I G Y

Author supplied photograph

During the Cold War over seventy nations put their political differences aside and planned a series of eleven major scientific studies of the globe in 1957/58. Those eighteen months were called the International Geophysical Year. From that Australian scientists played a major role in the advancements of knowledge of the globe. Specifically our work was perhaps more successful than the six nations that joined with us to study Antartica. The success was due in a large part to our foreign affairs department. It agreed for our scientists to set up bases in the country in the years before to trial equipment and materials. In those years our scientists were able to refine their knowledge to work in such an inhospitable region. (Post that period other countries have perhaps fared better.)

I have several reasons for retelling this story. The first is it is a reminder of Vic. ( I don’t remember his full name) but he was a young fellow Rev George Mutten mentored. The young man was an infrequent visitor to the vicarage and I met him only a handful of times. George took pride in saying he had spent time at Antartica during the IGY. I learned he was tragically killed a short while later in a car accident on a notorious bend in the Stoney Risers. His leader in the year he spent at Casey Base was Dr Phillip Law.

Phillip Law was a very respected Australian who made academic contributions to the growth of this country. He was born in 1912 ( a year before my mother). His is the second reason I recall this time. He led an interesting life, that has been documented in at least six books – including three autobiographies. The few pararagaphs I give to him relate to his adventures in Antartica. Where he first visited in 1949.

Law was born in Tallangatta. He grew up in Hamilton and went to the Ballarat Teachers College. He taught at secondary schools in Hamilton, Geelong and Melbourne Boys High School before he gained an MSc in Physics at Melbourne University. During WW11 he was involved with war projects at the University. ( I had my own time working in some of the same localities but that is as far as the similarities go.)

After the war Law gave up his secure job at the University and was appointed leader of ANARE (Australian National Antarctic Research Exhibition) by the Department of External Affairs. He was the leader in charge of bases at Macquarie Island and Antartica from 1949. He held that position until 1977 by which time he had personally led exhibitions to Antartica twenty three times.

Consequently he was leader in the years of planing leading up to the International Geophysical Year.

The learnings that came from the eleven major studies of the globe in those eighteen months have had a profound influence of our understanding of the universe. For instance, in the years leading to the study period America announced it would launch a satellite into space. The intensity of achievement was ramped up to such an extent America was beaten in the space race. They did not launch their rocket until the USSR had startled the world with Sputnik one , in 1957,, and Sputnik two. In all, over seventy countries had tens of scientists study the globe in wonderful cooperation.

If there is a good sign we are prepared to listen to scientists. It is now. This the first time in three generations science, and the word of scientists are being sought out.

Which brings me to another reason for tapping away at this screen and recording my thoughts. Some years from now people will ask those living today, what was Covid 19 like? What did you do?

I am not a diarist but here are some thoughts on the matter. The most astonishing thing is the virus quickly developed across the globe in three months. The lives of most people have been turned upside down. Millions of people are sick with a disease for which there is no cure. As a result thousands have lost their lives. Millions that were employed one day are unemployed the next. All over the world people have been affected. For example, our Government realised our hospital system was inadequate to manage an influx of desperately ill people, and its usual workload as well. so all but the most urgent operations were cancelled to free up hospital beds.

Initially one of the obvious signs was, the messages were confused, and people panicked. Supermarket shelves were emptied of basic necessities. People sought out information on self management skills that were almost forgotten: How to cook bread, How to grow vegetables, How to husband poultry. They did these things because they were unsure the state would be able to look after them. The government loosened spending and made available unparalleled government aid. Much of this aid was directed at business in the hope that life would “spring back” to normal when the initial panic subsided.

Now here we are three months down the track. Business people are arguing commerce will never recover unless the chains of lockdown are loosened. Immediately forgetting of course there is no cure. The Advance Australia group and the IPA are applying pressure on the Morrison government to lift the Lockdown and get back to business

This new pandemic age is certain to provide scope for dozens of future PHDs to study how it should have been approached, as every day we hear new reasons for and against social distancing. President Trump says America is not supposed to be closed to business at a time when many of his people are dropping dead like flies. He has also withdrawn funding from the World Health Organisation to take attention away from his own inadequacies

The truth is business is not going to bounce back as some businesses may never recover. Today Virgin Air excused itself from stock trading while the debt burdened company looks for a white knight to bail them out of trouble. Failing that aide it is just one of many.businesses unlikely to live on.

The evidence each country is fighting Covid 19 in its own way has made life more uncertain. Government’s around the world are making knee jerk responses to this hidden deadly threat. Many health officers are reporting progress is being made in treating it while they struggle behind the scenes to make beds and ventilators available for their sick.

It is not as if administrators were unaware a pandemic threatened mankind. In recent years we have had several near misses with SARS, and Ebola, but is the madness of mankind not to worry about future threats until we have to deal with them. Right now we can see the foolishness of this behaviour. Yet we procrastinate soothed by the words of business lobbyists.

How have we denied the warnings about global warming from similar learned people is beyond comprehension. This is yet another reason for speaking out. In my mouselike way my words are silenced except for recording , “What is happening is not happening in my name”. Perhaps it his is more difficult until one has lived through many awful life events and observed it hasn’t always been so easy. My hope remains world leaders will put aside the nonsense industry people spread and instruct their scientists to advise them.

My last point is contentious. I want billionaires to donate all but their pocket money to science. If I pick just one I will start with Bill Gates. I cannot decide whether he is a saint or sinner. His charities do such a lot of good yet the question remains, was his wealth legitimate from the beginning? Leaving that question aside.

I want him to abandon the idea that big business will help agriculture and global food supply. I think water and soil and seed, that isn’t owned by business, and organic fertiliser, again unowned by business, is all farmers need to produce food locally. Food has been produced that way forever. Monoculture is not good for the planet. If you are unsure of this get the scientists of the world to study food production with no thought of patents and licences. Just do it for the hell of it like was done in the IGY back in 1957/58.

Here is an interview with a very old Phillip Law. (He was 97 when he died)

https://www.science.org.au/learning/general-audience/history/interviews-australian-scientists/dr-phillip-law-1912-2010

The things you can learn from a country girl.

Image Perth Now

I married a country girl. She was of the land. She knew things about the rural idyll that other girls didn’t. She knew, in the fog of the early morning, the cows welcomed the release they felt in their udders when she milked them. She knew the fruit trees with spring flowers meant there would be bottling jobs to do in the autumn. She also knew that when the grass dried out in the summertime the hay she helped store in the barn would smell sweet in depth of winter.

Her larder was used to store the bounty of the seasons for use where nothing much grew and the days were short. A full larder meant there was no need to starve at all in less plentiful times. And so we married.

Into our home marched the habits of a lifetime. To be even more correct, as she was only young, she bought with her the wisdom handed down to her by her generations who had learned the benefits of prudent living through bitter experiences. If life couldn’t be predicted, it was wise to, at least, prepare for contingencies unknown.

Thus, instead of the clock announcing it was dinner time, and the necessity for food to placed on the table becoming a scramble, her well established routine meant dinner appeared on time. At our place there was no need to rush to the supermarket it was all at hand. Our panty has always groaned with the ingredients of a gourmet’s kitchen.

Country living had prepared this woman to plan. So there was never any need to rush to a shop at the last minute because the odds were, if you did the shop would be closed when you most needed it to be open.

For over fifty-five years it has been that way. Before something is consumed the need for its replacement is recorded on a list, and the list is set aside ready for our next visit to the shops. In the early days of wedlock we shopped fortnightly. We we settled in suburbia the need was perhaps not necessary but we shopped weekly. We still do.


Our world is currently in turmoil because of the unknown direction it will take as countries around the globe prepare for the threatened pandemic of coronavirus. Already many countries have closed their borders to foreigners. There are obvious signs of xenophobia especially towards Chinese people. (As far as I can see, in these early days before a vaccine is formulated, the virus does not choose to infect one nationality before another.)

The resultant caution is upsetting global markets. This country is predicting -along with an unprecedented run of bushfires- there will be a reduction in business output. In turn this means it must – at some stage – be met with other reductions.

I have read our oil supplies – supposed to be equivalent to three months – would only be enough for nineteen days. This is less time than Mrs W sets aside for staples like flour at our place. At a pinch, if the need arose, she would be able to supplement other cereal powders instead of wheat for even a much longer period.

Countries, like this one, that rely on things like petroleum they no longer refine – need to spend a little time in the company of country girls if they are to weather unconsidered emergencies unscathed.

Do your bit¡

I am still waiting. Strictly speaking once I was – but now I have given up. Apparently it is vey easy to grow Oyster Mushrooms in coffee grounds. That is what I have read. Going back a few years ago, for weeks I collected coffee grounds from a local cafe. When I had collected 20 kilograms or so I bought some fungi infused plugs and I popped a few of them into the grounds as Mr Youtube suggested and I waited. As I have stated I am still waiting for the mushrooms to grow.

Possibly, in my haste to get started, I missed an important step that might have ensured success. I intend to return to the matter when the mood next strikes me. Today I want to discuss coffee and something about the environmental issues that flow from our daily drink.

We never see how much waste our cup costs the planet. Here are some of the things you should know. Rather than start with my cup I would prefer we visit the steamy hills where coffee cherries grow. Grown naturally the coffee plant grows in the shade of a mixture of other trees. This means coffee growing is a hit and miss type of subsistence farming. The coffee plant are interspersed across the landscape. When the cherries are red the coffee bean is mature. If they are picked too soon the beans will not make first grade coffee. Therefore it is up to the farmer to pick, and re-pick only the fruit that is ready. Not interested in maturing all at once the plant creates lots of work.

Normally the cherries then leave the farm and the farmer gets a few cents for each kilo. In other circumstances the farmer will earn more if the fruit is taken from the bean on site. When this is done only the valuable beans need to travel beyond the farm gate.

Either way it points to the first part in the story of coffee waste. The cherry fruit is not usually eaten and must be discarded. If it happens on farm then it will make good mulch. If it goes to a factory then it is often burnt to create biomass.

The ideal growing conditions for coffee beans is in the shade but that has not stopped the monoculture of them. In parts of the world large areas are cleared and trees are planted under shade cloth. This means more coffee can be grown per acre but it seldom results in better returns for the small grower. Because big farms make it easier to crop the ground with machinery, the harvested crop so often is. This means farms have fruit at various stages of maturity when it is harvested. This results in more waste and beans of greater and lesser value mixed together. It just highlights the stupidity of monoculture being advanced as the best way to farm.

I cannot envision the scale of size of a figure I discovered when preparing this essay. Only a tiny amount of water is needed to extract the best flavours from the coffee bean. It means that for every cup made there is a heap of grounds to dispose of. The annual crop is around 8.4 million Metric tonnes of coffee. (Incidentally this is almost as much plastic waste the enters the oceans each year.) As I say, you might have a better way of imagining it, but it is around eight and a half large cargo ships of coffee that are used once and discarded – every year. It is a mountain of coffee. Each year the problem gets bigger because of the demand for more, and more.

Some people are promoting small business opportunities for the unemployed. They promote the growing of mushrooms because mushroom mycelium loves to grow in it. How much could be used this way is only a tiny part of what is available. Coffee grounds can be great for the garden, yet for it to really help it must first be composed for several weeks. When it has partly broken down it really does help to grow things. Some coffee shops will give away their grounds, but far too many send it to the tip because they cannot get rid of it fast enough. Fortunately, instant coffee manufacturers use this waste to produce energy.

This could be the end of the story instead it all becomes grimier from here. Many people now get their buzz at home from Pod machines. Nespresso introduce the pod machine to Europe in 1996. On the face of it it makes a lot of sense. No coffee beans are wasted because the householder gets a precise dose of coffee every time. But the pods are a problem. They are made from plastic. Thirty seconds after the coffee is made the household has 18 grams of coffee and plastic to dispose of. None of it can go into the garden. It just goes into the waste bin.

America started using pod machines about twelve months after Europe. They produce so much waste the inventor regrets the damage his invention produces.

https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/food/drink/inventor-of-coffee-pods-i-feel-bad-sometimes-that-i-ever-did-it/news-story/ef9fb27d9c7d8ef2a85b533929b40aed

Despite that – pod machines seem to be here to stay. Some argue the neatest solution is to use aluminium pods because they can be recycled. The energy needed to do that is unsustainable. The spent coffee may well be the correct dose but it has to be removed before the aluminium can be recycled.

Which leads me to an event that stirred me to write to the chairman of the largest shipping company in the world. We were on a month long cruise. On it we visited many wonderful places. In each country we visited we were able to go to some of the most interesting sites selected by UNESCO as world treasures. Our ship was small and on it there were people of many different nationalities. In the end it didn’t seem to matter which country they came from they all wanted a brewed coffee. The service standard on the ship was such anyone, on any deck of the ship could ask and be delivered a steaming cup of coffee without moving.

Yet every day the same people went directly to the barista to get a cup of coffee so fresh the beans had been roasted at seven am that morning. Guests could choose any type of China, or glass vessel, for their coffee and still half of them wanted a paper cup to carry the drink to their place of choice to drink. What I saw was what has become a bigger problem than pods of coffee. This usage was just part of the mountains of plastic – lined, one use cups, thrown away every day. On board we were told they were burnt. Across the globe people throw them anywhere. They have become a major part of the plastic waste the world now has to deal with.

This may not be my last word on the topic, but it is time we put aside our want for items that are only used once. Currently about 4,000 places in Australia will offer a price discount on a cup of coffee if the customer brings along a cup. The discount is not what motivates most of these customers, it is the care they want to show the environment. To reuse a product is much more sensible that to recycle, or repurpose.