, smaller airplane sit in an outdoor display under an enormous roof.
The Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach is home to some of the airline’s most iconic planes.(ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds)

Mr Close said the three towns squabbled over the airline’s history like siblings.

With a grin, Mr Martin admitted he could be guilty of stoking the “great friendly rivalry” between the towns.

“If I could say to our neighbouring towns, I guess Longreach, like Qantas, had the vision to tell the story here,” he said.

A man in a white shirt with his arms crossed stands inside an old aviation hangar and looks at a red and silver propeller plane.
Tony Martin admires the four-passenger De Havilland DH-50, the first purpose-designed airliner used by Qantas.(ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds)

But, all jokes aside, he said the airline’s 100th anniversary was a chance to celebrate one of western Queensland’s greatest exports.

“For us to be part of a story that’s 100 years old, and is such a global story…,” he said.

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Revealing The True Scale Of The Reptile Trade

AsianScientist (Nov. 9, 2020) – While we occasionally hear about the poaching of rhinos and elephants in the news, these animals are far from the only species being illegally exploited. According to a Thai-Chinese team, almost 4,000 of all known reptile species are being traded online with little international regulation. Their findings were published in Nature Communications.

For most of us, the word ‘pet’ likely conjures up images of a cuddly dog or cat. In certain parts of the world, however, reptiles like snakes and lizards are increasingly popular pets. With their exotic appeal and relative ease of care, reptiles are ideal for pet owners living in urban areas with limited space and access to the outdoors.

Unlike dogs and cats, however, many pet reptiles are not bred in captivity. Instead, they are snatched from the wild, contributing to the ongoing biodiversity crisis. Moreover, reptiles are consistently overlooked by world trade regulations. Though the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was created in 1973 to protect endangered wildlife by banning and limiting their trade, its regulations primarily cover only charismatic, high-value species. Thus, thousands of traded reptiles remain largely unmonitored.

To address this gap, a combined team of researchers from Thailand’s Suranaree University of Technology and China’s Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) scoured online data from two international trade databases and 24,000 web pages covering 151 reptile retailers. For the latter, the researchers used an algorithm to scrape information associated with 11,000 known reptile species in five languages: English, German, Spanish, French and Japanese. The team’s analyses revealed several insights about the state of reptilian trade.

Between 2000 and 2019, almost 4,000 reptile species were being sold online, amounting to over 36 percent of all known species. They also found that nearly 80 percent of traded species were not covered by CITES regulations. Without CITES protection, these species can more or less be freely traded. Worryingly, about 90 percent of traded reptile species and half of the traded individuals were obtained from the wild. When the team mapped the origins of these species—many of which were either endangered or range-restricted—they found that they were mostly concentrated in Asia.

As a testament to the demand for rare and exotic pets, the authors also found that at least 133 newly discovered species were already being sold shortly after being described to science. This meant that online sellers were actively using species descriptions to locate and capture the newfound reptiles.

Alarming as they might be, the team’s findings are likely to be an underestimate of the true scale of reptile trade. Further research efforts could therefore consider including more languages in their analyses, as well, scraping private reptile trade groups on social media platforms for data.

In the meantime, they suggest reversing the status quo in reptile trade practices. Instead of allowing species to be freely traded until given CITES protection, trade should be banned by default. Only species listed by CITES should be legally traded. Until then, the authors emphasized that current regulations will continue to fail reptiles.

“If we fail to mitigate the impacts of unregulated, but legal trade, small-ranged and endemic species may be the next victims of the ongoing biodiversity crisis,” said corresponding author Dr. Alice Hughes from XTBG.

The article can be found at: Marshall et al. (2020) Thousands of Reptile Species Threatened by Under-regulated Global Trade.


Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences; Photo: Fukayamamo/Unsplash.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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It’s still true: Not all the news about COVID-19 is bad

I thought the pandemic would be over by now. And I’m not alone; there were sophisticated models predicting a dramatic drop in the number of infections by the summer. And while there was understandable worry about the second wave, re-infection, and the coming flu season, there was good reason to believe we’d have the worst of the first wave well behind us.

Now, that all seems like wishful thinking. Here we are, over nine months into the pandemic, with more than 224,000 deaths, and more than 70,000 new cases and 800 deaths every day in this country as of late October. There are new hot spots popping up in the US and all over the world. Herd immunity, whether due to infection or vaccination, is still many months or even years away — if it happens at all. Despite these challenges, we do have some good news.

Good news about COVID-19: my top 5 list

It’s easy to miss some positive developments about how the fight against this pandemic is going, given all the gloomy news. Here’s my perspective on five important ones.

  1. Soon after its appearance, researchers identified the viral cause of COVID-19, mapped its genome, and tracked its spread.

For a virus that was unknown less than a year ago, all of these things happened quickly because of the dedication and cooperation of scientists and public health officials around the world. Imagine how things would be right now if we still did not know the cause of this terrible disease, and had no idea where it was spreading.

  1. We now have good evidence that face coverings and physical distancing work.

Although recommendations to wear masks or other face coverings and to maintain physical distance were first made many months ago, a compelling scientific case to support these recommendations has been published only recently. Studies of the effectiveness of these measures (such as this, this, and this) make it difficult to justify not following these recommendations.

  1. There is increasing evidence that testing and contact tracing work.

Recognizing that there are formidable challenges and barriers to widespread implementation of these measures, we’ve seen better containment in places where testing and contact tracing are routine (such as New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore). And it seems likely that at some point we’ll have new and better tests with improved accuracy, more widespread availability (including home testing), and faster turnaround times.

  1. The care of patients with COVID-19 has improved from the early days of the pandemic.

This may account for reports of lower rates of death among the sickest people with COVID-19. Increased testing, detection of more asymptomatic cases, and more patients in younger age groups may also be contributing to improving numbers. Still, supportive care (such as “proning” patients), certain medications (such as dexamethasone and the recently approved remdesivir), and more experience with this infection have likely improved outcomes overall. Importantly, we have also identified ineffective treatments (such as hydroxychloroquine — see here, here, and here for studies), so that we can avoid those that are unnecessary and potentially harmful.

  1. A number of vaccines have been developed, and large-scale trials are on track to determine which are safe and effective.

Again, this has happened at unprecedented speed. Multiple companies are working on different vaccine candidates. Manufacturing of some leading candidates is already happening, and officials are making plans to distribute millions of vaccine doses in the coming months. While there is no guarantee that any of the vaccines in the pipeline will be successful, these developments increase the chances that we’ll have an effective vaccine sooner than later.

It’s worth emphasizing that there are major concerns about the safety of moving so fast, a lack of transparency about trial data, and the possibility of politics influencing the process, all of which could promote a reluctance to be vaccinated. Still, it seems better that this effort is under way, rather than having to wait years for a potential vaccine to be approved.

The bottom line

Plenty about how our country has responded to the pandemic could — and should — have gone better. But things would be even worse if not for the items on this list.

If we all do our part in the fight against COVID-19, good news should become easier to find. Maybe that’s already happening: some places have been able to contain or nearly eliminate COVID-19, at least temporarily. And toilet paper is back on the store shelves.

Follow me on Twitter @RobShmerling

For more information on COVID-19, see the Harvard Health Coronavirus Resource Center.

The post It’s still true: Not all the news about COVID-19 is bad appeared first on Harvard Health Blog.

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NBC’s Savannah Guthrie Interrupts To Fact-Check President Trump: ‘Just Frankly Not True’

As the broadcast and cable news networks continued their Election Night coverage into the early hours of Wednesday, NBC carried live remarks from President Trump, as the network had with his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. But NBC’s Savannah Guthrie was not willing to let the president say anything on a night marked by complicated, confusing and slow—but not unexpected—vote counting in several key battleground states.

 “We’re listening to the President speaking at the White House,” Guthrie told viewers just before 2:30 a.m. ET, “but we’ve got to dip in here because there have been several statements that are just frankly not true.”

Trump, speaking in the East Room of the White House, said “we won in states we didn’t expect to win,” and again—without evidence—suggested that voter fraud threatened to steal away his victory, adding that he intended to take his complaints to the Supreme Court.

It’s exceptionally rare for network anchors to interrupt a president during remarks like this—as opposed to a speech given at a campaign rally, for instance—but Guthrie, who was credited by many for giving Mr. Trump a tough interview at a town hall meeting in Miami last month, stepped in.

“The President going through some of the states, stating that he has prevailed in those states, naming Georgia, saying they’re winning Georgia — or that they won Georgia, ‘there’s no way they’ll catch us, that they’re winning Pennsylvania, won Michigan.’ The fact of the matter is those states have not come close to counting all of their vote. There’s still outstanding vote.”

The decision to interrupt the president highlights the stakes for the networks, faced with a president who tends to spin without regard for the truth and an election that, without clear focus on what’s entirely expected—and totally normal—and what is not.

NBC followed the president’s live remarks with analysis that detailed precisely how what Mr. Trump had said was not, in fact, what had happened so far in the election.

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National Archives spent $1m in legal fees to keep ‘Palace letters’ secret, but true cost will be higher

The head of the National Archives of Australia has revealed more than $1 million was spent in legal fees as the Government fought to keep correspondence between former governor-general Sir John Kerr and the Queen a secret.

The ‘Palace letters’ were released earlier this year after the High Court ordered the Archives to reconsider a request from historian Jenny Hocking that they be made public.

The correspondence spans several years of John Kerr’s tenure as governor-general, including his 1975 dismissal of prime minister Gough Whitlam.

Professor Hocking had spent years wrangling with the Archives, arguing for their release.

Fronting Senate Estimates today, the Archives’ director-general David Fricker said more than $1 million in taxpayer money had been spent defending the original decision to block access to the letters.

“As at the 30th of June 2020, the total, we’ve totalled up all of the legal fees and costs that we have incurred for the Hocking case, and it totals a bit over $1 million,” he said.

“The majority was incurred by the National Archives, some costs were incurred by the Attorney-General’s Department.”

The cost of keeping letters between Sir John Kerr and the Queen secret has been revealed.(National Archives)

The High Court also made cost orders against the Commonwealth, requiring it to pay Professor Hocking’s legal fees.

But Mr Fricker said it was not yet clear how much more that would cost taxpayers.

“We haven’t received advice about what the costs will be,” he said.

He agreed with senator Rex Patrick’s suggestion that “the number’s going to go up”, referring to the total cost to the taxpayer.

Professor Hocking said she expected the total cost to the Commonwealth to increase by hundreds of thousands of dollars more.

“The High Court also made three cost orders against the National Archives and those cost orders were that the archives pay our costs all the way back to the Federal Court,” she said.

“There are obviously extremely significant additional costs … which need to be added to that figure.

She said that was a “staggering” cost for access to important documents.

“What it does, I think, is raise real questions about the priorities of the Archives,” Professor Hocking said.

“This is a staggering amount of public money to access really critical documents in our history.”

A letter from the Queen's secretary to Sir John Kerr starts 'my dear governor general'.
The Palace letters were released in July after a High Court decision ruled they were Commonwealth records.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

Access to the letters, written between 1974 and 1977, had been blocked as they had been deemed personal papers, but the High Court found in May that they were in fact Commonwealth records.

Mr Fricker told Senate Estimates his decisions had at all times been supported by legal advice.

Before the release of the letters, speculation had swirled for years over the Queen’s role in Sir John’s decision to remove Gough Whitlam as prime minister and install Malcolm Fraser in his place.

A woman wearing glasses.
Professor Jenny Hocking won a High Court fight for access to the letters.(AAP: Peter Rae)

The letters confirmed Sir John did not provide the Queen with advance knowledge of the dismissal, but wrote to Buckingham Palace on the day of the dismissal to explain himself.

“I should say that I decided to take the step I took without informing the Palace in advance because, under the Constitution, the responsibility is mine and I was of the opinion that it was better for Her Majesty not to know in advance,” he wrote on November 11, 1975.

But Professor Hocking said it raised further concerns about the close communication between the governor-general and the Queen.

“They’ve really shown people that there’s been an engagement by the Palace, by the Queen’s private secretary, with the governor-general on matters that are intensely political,” she said.

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