from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Delta Variant Escapes and a Cat is Trapped.

26 July, 2021.

Australia continues to lag behind in the vaccination stakes. Only 14 percent of us are fully vaccinated or 11% if you count the kids.

This level of vaccination is low if you are facing the spread of the Delta variant, as we are. Delta is establishing itself in the western and south-western communities of Sydney, faster than the contact tracers can follow.

It’s hard to gather the exact story of how, once again, Covid-19 managed to slip through all protective systems in place. This time it involved a case of three furniture removalists from Western Sydney who delivered to Melbourne – did not wear masks – and then travelled on to South Australia to deliver more furniture. Continuing mask-less.

I am not sure at what stage they realised they were infectious, but they were, and infected a few others in Melbourne who went on to infect many others. Some people are saying that Delta should be treated as a new virus, it is so very infectious. Last night’s news was that a 30-year-old has died in Sydney. Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, is looking more and more frustrated at each news conference as she announces that the numbers are not going down and the numbers of new cases who travelled around, infectious in the community, remains high.

There are cases in Victoria – a much smaller number, under 20, – and we, in South Australia, have locked down due to the threat of cases. We are tracking at 1-3 a day – but not active in the community. Close-contact Adelaide families have been put in medi-hotels in anticipation of the whole family being infected.

Of course, the borders have closed to and from NSW, South Australia and Victoria. Only Queensland, Western Australian and the Northern Territory are open to one another. New Zealand has shut down the travel bubble with Australia.

With the rise of fear over this Delta variant, and the economic impact on business, the relationship between the states has broken down with unseemly bickering. Gladys Berejiklian, Premier of NSW, made an impassioned plea in their ‘national emergency’ for help from other states. She asked for Pfizer vaccines to be rushed to NSW’s hotspots. The Premier wanted younger essential workers in SW Sydney to get vaccinated. She argued that this was in the interest of all of Australia.

Other states would have none of it. Some were more polite than others. Premier Andrews of Victoria was not one of the polite ones. ‘It’s not my problem to get the pubs open in NSW’. Worrying about pubs seems to be a very Australian response. Instead, Andrews argued for a ‘ring of steel’ to be placed around Sydney. If it was a ‘national emergency’ as Gladys had argued, then it was a ‘national responsibility that Sydneysiders are locked into Sydney’. Not much compassion there.

A moderate solution was found. 90,000 extra doses per week will head to Sydney, courtesy of the Federal government’s stockpile. They are also saying that the interval between 1st and 2nd Pfizer doses should be increased.

Meanwhile, our PM Morrison is trying to get the Astra Zeneca vaccine to be more widely recommended (‘reconsider the balance of risk’) in Australia. This must be done through our ATAGI advisory body. Morrison argued that circumstances had changed with the arrival of the Delta variant. But ATAGI would have none of this, nor would the Labor opposition, who are taking every opportunity to say that THEY would have made NO mistakes. Somehow, Labor would have found a reliable crystal ball and wisely foreseen the challenges of these last 18 months.    

One thing we have realised with this plague: there are experts and more experts and the range of expert opinions are manifold and nuanced.

https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2021/07/20/which-covid-19-vaccine-is-the-most-widely-accepted-for-international-travel

‘The AstraZeneca vaccine is the most widely accepted, with 119 governments recognising it—it is the most-used vaccine and it is also approved by the World Health Organisation (along with Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and two Chinese vaccines). By contrast, China’s CanSinoBio is recognised by just a handful of governments.’

Meanwhile, on a personal level, our holiday plans were laid waste once more. We were due to leave for a 10-day holiday in Far North Queensland. Not to be. Queensland started to designate various parts of South Australia as ‘orange’ zones, which would mean that we would have to isolate for 14 days if we had been in those zones during the previous 14 days. They backdated the requirement and the orange area grew to cover all of South Australia.

Luckily, we were able to change flights and accommodation to November, without penalty.

Friends of ours had taken off in their campervan for a 4-week bush trip to Queensland, but they would have to go through regional NSW. They turned back.

We remain under the spell of zero tolerance of Covid-19 infections. If we had higher vaccination rates, we might relax more. Last weekend – in tune with the European and UK protests, we had mask-less ‘freedom’ protests here. The police ruled them illegal but that did not deter 7,000 turning up in Melbourne and thousands in Sydney. Many were arrested. Action will be taken against others using photographs of the event. One wonders if any of the protesters will come down with Covid-19. Many carried anti-vaxx posters.

Yet another meme

Stupidity can be infectious.

On our home front, we made a mistake by leaving our feral cat trap open during the first night of the lockdown. We have been trapping feral cats on and off for years. They threaten – read destroy –  our wildlife: small marsupials, birds, lizards, snakes etc. Most of the feral cats are infected with feline Aids. Our local council encourages us by lending out traps. When we are successful, they will collect the cat and have it assessed. If the cat has ID in the form of a tattoo or a microchip, it is returned to the owner; if it is tame and could be rehomed, the cat is taken to the Animal Welfare League (AWL); if it is fiercely feral or infected, it is euthanised.

Anyway, unexpectedly, we caught a cat and I realised it was a young domestic cat. A pretty cat, not fierce: it looked like a long-haired Russian blue. For the first day, (and this was a lockdown day, so I was not meant to be wandering around), I dropped flyers in all our neighbourhood and phoned people I knew. No one had lost a cat. I alerted all online sites to this lost cat. For example, Facebook has a page called ‘Lost Pets of Adelaide’.

I borrowed a cat box and took the cat to our vet, where they ascertained it was not microchipped and had no tattoo. They agreed that it was a domestic cat. Perhaps it had been dumped or run away. But my vet could not hold it till the end of lockdown when the council would wake up and take action. AWL would not come to the house due to lockdown rules.

So, the choice was either to let it go (and we deemed it could not fend for itself) or ask the vet to euthanise it.

While I considered this and against my husband’s advice, I brought the cat home and put her/him in our spare bathroom with food, milk and water. By now, the cat was highly stressed. It leapt onto the window sill, glared at me with wild yellow eyes and hissed if I came close. Maybe it was feral!

Looking fierce

There was peace until 4 am when our pet dog, Roy, an old, blind Cairn Terrier, who dislikes cats intensely, woke up in our bedroom and realised that there was a cat in the house. There was no more peace for me. Roy spent the rest of the night with his nose against the door of the spare bedroom while I tried to stop him barking.

Daylight brought relief. Animal Welfare League, bless their kind hearts, agreed to collect the cat from my vet – with the appropriate social distancing.

After cleaning the bathroom, I posted online to thank those other kind hearts who had been trying to save this cat by finding its owner. I am now aware how many cat lovers are out there. That’s good – but keep the cats inside.  

‘In a 2012 report, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy estimates that each feral cat kills between five and 30 animals a day. It says taking the lower figure in that range and multiplying it by a “conservative population estimate” of 15 million feral cats gives a minimum estimate of 75 million native animals killed daily by feral cats.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-11-13/greg-hunt-feral-cat-native-animals-fact-check/5858282?nw=0

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: to Mars and back to Confusion.

July 5, 2021.

We have had a busy, enjoyable week. I learnt about Mars, mushrooms, tardigrades, panspermia ….

After my Thursday tennis match, I had conversation with 2 friends. One said, ‘The rest of the world is laughing at us because we have cut our country off with this policy of ‘Fortress Australia’. I disagreed. I think the rest of the world is envious of how we have managed in the past 18 months. How normal our lives have been.

We could debate this variance of opinion. More later.

On Thursday night, we attended a Field Geology Club lecture at Adelaide University given by Assoc. Professor Victor Gostin on ‘Planet Mars, What Surprises Await us?‘ The audience of over 100 all had to wear masks because … there just MIGHT be a few Delta Covid-19 cases in the South Australian community. A miner returned from the Granites Mine in the Tanami Desert, Northern Territor, to Adelaide and tested positive. He has not been active in the local community but there MIGHT be other positive cases from the mine. Since then, there has not been any outbreak – or any cases -but the fear of the Delta variant is spooking our state premiers.

Back to Mars – Prof. Gostin explained what NASA’s Perseverance Rover has found geologically. Even without a scientific background, I was able to enjoy the lecture. Mars is without plate tectonics and so the planet is without many of earth’s features.

There are Australian connections in this Martian expedition. Brisbane-born geologist, Dr Abigail Allwood, now at NASA, leads the team who developed an instrument on the Rover’s arm that is designed to detect signs of past life. And an Australian planetary scientist, Dr Adrian Brown, is also working on the remote sensing of rocks. Rocks in some of our harshest Australian deserts – called gibber plains – resemble Martian landscapes.

Gibber Plain. Australian Plant Image Index
Australian National Botanic Gardens
Australian National Herbarium

Scientists are very excited by the Perseverance Rover mission.

https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/mission/overview/

Mars is not a place you want to visit under normal circumstances. Prof. Gostin described it as ‘hostile’ with freezing temperatures, high levels of radiation, oxidizing chemicals and no liquid water.’ The air is thin, 100 times thinner than earth and consists of 95% carbon dioxide. But once upon a time, it was different and water ran on the surface.

In 2016, NASA’s Curiosity Rover discovered glauconitic clays, and thus scientists are postualting that Mars was once (maybe a million or so years ago) habitable. But since we are making a mess of our very habitable planet, I am not sure why we would want to go and mess up another planet.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2282238-clays-found-in-martian-crater-hint-that-the-planet-was-once-habitable/

And, there might still be microbial life deep under the Martian surface. A ‘subsurface biome’ like we have kilometres deep under Earth’s surface.

Prof Gostin also raised the issue of our Moon and Mars landers inadvertently polluting other planets. In the 1950s a biologist, Joshua Lederberg, (Nobel Prize winner) alerted the USA’s National Academy of Sciences warning them about celestial contamination. Either we might inadvertently take organisms onto other parts of our solar system or we might bring them back here. Lederberg spoke about the possible ‘cosmic catastrophe’. There is a possibility that the places where the early moon landings took place are already polluted with bacteria.

Oh, tardigrades or water-bears! I must mention these tough little creatures. Why? because they might be able to travel to other planets, they are such tough micro-animals. Almost indestructible.

I was exposed to two new exciting words before I came down to our own messy Earth with all its confusion.

Panspermia (from Ancient Greek πᾶν (pan) ‘all’, and σπέρμα (sperma) ‘seed’) is the hypothesis that life exists throughout the Universe, distributed by space dust, meteoroids, asteroids, comets, planetoids, and also by spacecraft carrying unintended contamination by microorganisms.’ (Wikipedia)

and Astrobiology.

formerly known as exobiology, is an interdisciplinary scientific field that studies the origins, early evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. Astrobiology considers the question of whether extraterrestrial life exists, and if it does, how humans can detect it. (Wikipedia).

Meanwhile at home in Australia…

Near panic has broken out amongst the politicians and politically employed medicos about the Delta variant’s appearance in Australia. Foremost amongst them is Dr Jeanette Young, Chief Health Officer of Queensland, (and Governor Designate of Queensland), who has come under fire for her emotional tirade against the possibility that under 40 year olds might choose to have the AZ vaccination AFTER consulting their doctors.

We have had a few Delta-variant outbreaks. The largest is in NSW and once more this involved an infection escaping hotel quarantine. Five million Sydney residents are in lockdown and 300 cases have been detected so far: about 30 new cases a day although most of these people are already in isolation. Borders are closed again and we had to cancel our planned trip to NSW – once more.

Politicians continue to heighten fears to justify their responses and strengthen their standing.’ The Weekend Australian (July 3-4)

Lss than 10% of Australians are fully vaccinated. This is a problem. Having had an easier time with closed (mostly closed) borders, we were slow to get vaccinated. If our Prime Minister had had perfect foresight, he would have set up custom-built quarantine facilities in each state, and have paid up front for an early supply of four different vaccines being developed – but he only chose only three. One (being developed by our CSIRO) did not get off the starting blocks, which left us with Pfizer and AstraZeneca (AZ).

Then in March, AZ vaccine supplies to us from the EU were slowed or cut – depending on who you listened to. (3.4 million doses did not turn up). Shortly thereafter, in April, the question of fatal blood clots arose – even though the odds were tiny, Australians and their politicians reacted. After all, there were few cases here, why should we rush to have a vaccine that was dicey – even if it was only a tiny, tiny bit dicey? (Much more dicey than taking an asprin every day). Then our ATAGI – Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation – took ‘one of the most conservative risk-adverse management approaches in the world‘ to the AZ vaccine (Weekend Australian July 3-4).

Then Federal Government found that the Pfizer vaccine was in huge demand and supplies were limited. On top of this our administration of the vaccination process – being done by our states – was slow and inefficient. Again – no sense of rush. For example, some states were slow to offer health workers – especially those working in retirement facilities – vaccinations, even though this was highly recommended. Foolishly, it was not made mandatory.

This is a time of complaint and whinging in Australia. And we are very good at that. However, It gets boring to listen to negativity on the ABC 7am news every morning – especially when you are aware of the real suffering going on in so many parts of the world through other media. Not an enjoyable start to the day.

Covid-19 has resulted in a bonanza for media companies. Not only are we all watching TV for entertainment but, daily, we seek information on what is going on. We rely on the experts – medical experts. But the medicos don’t agree and some are more expert than others!

In an attempt to cut through all the back-biting and confusion, PM Morrison has announced a ‘deal’ with our state premiers for a 4-stage blueprint for emerging from the grip of Covid-19. This hinges on vaccination rates. Optimistically, this is a step forward whereby within six months, we should be able to have no lockdowns, open the borders, and, eventually in Phase Four, something called ‘Covid-normal’ will allow uncapped travel for the vaccinated and Covid-19 will be managed as other serious infectious diseases are managed.

All likely to be very slow – but we will get there.

Finally, back to Mars. Here is a fascinating YouTube NASA video showing some of the exploring of the Martian surface that Perseverance Rover is undertaking. Beter than our 7 am news.

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: On the Move: Holidays, Food and Foraging

19 June, 2021

The arrival of winter rains over Adelaide

Australians are travelling once more. However, with our slow local vaccination rate and the fear of new variants, such as the Delta variant, the prospect of overseas travel is receding. So, we are confined within Australia. ‘No worries,’ locals say, ‘It’s a vast country, and I have never been to Darwin/Margaret River/Townsville/Merimbula/Broome etc’. Airbnb and Stayz are reporting heavy bookings. Popular destinations are full for the 2021 school holidays. Costs are surging.

We secured a late July booking to fly to Port Douglas: the stunning Queensland coastal holiday town on the edge of the Daintree Rainforest. We found a modestly priced apartment months ago. I have been warned that Port Douglas restaurants are full for meals and that I need to pre-book our evening entertainment.

In reaction, some of our retired friends are planning on spending big: travelling the Ghan, Adelaide to Darwin ($4,200 aud, one way per person); a 10-night cruise around the Kimberley coast ($30,000 average pp not including helicopter flights); Lord Howe Island ($3,500 for 7 nights pp including flights). Maybe these months of Covid restrictions have made us realise that the remaining time to make such trips is dwindling fast. Will I get to Zanzibar once more? Capetown to see family? The Zululand game reserves? Yellowstone National Park? Sanibel island? The wish list feels like plans made after enjoying a bottle of Adelaide Hills sparkling wine.

Life here in Adelaide remains good. (Aussies love the word ‘good’. ‘How are you?’ The answer is ‘Good’.  It’s like a check-up on your moral status). We await our second AstraZeneca vaccination scheduled for early July. Tonight, the government announced that the AZ would no longer be offered to under 60-year-olds. More cases of clotting have emerged. … called vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopaenia (VITT) or thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS). It is estimated that one in 80,000 is affected. That is enough to scare people, especially with the nightly news of yet another suspected case.

Meanwhile, I have been foraging. I love foraging. There is something childlike and primeval about searching and finding food in the fields. Figs are my favourite; they fruit at the end of summer – February and March. We have a generous neighbour with many trees. This year, I also gathered plums, loquats, Chinese guavas, white sapotes, cumquats and last week, fungi.

With the arrival of soaking winter rain – a month late – the fungi have fruited. I heard that pine mushrooms or saffron milk caps (Lactarius deliciosus) were plentiful in the Kuipo pine forests in the Adelaide Hills. Pine mushrooms are easy to identify, and there are few deadly look-alikes. It does help to have the latest book on fungi. I have Wild Mushrooms, a Guide for Foragers, by Alison Pouliot & Tom May, given to me by my Seattle daughter, a mycologist in her spare time. But it is wise to be warned, to be cautious and to observe simple collection rules: have separate packets for each species and not to collect what you don’t know.

The towering forests of mature Pinus radiata are not my favourite wild places. The undergrowth is sparse, and these forests don’t support our native birds and marsupials. But some fungi prosper there.

As the three of us began our hunt – and I had little clue about how numerous these delicious fungi were or how cryptic they would be – we met a local Chinese family who were staggering homeward with a large laundry basket full of pine mushrooms.

They pointed vaguely behind them into the depth of the woods. ‘There are many there. Five hundred metres away,’ they said.

Looking at their heavy basket, I wondered if they had left ‘many’. They made it sound easy: it was not. At first, we found nothing but luminous red and orange fungi and masses of large, slimy ‘slippery jacks’ (Suillus luteus), which form a symbiotic relationship with pine tree roots. My Wild Mushroom book says this about slippery-jacks, ‘Their slimy nature is revered by some and repulses others.’

The three of us walked in loops, searching the pine needles covering the ground. My daughter said, ‘Explore lumps and bumps in the pine needle ground.’ I think you develop an ‘eye’ for spotting fungi and we were beginners. We were not concerned about getting lost once we realised that our mobile phones still worked. As we turned for home, we struck lucky and collected about two kilos of the saffron pine fungi. I also gathered a few slippery jacks as my daughter told me that Russian people rave over these fungi. Later I found an interesting recipe for a slippery jack cabbage soup with beans and a dash of vodka. This recipe sounded like a perfect plan for a winter evening.

There is something so very pleasurable about hunting for fungi. With full baskets at our feet, the three of us sat on logs, drank hot peppermint tea and ate cheese and biscuits while watching the friendly grey fantails and superb blue wrens.

Neither of my friends wanted to cook our saffron milk caps, so I took them all home and researched their preparation.

I made pine mushroom soup, pasta sauce and an omelette with mushroom filling. The slippery jacks are more challenging as the slimy pileus can give some people dermatitis. I stripped off this surface skin and removed the puffy spore layer, although some recipes do not suggest removing the pores. I was left with a creamy circle of flesh. I fried them with the pine mushrooms. They were delicious.

It was a memorable day of successful foraging.

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: another Outbreak and the Dark Leopards of the Moon

June 4, 2021

View from Stoke’s Hill, Willow Springs, Flinders Ranges

Victoria is in lockdown. Again. And South Australia is being blamed for lax quarantine management. It is alleged that a Victorian man was infected as he exited his room to leave a medi-hotel in Adelaide after his required 14 day lockup.

The result of the South Australian investigation into this has not been released. The newly infected man travelled to Victoria and was very busy wandering around before he tested positive. There are now 61 cases from this current outbreak and a list of over 370 contact sites in Melbourne: bakeries, trams, gyms, supermarkets, cafes, hairdressers, cinemas, sportsclubs etc. Testing is flat out. 57,000 people were tested in a few days.

It is getting more and more political. Of course. There are points to be scored against the government. The medi-hotels are not failsafe. Seventeen outbreaks have occurred. This must be the federal government’s fault. Lobbying of the federal government continues: surely they must build and pay for custom quarantine facilities in each state. On another related issue, the government have already caved in and will organise some modest temporary financial support for Victorian workers affected by the current outbreak.

At one stage, the Victoria chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, (looking rather unkempt with a growing salt and pepper beard), went into overdrive to declare that very casual or ‘fleeting contact’ had resulted in infection and this new variant, called the Kappa variant, was an ‘an absolute beast’.

‘Because it has moved faster than any other strain we’ve dealt with, and we’re seeing transmission in settings and circumstances we’ve never seen before. … This means we’re having to re-examine exposure sites — more than 300 of them — with this more contagious strain in mind.’

This was soon refuted by calmer minds and Sutton backed away from his statement. It was a matter of test results being false positives and their state government’s need to blame something or someone else – rather than their poor QR systems and widespread non-compliance with check-in rules.

‘An infectious diseases physician at St Vincent’s hospital in Sydney, Prof Greg Dore, who is running a study looking at long-haul Covid patients, said the Kappa variant was acting “the same as we’ve seen before” with other variants in Australia. “There just isn’t any strong evidence this variant is more efficiently transmitted than previous variants,” said Dore, who is also a clinical researcher with the Kirby Institute.’ (Guardian 2 June)

We now wait to see if this outbreak spreads to NSW. We are due to travel there in 3 weeks.

arriving at Skytrek Willow Springs

While all this was going on, I was once more in the Flinders Ranges, this time with a group of aged walkers.

Once more, I am taken aback by the stark aridity of the Flinders. The beauty is there but it’s a harsh land. The hills are almost bare of vegetation and on the sheep stations, onion weed appears to be the predominant plant. In many watercourses, ancient river red gums are dying and even the tough native pines (callitris) are suffering. I don’t think I saw more than 10 kangaroos or Euros. There were a few more emus than my last visit – they are browsers and probably have more food sources.

The bird life is scarce. I was keen to try and spot the rare short-tailed grasswren. This bird is a ‘mega-tick’ for any bird-watcher. These cryptic outback birds were once seen on Willow Springs where we were staying. However, the native spinifex and perennial grassy hillsides, where I hoped to find them, have suffered from the four drought years and there was little remaining cover for any bird. Except this one: a grey butcherbird.

The predatory grey butcher-bird

However, all this gloom did not stop us enjoying the Flinders. We had driven north through a dust storm.

Approaching Port Augusta in the dust storm

The late winter rains have left the topsoil of the wheatlands exposed. Overnight a short rainfall laid the dust to rest and we had clear skies once more. This was opportune as we were looking forward to the lunar eclipse of the night of 26 May. And that delivered. We enjoyed 5 hours of a moon disappearing from a brilliant starred sky. The shadow of the earth covered the moon from the right and it emerged from the lower left. I understand that this is due to the position of the sun’s shadow during this eclipse. Apparently, we were lucky in Eastern Australia as we could see the entire eclipse at night. And it was a ‘Super Flower Blood Moon’. However, I could not see the red. You had to use a lot of imagination. Maybe if the moon had been closer to the horizon, it would have turned red. Still spectacular. And while the moon was being gobbled up, over the arid hills of the Flinders Ranges we could clearly see the Southern Cross, and other constellations and listen to boobook owls calling from the dried out riverbank. In Adelaide cloud cover hid the eclipse.

Yes, these are my own photos taken with a Nikon hybrid. Hand held!

The eclipse took place just a few hours after the Moon reached perigee, the closest point to Earth on its orbit, making it a Super Flower Blood Moon.

What is a Super Moon?

This eclipse also marks the beginning of an “almost tetrad” because it kicks off a series of four big lunar eclipses in two years. Three of these eclipses are total, while one of them, on November 18-19, 2021, is a deep partial eclipse. So deep that it is almost a total eclipse.’

https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/lunar/2021-may-26

You can well imagine how indigenous peoples might have viewed a lunar eclipse as an omen. Perhaps it would have been frightening. I know that the San Bushmen had many stories to explain events in the skies. So I looked this up. I am sad to say: I think we might have lost imagination with the gaining of knowledge.

‘When the Earth’s shadow falls on the Moon, a lunar eclipse occurs. The Nyae Nyae !Kung Bushmen said that this was caused by the lion, putting his paw over the Moon to darken the night so he could have better hunting.’

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/258805045_African_Star_Lore

This reminds me of the ‘Day of the Dead Moon’, the day in January 1879 when the Zulu army was instructed by King Cetshwayo not to attack the invading British forces under Lord Chelmsford during the day of the lunar eclipse. The eclipse was seen as a bad omen. Lord Chelmsford had marched his forces into the Zulu Kingdom confident that they would teach the Zulus a quick lesson. The Zulu army of over 20,000 sat silently on their shields in a ravine, waiting for a more auspicious day. However, a British outrider spotted them and the Battle of Isandlwana commenced. Lord Chelmsford’s camp was destroyed along with 1,300 British soldiers and probably 2,000 Zulu warriors. This defeat was a huge shock to the British. How could a bunch on untrained Zulus without Martini–Henry breechloading rifles or 7-pounder mountain guns defeat them?

I think some poetry about the moon should end this blog. WB Yeats saw great symbolism in the moon and he loved referring to the moon in his poetry. Mostly sad verses. I liked the following, Lines Written in Dejection.

When have I last looked on
The round green eyes and the long wavering bodies
Of the dark leopards of the moon?
All the wild witches, those most noble ladies,
For all their broom-sticks and their tears,
Their angry tears, are gone.
The holy centaurs of the hills are vanished
I have nothing but the embittered sun;
Banished heroic mother moon and vanished,
And now that I have come to fifty years
I must endure the timid sun.

From Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Are you missing the qualia?

National Geographic. August 2020

May 19, 2021. Across the rooms of our house: the bedside tables, sideboards, entrance desk and the bathrooms are piles of books, magazines and slices of newspapers. Flat Surface (book) Syndrome. Sometimes within these piles I come across an ‘old’ interesting article in the Economist or National Geographic.

Here is one: National Geographic, August 2020. Page 15. ‘When life turns into Quarantine’ by Oliver Whang. Oliver’s article revolves around his relationship with his identical twin, Ethan. This leads him into a discussion about the virtual world, the digital world, that has become, for many, their central existence during the restrictions of Covid-19. The resultant isolation has caused our students and workers to live their lives through their various digital devices – quite apart from their lectures and Zoom meetings, they have at their fingertips the world of video games (Overwatch (40 million players) … Fortnite (350 million) Minecraft (140 million)), YouTube, Netflix, Facebook (2.8 billion), Tiktok (689 Million) etc. Losing sense of day and night is one of the symptoms – and there are others. The digital was already invading, taking over our lives, but Covid-19 has supercharged the trend. (How many students do you know who are studying IT? No one seems to study humanities.)

Olive Whang. ‘I worry that the experience of this pandemic might convince people that we can keep living just fine while physically isolated from others. I find myself slipping towards that reality. There are entire days when I don’t leave the house, when my only human contact is with my brother as we await a turn in the bathroom.’

What if this level of isolation is the future? In this environment, something clearly is lost. I am sure of it, because I feel different when I experience things directly rather than virtually.’

And in quarantine, in isolation, we can be trapped in a half-world. ‘My fear is that going forward, some of us will never completely come out of self-quarantine: that dread and uncertainty will cause us to lose part of physical connection to the world: the qualia.’

So, we come to the qualia. It’s a slippery word that is hard to define. Perhaps it comes from the word, ‘quality’. But Wikipedia says that it comes from Latin: ‘of what sort‘ or ‘of what kind’ … is a conscious experience.

There is a convoluted discussion about the concept in the world of psychology.

The way I understand qualia is that it relates to the essence of a material thing or experience. That part of it we cannot know in a description, cannot experience through the digital world, that quality that we need to physically encounter and know through our imagination, our conscious selves.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qualia-knowledge/#HistUndeIdea

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes qualia as follows: ‘the intuition that no amount of knowledge of the physical information or physical facts concerning certain experiences can by itself suffice for knowledge of what these experiences are like, i.e., knowledge of their qualitative character or distinctive qualia.’

I needed to read that definition a couple of times.

Examples of qualia include the perceived sensation of pain of a headache, the taste of wine, seeing the wind in the trees, the redness of an evening sky. To know qualia is to be human. And yet, why should not animals experience qualia?

Qualia is an interesting concept … a subjective concept. Maybe it is the ineffable nature of being.

Click to access jacksonf18.pdf

The “felt quality” of a conscious experience. – “Quale” is singular, “Qualia” is plural. There is something that “it’s like” to be conscious, to have a sensation, to see an after-image. “Qualia” is a word introduced to help us talk about what “it’s like” to be conscious.’

It is what we will be missing in our locked down world. Perhaps qualia are the central value of our existence.

Oliver Whang continues: ‘After college, I’ll enter an increasingly virtual work force. Computers are– or will be – replacing humans across the economy: bankers, truckdrivers, factory workers. Many of the jobs that aren’t disappearing are moving online. I assume that most of my friends will work in professions that involve staring at computer screens or talking on phones. As a writer, I could end up working from home every day. I’m already spending half my life online, so that prospect doesn’t feel all that jarring. Still, it’s a pretty strange reality.’

Reality is somewhere else.

Today’s trees

A long long time ago, a friend called Ruth collected her young daughter from school and said to her with excitement, ‘We are going to look at trees this afternoon.’ The daughter became an artist of significance.

Is that what it’s like to be conscious?

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: a flight and a funeral

May 13, 2021.

Today, we undertook our first flight in over 18 months: a day trip to Melbourne.

I might have mentioned before that we hold credits with 4 airlines: Qantas, Jetstar, Garuda and Air New Zealand. All promise to honour these expended monies for flights that were aborted due to Covid-19. Generous?

Not so easy to claim, I am afraid. Qantas emailed us to inform us we would have to phone them to convert our $800 into new flights. If the new flights came to less than $800, we would forfeit the balance. Since domestic flight costs seem to have gone UP recently, I did not think that would happen. So, for many days I tried to phone Qantas to make a booking to attend the Melbourne funeral of a dear friend.

Qantas are obviously very popular or everyone in Australia is now travelling domestically. All attempts to phone them resulted in my waiting on hold for over an hour. Sometimes, I was told that the wait time was over 2 hours. Since the call centre is open 24×7, I decided to get up in the middle of the night. That worked! I woke at 4 am and rang Qantas on 2 mobiles using 2 different options (after all there is a sequence of negotiating through their many menu options). You would think that they would employ the new technology that allows a ring back. Anyway, after well over an hour the call was answered by a real person and she very efficiently converted our $800 (plus another $90) into two return tickets to Melbourne.

First, we had to apply to re-enter our home state of South Australia and get a Cross Border Travel pass. Secondly, we had to apply to enter Victoria – a Border Permit. Armed with 2 printed passes for two states, we arrived at the airport at 5.45am for our 7am flight. Everyone has to wear masks in the airports and on the flights. We have been fortunate during the last 18 months in that we, in South Australia, have lived mask-less. They are not much fun as you will know: we do not own designer masks. Ours were the cheap white and blue throwaways that sit close to your mouth. Thankfully, they served a sort of snack on the flight and obviously you are allowed to remove the mask. The trick is to take a long time over the snack. The flight to Melbourne is only 1 hr 20 minutes.

Since we lived in Melbourne – 29 years ago – the city has grown enormously. It is now home to over 5 million people and sprawls in every direction. Apparently, ‘Melbourne was voted the world’s most liveable city for seven consecutive years (2011–2017) by The Economist Intelligence unit.’ (Wikipedia). Coming from Adelaide, I felt rather overwhelmed.

We were there for a short time: to attend the funeral of Eric, a special friend. My husband has known Eric for well over 50 years. We went on many holidays, together and many adventures – exploring Australia from Kakadu to the Red Centre to sailing in the Whitsundays. Eric and his wife, Lyn, were endlessly generous to us and our family over the years. He was a committed and dedicated Christian and the eulogies during the service spoke of the many aspects of his life – spoken by his children, his grandchildren and his Christian friends. So we were pleased to be there to share in honouring and celebrating his life.

And we were pleased to get home again after the process of being interviewed – routinely questioned at Adelaide Airport by the border police.

Arriving home into Adelaide

Travel is not going to be simple anymore.

We had been hoping that with the rollout of the vaccination program in Australia and worldwide, Qantas would resume international travel in late October. They had started selling tickets in anticipation of this.

This week Qantas changed the plan – delayed the international opening to late December. There is even mention of mid-2022. The tourism section had this amusing comment: ‘The tourism sector has slammed the government for its vague plans on borders, suggesting Australia could become the “hermit kingdom of the South Pacific“.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-05-12/qantas-delays-restart-of-international-flights-in-wake-of-covid/100133772

I fear more and more people will have credits with Qantas and will join the late night queues to get refunds actioned.

It’s easier to stay at home.

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: A day we shall remember

May 3, 2021

I will remember the last day of April, 2021.

Our gardener arrived early to work with us. My husband spent time cutting down branches overhanging the road, working with a chainsaw and piling up wood for our fires. We anticipate the arrival of the winter rains and have been planting indigenous plants to take advantage of the last days of warmth before the earth gets cold. Digging planting holes requires considerable effort as the earth on this hillside consists of layers of shale.

After a long day, we went to a music recital: ‘Botanica Lumina – Enchanted’, in the Santos Museum of Economic Botany (1881) located within our Adelaide Botanic Gardens.

To get to the Museum, we had to walk through the Botanic Gardens, which are usually locked at sunset. Towering fig trees line the entrance avenue. We could hear possums with their aggressive hisses and the squealing of the grey-headed flying foxes that have found a safe roost in our gardens.

Paul Haydock-Wilson – Wikicommons. Museum of Economic Botany

Adelaide is fortunate in having a rare remaining artefact of the past: a Museum of Economic Botany – the last one in the world. ‘Economic botany, simply put, is the study of plants through the perspective of their practical use for humankind.’ Our museum was lucky to escape redevelopment as some bright sparks wanted to convert the building into a wedding venue.

Fungi models made from paper mâché

The hall is filled with fascinating displays of fruit, fungi made out of painted paper mâché, wood samples and native artefacts. These exhibits were once used to educate students and the non-scientifically trained public about valuable and useful plants.

The Museum was restored to its former glory in 2008. Due to the space restrictions and distancing requirements, our audience was now limited to 30. Pairs of chairs were placed at 1.5 m intervals in the narrow corridor between the banks of display cabinets. The hall is visually delightful. You can sit and gaze at the gold and white patterns of the ceiling high above you, even more delightful when you are listening to music. The whole space is filled with light.

Beautiful Dreamer by Stephen Foster

There were only two musicians, Celia Craig, an oboist, and Michael Ierace, a pianist. Celia told us that she appreciated the acoustics of the lofty Museum. The two musicians played a series of popular and classical pieces for about an hour and a half.

However, the overwhelming reason I will remember the 30th of April is that today, before sunrise, my good friend’s daughter died. A month short of her 39 th birthday.

Tammy did not die of Covid-19 but cancer.  In a perfect world, our children would survive us. We move towards old age with the joy of children and grandchildren, looking towards their futures, the hope of a good life for them – maybe a better one than ours. Our ageing and our death we learn to accept. To lose a child is against the natural order.

Tammy was a shining light to all who knew her: a dedicated language teacher, tennis player, weekend quiz expert, beer not wine drinker, bridge player and a Lego enthusiast. Her beauty and her smile lit up every room. She faced her long, painful illness with fortitude. Such bravery comes from deep within. None of us knows how we will deal with such a difficult passage at the end.

Deeply loved daughter, sister, niece, aunt, teacher and friend to many. RIP Tammy.

‘Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee;
Sounds of the rude world, heard in the day,
Lull’d by the moonlight have all passed away!

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: ‘and we shall be changed’

24 April, 2021.

Nine days ago, we had our first Astrazeneca vaccination. A suite of offices, consisting of four rooms, beside our large doctors’ surgery has been organised into a vaccination centre.

The whole process was very simple, without fuss and with a certain determined cheerfulness. Outside the centre, yellow lines marked the approved social distancing for the queue. We could not enter until the waiting room was sufficiently empty for the next batch of people, so we were asked to wait outside until it was within five minutes of our vaccination time. No masks were required.

Once we were allowed into the small foyer, our details were checked and we were asked whether we were prepared to have a vaccination before we were given a sticker inscribed with our first names. Someone asked if they had had many cancellations. The young receptionist said, ‘Very few, and those appointments have been quickly filled.’ It seems to me that the scare campaign has not stopped us wanting to be vaccinated.

A nurse called us and led us through to one of the two vaccination rooms. Once more details were checked and once more we were asked if we were prepared to have the vaccination. Then a doctor came in and she asked if we had any questions. She also asked if we had had any reactions to previous vaccinations.

Page 1. Read carefully….

The actual vaccination was a non-event. Afterwards, we were given a three-page document listing all the possible side-effects and what to do if we were concerned about our reactions. We were then led through to a large waiting area which was divided into two sections: one marked 15 minutes the other 30 minutes. The 30-minute section was for people who had had some previous adverse reaction to vaccination. I sat and read through the rather intimidating listing of common, less-common and rare side-effects. After the allotted time our names were called out and we were told we could go out the exit door. DONE!

Our vaccination status is immediately registered on our digital Medicare profile. I am ready for a vaccination passport and almost ready to travel! (New Zealand authorities are looking at insisting on a digital proof of vaccination).

It is now nine days since our vaccinations. At first, my arm felt slightly stiff, Over the next four days I found that I was very tired, wanting to go to bed at 8 pm and reluctant to rise at 7 am. I was quite happy to collapse back and read awhile. This is unlike me.

Australia – not looking too impressive.

It behoves me to report on the media situation with the rollout of vaccinations in Australia. If you followed our media, you would think that there was a disaster going on here. It is true that announcments were made by the Federal government, and we were filled with expectations of a seamless vaccination routine. However, there has been a hiatus due to many factors such as the concern over the AstraZeneca vaccine, the delayed arrival of ordered vaccines and the shortage of the Pfizer vaccine. Each state premier was very quick to blame others. Of course. There is also the difficulty of organising between state and federal agencies. Many of these factors are beyond the ability of the federal government to change. But as I have said before, the Australian media love to complain.

On our ABC this morning it was almost as though they were encouraging people in the 1b category (those over 70 or over 50 with some sort of complicating factor) not to get vaccinated. The Victorian Government has opened mass vaccination centres. The ABC was critical of this whole process, siting uncertainties and saying it was hard for people to understand the online advice. In spite of this, I hear today that 67,000 people were vaccinated. And the graph of those getting vaccinated is pointing in the right direction. The government has announced that over 50’s can now go and get vaccinated.

The trouble is that we are still short of the Pfizer and AZ vaccine.

The federal government will receive 53.8 million doses of AstraZeneca, 50 million of which is being manufactured in monthly batches at the CSL factory in Melbourne.

Australia has secured 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, with the bulk expected to arrive in the final three months of 2021.’ ABC

The government has now appointed a military veteran, Royal Australian Navy Commodore, Eric Young, to coordinate the vaccine rollout. After all, it is a mammoth task across this vast country. Young said he has a ‘simple mission’ to get every ‘available jab’ into the arms of vulnerable Australians. Scott Morrison has put the national cabinet on a ‘warlike footing’ to fix the delayed program.

On the way back from having my vaccination Handel’s Messiah played on ABC Classic radio. It’s good to be cheeful.

Somehow, the music seemed appropriate.

…..And we shall be changed
And we shall be changed
We shall be changed
And we shall be changed
We shall be changed

For this corruptible must put on
Incorruption
For this corruptible must put on
Must put on
Must put on, must put on
Incorruption

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: The Dog Year Calculator

April 8, 2021

Roy the Cairn Terrier

We have an aged, blind dog. Roy is 12.5 years old. He is a Cairn terrier about 12 kg in weight. All these factors are important in working out his life expectancy. How long will he be with us?

Once upon a time, we multiplied a dog’s age by 7 which would make him about 87 years old in our years. But many Cairns reach16 or 17 years of age – or 112+ human years. Some say, for smaller dogs you multiply by 5, so Roy would be 67.5 years. I think that is closer. Apart from glaucoma, Roy is a fit, dog: no arthritis, no diabetes, no cancer. I found a schedule online which measure life expectancy by dog weight. Roy is between small and medium and on this basis would be 66.5 years. Another method is more complex: That’s the natural logarithm method. Take the log of the dog’s real age, multiplied by 16, add 31 to the total. I used this method of calculation: Roy’s natural log is 2.53 … x16 and add 31; this makes him 71.5 years old. Roy is my age.

However, he now has a morbidity – for a dog – he is blind. So, what do I subtract from this life expectancy to get another estimate?

For us too, there is the question of life expectancy. How to work out the progress of our lives during Covid-19? Quite apart from having to spend 14 months dodging Covid-19, we have had to keep going mentally. And in the process of managing this hiatus in our lives we dabble even more with the question, not of how old we are, but how long we still have. Because that limited time just got gobbled up in an unexpected way. Many have suffered more than we have in Australia, but the hiatus is world-wide. Even if we are OK, others in the family are not. Our Zoom meetings reveal this changed universe.

And in the passage of this time, I believe that I have used up more of my remaining life than 14 months. That is, I have aged more than 14 months. The sense I once had of my age has been disturbed. Why? It’s as if the parameters of my life have changed. Maybe I have less control, maybe I have spent too much time reading about ways of death or near-death experiences of Covid-19 sufferers. I have purchased an oximeter, recommended medicines and vitamins and a stock of basic foodstuffs – all for Covid-19 survival. We are on the cusp of old age and the media’s concentration on the ‘elderly’, on ‘morbidity’, on ‘shielding’, revolves around a discussion of the odds of our survival.

So, what do I multiply the 14 months by to get my true age? 2x? 3x? Some days it feels like this. Normal was a long time ago. Old age and its mental and physical restriction were not yet upon us. Now they beckon.

In May 2020, The Washington Post published an article on this:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/aging-in-place-many-of-us-feel-way-older-than-we-did-eight-weeks-ago/2020/05/06/cb7efdf0-8b13-11ea-ac8a-fe9b8088e101_story.html

‘We are not only sheltering in place but aging in place.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has exhausted us. Time feels heavy and draining. Tuesday was a week. April seemed an eternity. Grief, anxiety, tedium, loss of control, restriction of movement, none of them rejuvenating, are part of our regimen.’

And the NBC.

https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/covid-19-turned-active-retirees-elderly-people-overnight-made-us-ncna1243790

‘Looking at ourselves during virtual cocktail hours with friends on Zoom, we now notice our wrinkles, the flesh hanging on our necks and the double chins on display when the camera is pointing up, the grey and even white roots exposed, the shaggy beards and fuzzy eyebrows — and we look someplace else on the screen. That isn’t ourselves we are seeing but a version of ourselves the virus has revealed, a version we thought we had rejected but secretly fear is really who we are.’

Today, I met with 3 friends – all published writers and poets. All of an age. And they agreed with this premise. The time of Covid-19 has prematurely aged us. One said she feels worn out by writing and will not take on any major task as she now has the sense of being unable to finish it. And then there was her comment that Donald Trump had made it worse. The stress of his Presidency, his denial of the severity of Covid-19 and refusal to lead, and then the anxiety of the ending of his term made her anxious. And this anxiety has not lifted.

When we took our dog, Roy, to Gavin, the vet specialist in ophthalmology, we expressed concern about how Roy would adapt now he is blind. Gavin said dogs were different to us. Roy would not look back and mourn the loss of his eyesight, nor would he anticipate a future where he would be unable to see. Gavin believed that blind dogs – those not in pain – make the most of the lot they are dealt. If he is well cared for, he will not be suffering with the weight of the knowledge of his blindness.

It is we humans who bear the psychological strain of loss, of looking back, comparing our Covid-19-altered lives to what might have been and looking ahead anxiously.

‘Days’

What are days for?

Days are where we live.

They come, they wake us

Time and time over.

They are to be happy in:

Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question

Brings the priest and the doctor

In their long coats

Running over the fields.

Philip Larkin

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Worse things happen at Sea.

April 1, 2021

One way people once got to Australia

‘Easter is good to go’ says Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on the news from Queensland. Did anyone tell her that it will come and pass, whatever, without her being able to stop it? What she really announced is that the 3-day sharp lockdown in Greater Brisbane is not being extended and Easter gatherings and celebrations can continue with many conditions. After an amazing 35,000 tests only one new community case was recorded in Queensland yesterday (and 9 new cases in hotel quarantine).

However, as with many Covid-19 outbreaks this will not have been in time for thousands. Many people have already cancelled their Queensland holidays: their hotels, their restaurant bookings and other entertainment. And because the outbreak, which was connected to staff members of Brisbane’s Princess Alexander Hospital, spread, there have been flow-ons into northern NSW. In all, there are 100 ‘exposure’ sites. These infected people certainly get around.

One of the 18 infected people travelled from Brisbane 165 kms south over the border into NSW, to Byron Bay, and attended a hen’s party and infected at least one person there. Byron Bay only has a population of around 10,000 people but it is a major holiday destination with, perhaps, the best all-year weather in Australia (Sorry – only when there aren’t floods).

And so, the famous Byron Bay Bluesfest Festival has had to be cancelled. Scheduled for April 1-4 they had expected 15,000 people to attend each day – and 100,000 over the whole show. Byron Bay would have welcomed a few days of musical celebration after the floods that devastated the area only 2 weeks ago – and the internet remains full of heartbreaking images of destroyed cars and homes, drowned and drowning animals from northern NSW.

This is the second year in a row Bluesfest has had to cancel at short notice. However, they are to reschedule and have asked ticket holders to hang on to their tickets. Bluesfest has been going since 1990 and has had outstanding performers. They have an excellent Spotify playlist called ‘Bluesfest 2021 playlist‘. Enjoy the sound of the Aussie Blues!

There are prices to pay for these years of Covid-19 and losing a holiday or being unable to go to a blues festival is nothing in the light of the suffering across the world. Australia is stumbling forward: half open, mostly safe, but still complaining. Australians love to complain and our ABC radio is full of complaints. It’s a reason not to listen to the news. When you are of an age, you don’t want to hear people complaining all the time. A long time ago, my father, born in 1911, would to say to us when we complained, ‘Worse things happen at sea’. I am not sure what that was about but I think he meant that the world is full of unexpected disasters beyond our control. Accept that and deal with it. He came from a generation of stalwart and resourceful people.

We, on the other hand, had a festival last weekend and it was not disrupted by rain nor by Covid-19. Indofest is an annual Adelaide festival. ‘Indofest-Adelaide is a vibrant community festival celebrating all things Indonesian.’ Covid-19 rules called for many adaptations: only 2,000 people were allowed to attend – registering was required – entry and exit areas were separated – many Covid Marshalls stood around in yellow jackets and sanitizer bottles were displayed on every table.

Indofest 2021 was a joyous occasion: families camped, shared meals and listened to music on the grass of Pinky Flat, also called Tarntanya Wama, beside our Torrens Lake in the centre of Adelaide. Once upon a time this was where the local Aboriginal people camped.

https://adelaidecityexplorer.com.au/items/show/226

Adelaide, a tribe of natives on the banks of the river Torrens by Alexander Schramm1850 (National Gallery of Australia. Canberra).

I was very aware of this as I listened to the gamelan percussion ensemble playing: all of us new immigrants enjoying this land together. A ‘welcome to country’ had been performed during the opening ceremony by local Kaurna people.

Looking back and forward – this country desperately needs immigrants as our population ages and declines in number. (2020 growth1.18%. average age 37.9yrs).

For sure, the Lucky Country needs more people. I listened to a representative of our Dept. of Home Affairs make a speech to Indofest attendees about how Australia welcomes immigrants. She went on to discuss the importance of social cohesion, our shared history, Australian values and the English test for citizenship.

For this article I had a look at Australia’s immigration website for applicants for permanent visa – not refugees. It is not for the fainthearted nor for those whose English is not their primary language. Apparently 70% give up on attempts at immigration. The wait is long and BTW you cannot get married while you are waiting. Oh – you must be under 45 years of age.

So, if you want to come to the lucky country, the way is long and the entry gates are narrow …