Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Two Pacific news items

1. China is focusing on Japanese war crimes to stir up sentiment in preparation for more direct actions, says Michael Yon. Writing in online magazine Japan Forward, he looks at the WW2 crimes and claims to find much exaggeration and false accusation.

"China is leading a deadly information war. The first target is Japan. The ultimate target is the United States. For more than two years, our research team and I have been warning that a Chinese radicalization program will lead to terrorism against Japanese. These predictions are proving true..."

2. An article on Zero Hedge looks at the effect of low interest rates on the Australian banking sector and warns of multiple bankruptcies:

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

CULTURE: Squaring the love triangle

Imposing a way of life can have terrible consequences. This story has a universal feel to it, about the dangers of trying to dam natural drives:

I well remember an aboriginal couple who were married "Christian way in church". The woman was not aware that the union was a fixed one - not as in the tribe, where the people can become divorced by mutual consent.

The marriage irked her so much that she decided to break it up and take to herself another man of the tribe. Her method was simple and ingenious.

She became the friend of another native man I knew and, unknown to him, used him as a means of arousing her husband to such a jealous madness that he crept upon the man, who he thought was his wife's lover, and killed him with a spear.

I found it all out too late, and even then I could not stop the self-satisfied smile on the real killer's face, as her husband went to jail whilst she returned to her true lover.

From "Life among the aborigines" by W E Harney, Robert Hale, 1957 (pp. 31-32)

Friday, 15 April 2016

SCIENCE: A salute - and solution - to the Australian bush fly

Demonstrating the Aussie wave, aka Australian salute:

Reporting on the experimental use of a virus to control burgeoning numbers of European carp Down Under, the Wall Street Journal lists "five animals that have gone wild in Australia". Four species are also European imports, but the fifth - flies, of the "bush" type that pesters everyone outdoors  - certainly isn't:

"... it's likely the fly got to Australia in an Aboriginal boat, the same way the dingo got here. In that case, the bush fly might have arrived in Australia as long as 45,000 years ago," says Jim Heath in his Seuss-like-titled 1989 book "The Fly In Your Eye"*

Heath explains that the bush fly needs protein to develop its eggs and is quite happy to find it in human tear ducts, noses, saliva and sweat, not to mention blood and raw meat; hence the plague of them at barbecues. As beef farming grew so did the fly population, feeding and breeding on the droppings of Australia's 28 million cattle. At up to 12 cowpats daily per animal, times up to 2,000 larvae per pat, the herds are potentially fostering quadrillions of flies.

Not just bush flies. Initial efforts to control flies focused on agricultural pests such as the blood-sucking buffalo fly and involved chemicals, to which the insects are increasingly becoming immune

So attention turned to biological controls, and this is where the dung-beetle comes in. Dr. George Bornemissza of the Australian CSIRO looked at native beetles and determined that they couldn't cope, so in April 1967 he began a project to import other species:

The first foreign beetles were from Hawaii, released in Queensland on 30 January 1968The dung-beetles disrupt fly-larval development by shredding and burying manure - which also improves soil quality and helps reduce contamination of run-off water, say the Kiwis, who are using the same strategy.

Because of Australia's diverse climate it was originally estimated that 160 different species would be required; in practice, "a total of 53 species were introduced and of these 23 have established," says CSIRO.

Unfortunately these species tend to cease their activity in early spring before the new season's flies begin to arrive, so two more kinds that are active at that time were introduced in 2012 from France and Spain to southern Australia by Dr Bernard Doube. The entomologist has been calling for a $50 million program to introduce 25 additional species, money which he says will multiply into several billions-worth of extra pastural productivity.

The real salute, then is reserved for the dung-beetle:

* Full text and illustrations on-line at:

Thursday, 7 April 2016

How ancient Aboriginal star maps have shaped Australia's highway network

By Robert Fuller (details at foot of post)

The next time you’re driving down a country road in outback Australia, consider there’s a good chance that very route was originally mapped out by Aboriginal people perhaps thousands of years before Europeans came to Australia.

And like today, they turned to the skies to aid their navigation. Except instead of using a GPS network, they used the stars above to help guide their travels.

Aboriginal people have rich astronomical traditions, but we know relatively little about their navigational abilities.

We do know that there was a very well established and extensive network of trade routes in operation before 1788. These were used by Aboriginal people for trading in goods and stories, and the trade routes covered vast distances across the Australian continent.

Star maps

I was researching the astronomical knowledge of the Euahlayi and Kamilaroi Aboriginal peoples of northwest New South Wales in 2013 when I became aware of “star maps” as a means of teaching navigation outside of one’s own local country.

My teacher of this knowledge was Ghillar Michael Anderson, a Euahlayi Culture Man from Goodooga, near the Queensland border. This is where the western plains and the star-filled night sky meet in a seamless and profound display.

Ghillar Michael Anderson and a possible waypoint. Author provided

One night, sitting under those stars in Goodooga, Michael pointed out a pattern of stars to the southeast, and said that they were used to teach Euahlayi travellers how to navigate outside their own country during the summer travel season.

As an astronomer, I immediately realised that those stars were not in the direction of travel that Michael was describing. And anyway, they wouldn’t be visible in the summer, let alone during the day when people would have been travelling.

Michael said that they weren’t used as a map as such, but were used as a memory aid. And in the Aboriginal manner of teaching, he asked me to research this and come back to see if “I had gotten it”.

I did some research, and looked at a route from Goodooga to the Bunya Mountains northwest of Brisbane, where an Aboriginal Bunya nut festival was held every three years until disrupted by European invasion.

It turned out the pattern of stars showed the “waypoints” on the route. These waypoints were usually waterholes or turning places on the landscape. These waypoints were used in a very similar way to navigating with a GPS, where waypoints are also used as stopping or turning points.

Star map route to the Bunya Mountains. Starry Night Education

Stars to songlines

Further discussion revealed the reasons and methods of this technique. In the winter camp, when the summer travel was being planned in August or September, a person who had travelled the intended route was tasked with teaching others, who had not made this journey, how to navigate to the intended destination.

The pattern of stars (the “star map”) was used as a memory aid in teaching the route and the waypoints to the destination. After more research I asked Michael if the method of teaching and memorising was by song, as I was aware that songs are known to be an effective way of memorising a sequence in the oral transmission of knowledge.

Michael said, “you got it!”, and I then understood that the very process of creating, then teaching, such a route resulted in what is known as a songline. A songline is a story that travels over the landscape, which is then imprinted with the song (Aboriginal people will say that the landscape imprints the song).

I then learned that there were many routes/songlines from Goodooga to destinations as far as 700km away, which might end up in a ceremonial place, or possibly a trade “fair”.

One such route to Quilpie, in Queensland, led to a ceremonial place where Arrernte people from north of Alice Springs met the Euahlayi for joint ceremonies.

Their route of travel was more than 1,500km, crossing the Simpson Desert in summer, and I was told that they would have their own star map/songline for learning that route. The implication of this is that the use of star maps for teaching travel may have been common across Australia.

Star map route to the Carnarvon Gorge. Starry Night Education


Another surprising result of this knowledge came about when I was looking at the star map routes from Goodooga to the Bunya Mountains and Carnarvon Gorge in Queensland. When the star map routes were overlaid over the modern road map, there was a significant overlap with major roads in use today.

After some reflection, the reason for this became clear. The first explorers in this region, such as Thomas Mitchell, who explored here in 1845-1846, used Aboriginal people as guides and interpreters, who were likely given directions by local Aborigines.

Carnarvon Gorge and Bunya Mts star maps overlaid on road map. Google Earth

These directions would no doubt reflect the easiest routes to traverse, and these were probably routes already established as songlines. Drovers and settlers coming into the region would have used the same routes, and eventually these became tracks and finally highways.

In a sense, the Aboriginal people of Australia had a big part in the layout of the modern Australian road network. And in some cases, such as the Kamilaroi Highway running from the Hunter Valley to Bourke in NSW, this has been recognised in the name.

Robert will be on hand for an Author Q&A between 3 and 4pm AEST on Thursday, April 7, 2016. Post your questions in the comments section OF THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE - link given below.

The Conversation
Robert S. Fuller, PhD Student Indigenous Cultural Astronomy, UNSW Australia
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.