Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Apparently this is a standard procedure all paramedics follow at the scene of an accident when they come across your cell phone.
ICE - "In Case of Emergency"
We all carry our mobile phones with names & numbers stored in its memory but nobody, other than ourselves, knows which of these numbers belong to our closest family or friends.
If we were to be involved in an accident or were taken ill, the people attending us would have our mobile phone but wouldn't know who to call.
Yes, there are hundreds of numbers stored but which one is the contact person in case of an emergency?
Hence this "ICE" (In Case of Emergency) Campaign the concept of "ICE" is catching on quickly.
It is a method of contact during emergency situations.
As cell (mobile) phones are carried by the majority of the population, all you need to do is store the number of a contact person or persons who should be contacted during emergency under the name "ICE" ( In Case Of Emergency).
The idea was thought up by a paramedic who found that when he went to the scenes of accidents, there were always mobile phones with patients, but they didn't know which number to call.
He therefore thought that it would be a good idea if there was a nationally recognized name for this purpose.
In an emergency situation, Emergency Service personnel and hospital staff would be able to quickly contact the right person by simply dialing the number you have stored as "ICE."

This is an email I received. It sounded like a good idea and I thought 'I must do that later'. In my usual 'Hamlet' fashion I didn't get around to doing it despite thinking of it several times. Finally I thought not only will I do it but such a good idea is worth posting on the blog, just as a short note to help promote the campaign. But first I thought I had better get some facts...... even if the only reason was that I couldn't remember whether it was I.C.E. (In Case of Emergency) or R.I.C.E. (Ring In Case of Emergency).

The idea was conceived by Bob Brotchie, a paramedic with the East Anglian Ambulance Service in England and gained support after the London bombings in July 2005.

So is I.C.E. a good idea? In September 2005 the Victorian Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Tim Holding threw his support behind the campaign and congratulated the people who were running the campaign in the U.K. Some reports claim Telstra have also supported the idea and have even sent out over 7 million text messages urging people to include I.C.E. into their phones. Other internet articles claimed that most Australian emergency organizations had thrown their support behind the idea.

Many emails people received about I.C.E. claimed to have come from the New South Wales Ambulance Service. However the Ambulance Service issued their own media release in January 2008 saying they had "not launched any campaign supporting ICE (In Case of Emergency)", but they went on to say that they supported any idea which helped in contacting families in the case of an emergency and that I.C.E. had merit as one of these methods.

Some concerns have been raised about the idea. For instance many phones may be locked and require a password to access the number; of course if the I.C.E. number is accessible without a password this may compromise confidentiality. It may be unnecessarily distressing where a person in an accident has borrowed another person's phone and the wrong family are called.

There was also an email circulating warning that the I.C.E. campaign was a scam and that once entered into PAYG phones it allowed unused credit to be stolen. Like the email which claimed that I.C.E. was an initiative promoted by the NSW Ambulance Service this email was also false.

I wondered how widespread the idea was. I visited the local ambulance, police and emergency ward at the hospital to see if many people were using it. At the Ambulance station one officer had never heard of it; one had vaguely heard of it and kindly looked it up on the computer; and another had heard about it but knew that the NSW Ambulance service had issued a media release saying it was not their campaign. A good discussion ensued. While the officers agreed the idea had some merit they also pointed out that the idea had problems: phones got mixed up in an accident, people usually had wallets or handbags with i.d., and ambulance officers would be concerned with treatment and getting people to hospital not phoning next-of-kin. All fair responses.

Next I tried the police. The officers I had spoken to had not heard of it. They also thought the idea could have merit but thought there may be confusion over I.C.E. or R.I.C.E. or N.O.K. (Next of Kin). They also pointed to other forms of identifying a person and referred to their extensive files and knowledge of local people.

So on to the hospital. Reception staff hadn't heard of it but in the Emergency Ward the sister knew all about it, but pointed out that they had never had to use it. She asked other staff in the ward and about half of them knew of it.

So to tell the truth I still haven't entered I.C.E. into my phone..... probably 'cause I need a 12 year old kid to do it for me. Do I think it is a good idea? Well it would seem that paramedics and ambulance staff would not be the ones to use it, its not really their job; but once at the hospital it is possible that it could be useful. The scheme doesn't seem widespread so there is always the possibility nobody would use it even if you have it listed. Given these minor drawbacks it still can't hurt to have it in the phone anyway ..... except maybe if you are unconscious at at accident and the first person to the accident, which inevitably is the tow truck driver, uses your phone to ring your next-of-kin to get the contract to tow your car away!

More important to paramedics is any medical information about you. Maybe there could be a function in the phone which has your photo (so they get the right person), your blood group, any allergies, any medications, and any medical conditions. All this, including who to ring in an emergency, could be there at the touch of a button. Instead of I.C.E. we could have M.I.N.E. (Medical Information and Notification in Emergency).

Sunday, March 28, 2010


This was my favourite sign in Nepal.

Of course this ran a close second....but for other reasons.

I had to look twice as I passed this house in Sydney. That's right....its a dentist. Have a close look at the lights. Yep, they are little teeth!!

This picture was shamelessly 'borrowed' from another blog. A very good blog, Keetha Stuff 'N Such, give it a visit.

Another picture from Nepal. Learn to be a pilot for Christmas.....was I tempted? What do you think?

I like this sign near Narrandra. Eversince I have first seen it I have wanted to make another sign to hang under it. The new sign would read: "but in the daytime they are happy!"

Thursday, March 25, 2010


In which war have the most Americans been killed?

The American Civil War lasted from 12 April 1861 to 9 April 1865. It not only saw more Americans killed than in any other war, but there were more Americans killed in the civil war than in World War 1, World War 11, Korea and Vietnam all put together. Union Army hospitals alone treated over 6 million soldiers during the war. During this time there were twice as many deaths from disease as there were from being shot, with diarrhea and dysentery alone killing over 44,000 Union soldiers. Many soldiers from both sides killed during the war are buried in the 79 National Civil War cemeteries, over half of these graves are marked as unknown. "Dog tags" were invented during the civil war by the United States Christian Commission as a mean of identification.

The first soldier killed in the war was a Massachusett volunteer, Luther C. Ladd, who died at Baltimore on 19 April 1861. The last soldier killed in combat was over a month after the war had officially ended. This was at a battle at Palmito Ranch in Texas.

The battle with the most soldiers killed and wounded was Gettysburg in 1863, this battle lasted three days. On the Union side 21% of those who participated were killed or wounded; on the Confederate side 30%. In total 40,322 American soldiers were killed or wounded in this single battle. One regiment, the 26th North Carolina Infantry went into this battle with 800 men. By the end of the third day 708 were dead, wounded or missing. In one company of 84 men every single soldier had been killed or wounded. The 18,000 men of General Sedgwick's Corps stretched out in a column for over 16 kilometres and had marched for over 18 hours, stopping to rest only once to get to Gettysburg to join this battle.

The worst single day of battle was at Antietem Creek, near Sharpsburg, Maryland on 17 September 1862 when nearly 23,000 soldiers were killed or wounded. This is about nine times the number of casualties the Americans suffered during D-Day in World War 11. However a different battle must have seemed even more horrific. During the Battle of Cold Harbor an estimated 7,000 soldiers died in a period of 20 minutes when Confederate forces assaulted a fortified Union position.

In a war where brother literally fought against brother there are some very interesting and colourful facts. It was the first war which used weapons such as a practical machine gun, a repeating rifle, siege artillery mounted on railway carriages, iron-clad ships, torpedoes and multi-manned submarines. It was the first war to make extensive use of trenches, reconnaissance from a hot-air balloon, voting in the field for a national election and the first photograph taken in combat.

There were 2.3 million men enlisted in the Union Army during the war. Seventy percent of these were under the age of 23 years old. Approximately 100,000 of them were 16 years old, and another 100,000 were 15. Three hundred were younger than 13, and 25 who were younger than 10 years old. About 300 women also disguised themselves as men to fight in the war. The last Union soldier, Albert Woolson died in 1956; and the last Confederate soldier died in 1959 aged 117.

Throughout the war there were over 400 Confederate generals, including Robert E. Lee, Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson and James Longstreet. Jackson was eventually killed by his own men, who mistook him for the enemy. The Union army had more than 550 generals, including Ulysses S. Grant, Phil Sheridan, Dan Sickles and George Armstrong Custer. General Sickles had his leg amputated after it was crushed by a cannon ball at the Battle of Gettysburg. Sickles kept the amputated leg bone, and the cannon ball and later presented them to the Army Medical Museum. One person not to be made general was a Polish immigrant, Wladimir Krzyanowski. Krzyanowski commanded troops from New York but the U.S. Senate found it too difficult to pronounce his name and so would not confirm his promotion to general.

The war not only pitched neighbour against neighbour but often families were also divided. In 1862 when J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry raided Chambersburg in Pennsylvannia they were pursued by Union cavalry commanded by his father-in-law, General George Cooke. President Lincoln, the Commander-In-Chief of the Union Army had four brothers-in-law in the Confederate Army.

Clinton Prentiss was a major in the Union 6th Maryland Infantry. His younger brother, William was in the Confederate 2nd Maryland Infantry. Although they had been separated for four years their regiments fought each other at Petersburg on 2 April 1865 (7 days before the end of the war). Both were wounded in the battle and were taken to the same hospital in Washington where both later died.

For some Americans it was difficult to decide which side they should be fighting on. William MaGruder was in command of a squadron of the 1st United States Cavalry at the First Battle of Bull Run. In August 1862 he was granted leave, and two months later he joined the Confederate Army to finally be killed at Gettysburg. William Gillespie graduated from the Virginian Military Institute in 1862. While awaiting his appointment to Confederate 'Stonewall' Jackson's staff, Gillespie deserted and joined the Union army. He later became Adjutant of the 14th West Virginia Cavalry. Even the south's most famous general, Robert E. Lee was at first offered a command in the Union army.

Henry Morton Stanley (who said "Doctor Livingstone, I presume") joined the Confederate army and was part of a charge at the Battle of Shiloh, where he was taken prisoner. He later joined the Union army. In 1861 Mark Twain joined the Marion Rangers as a lieutenant but after firing only one shot in battle he left before it became part of the Confederate forces.

A civil war battle was fought in the middle of the Arizona Desert on 15 April 1862. It was fought by 26 men, but is the westernmost battle of the war.

In 1863 at the Battle of Stone's River in Tennessee Union forces fired over 2 million bullets and over 20,000 artillery rounds in three days. The weight of this ammunition was more than 170,000 kilograms. At the Battle of First Bull Run it has been estimated that between 8,000 and 10,000 rounds were fired for every soldier killed or wounded. 80% of all wounds inflicted in the war came from a single shot muzzle loading rifle used by both sides. Only 10% of casualties were caused by artillery fire.

In 1864 the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the C.S.S. Alabama fought an hour long naval battle which resulted in the sinking of the Alabama. The battle was fought in the English Channel and was watched by Frenchman standing on the beach in Cherbourg, France. Another ship, the Confederate cruiser Shenandoah sailed completely around the world attacking Union shipping. It eventually surrendered to the British at Liverpool seven months after the war ended.

For more interesting facts on the American Civil War I recommend: William Price's Civil War Handbook.

Monday, March 22, 2010


When I first began teaching I would attend professional development activities and inevitably you would be asked to write down why you were a teacher. Or to put it another way, what was your philosophy of teaching. You were usually given half an hour or so to do this at the start of the day..... which was coincidentally, convenient because it gave the presenter half an hour to get organised. You would sit there for half an hour trying to think of some answer so you could appear brilliant if called upon to read it out. I would wonder whether I was game enough to tell them I finished school and didn't know what to do when someone suggested teaching and mentioned you could get a scholarship to go to university. I would look around and see how the serious people were furiously filling their papers with their views on 'truth, justice and the department of education way'. Then I would revert to doodling or drawing cartoons. See I was keen, very keen but I just didn't have a philosophical vision or a star to steer myself by. I expected to develop this as I learnt my trade.

I began as a History and Special Education teacher. 'Special Education'! This was because I didn't want to teach English. My first practical session was at a high school in Sydney. I taught some History and hang around with the Special Education class. The star pupil was Stephen. He was 14 years old and had not spoken until he was about 9. The high school had a program where he would take messages around the school and this would encourage him to interact with staff and students. This program had been running for over a year so when Stephen appeared at the staffroom door with a note I opened it and read:

This note is of no consequence whatsoever. Just sign the bloody thing and send Stephen on his way.

During the two weeks I was there the class were learning how to cook peas and eat them. They had been doing this for nearly a term. They had coloured-in stencils of peas, grown peas, written stories about peas, and even made little felt pencil cases which looked like a pea pod.... complete with smiling little peas inside when you opened the zipper. During one lesson they had discussed how to cook peas and they had written out the method and had a look at the equipment needed. Now was the big day. A double lesson in which they got to cook and eat their peas. I had a history class during the first period and so at the break went down to the kitchen. Most of the kids were sitting eating their peas. But Stephen was in the corner huddled over the sink. I went over to him and found he was stuffing peas down the plug. "No, Stephen" I said "You are allowed to eat them". He paused long enough to turn and tell me in no uncertain terms "I don't even like spinach".

But Stephen was an expert in other things. He probably knew more about dinosaurs then all the teachers there put together. He could pronounce the names of dinosaurs that we had never heard of. He could tell you when they lived, what they ate, what size they were and how much they weighed. He was so good that the teachers would get him to give a talk to the year 7 classes when they were studying dinosaurs. This also built up Stephen's confidence.

Teaching Special Education taught me a lot. A lot which shaped the way I taught and also transferred over into mainstream classes. It also shaped my 'philosophy' of why I teach. It can best be summed up by a story I once heard:

A famous American writer/philosopher was walking along a huge beach and there were millions of star fish washed up on the beach by a storm. As he walked along he saw a young man pick up a star fish and throw it back into the ocean. He watched for a while as the man picked up another and threw it into the ocean also. He walked up to the man and said "there are millions of them you can't make a difference". The young man paused, but then bent down, pick up another and walked to the water's edge and threw it into the ocean. He came back to the writer and said "it made a difference to that one".

I have already mentioned the Everest Children's Home in Nepal where my daughter, Amanda and I were doing volunteer work. When I returned home she stayed and did an extra month with the kids. In Nepal she spent all the money she possessed on the kids, including hiring them a tutor to try bring their grades up at school. She has also been trying to raise the money to send all of the children to private school as this will help them get a better start in life (there is a big difference in a government and a private school in Nepal). It cost so little to send these kids to school, around $400 a year per child. Amanda has done a fantastic job and there are only 6 kids left to find money for. Of course this won't solve the orphan problem in Nepal....but like the starfish.....it will make a difference to them. The pictures on this post are the children from the Everest Children's Home.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


I worked with my brother this week putting up children's playgrounds. Wednesday and Thursday were spent in Woolgoolga. After finishing at 7.30 in the evening we drove through the night to get to a small village in the Hunter Valley for a job the next morning. It was a long hot day and the only room we were able to get was in the local pub. It was small with a double bed, two single beds and a pedestal fan.

We didn't care, we were exhausted. Ashley pulled the blanket off the double bed and slept under the sheet. Ryan collapsed on top of a single bed, clothes and all and was soon snoring. I slept on top of the bed so as to get the breeze from the fan and the window.

Half way through the next day Ashley said "Well you realize we won't be able to come back to this town".

We looked at him puzzled and asked why?

"Think about it. Three men share a room. When they come to make up the room in the morning two beds are untouched and only the double bed has all the blankets pulled off. Next time if you sleep on top of your beds at least muck them up in the morning!"

Ryan completing work on some of the attachments.

The playground under construction.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


In September 2009 an international team of archaeologists searching for traces of ancient pollen discovered minute fragments of fibres on a cave floor in the Republic of Georgia. The small fibres were from flax plants growing wild in the area and were dyed pink, turquoise and black using natural dyes made from plants and roots. Samples were dated using radio carbon dating and appear to be over 30,000 years old. The fragments were so numerous they are evidence that stone age man would have taken strands of flax to the cave to weave into linen and thread. They are the oldest evidence for coloured clothing and dyeing.

There is written evidence that dye was used in China in 2600 BC. Tests on fragments of cloth found in the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh, Tutankhamen reveal traces of alizarin, a pigment extracted from madder and used for dying. The Romans had established wool dying industries in their city by 715BC. Alexander the Great found 190 year old robes in the Persian treasury at Susa in 331BC and four years later mentions "beautiful printed cotton" in India. The Romans also found that the Gauls were dyeing blue designs on their skin using woad.

The process of colouring fibres, yarns or fabrics has been around for a long time. The dyes used have come from natural products and usually require some sort of 'fixative' to make the colour more permanent. One colour which was very desirable in the ancient world was purple. This came from a small shell fish which secreted a minute amount of a deep purple fluid. The colour was harvested by cracking the shell of the mollusc open and digging the colour from a vein near its head. It is estimated that it took eight and a half thousand shellfish to produce one gram of the dye. Hence the dye was extremely expensive and in most of the ancient cultures this meant that purple became a colour only worn by royalty.

One of the oldest dyes is that of kermes. This is mentioned in the Bible book of Genesis (38:28) as a scarlet or crimson and is made from the dried bodies of a female insect, the Kermes ilices. By the 4th century AD other dyes used included woad (blue from leavest), madder (red from roots), weld (yellow from seeds), brazilwood (red from the wood) and indigo (blue from leaves). Iron and copper salts were also used as a dye; red, yellows and brown ochres were obtained from iron oxides. The Aztec and Mayan Indians of Central America used a red dye made from the cochineal beetles which lived on cacti. Conquered Mayan cities were forced to pay a tribute which included decorated cotton blankets and bags of cochineal dye. Conchineal is still harvested today in the Canary Islands. In 1727 a method using kelp(seaweed) was developed in Scotland to bleach linen, and in 1766 a Dr. Cuthbert Gordon patented a dye called Cudbear (named after his mother) made from lichens.

Interestingly traditional British army uniform coats were red in colour. This was not selected as a colour because as has often been suggested that the red would not show up blood when a person was shot. It was selected because red dye was plentful and therefore cheaper. The eventual change to khaki came in a similar way. Sir harry Lumsden commanded a British army unit in India in 1846. He found the traditional pants didn't suit the hot conditions and so began wearing pyjama pants, which were baggier and made from a lighter material. To disguise this embarassing fact he died the pants with a local dye, mazari, made from plants. The Indians called these pants khakis from the Hindu word for 'dust'. Two years later the British adopted these pants for all infantry serving in India. During the American civil war the Confederate army wore a light grey uniform but because of blockades by the North material was hard to come by. Many soldiers took northern uniforms and dyed them using a dye made from acorns, walnut shells and lye. This produced a light tan colour called butternut and became a very common uniform for the south.

The colours produced from these natural dyes were inconsistent, unpredictable and would often fade or wash out. There were also only a limited range of colours which could be produced. This changed in 1856 when an 18 year-old chemistry student was experimenting with coal tar, trying to produce an artificial quinine as a cure for malaria. The student, William Perkins, found he had produced a grubby looking residue which exhibited "a strangely beautiful colour". He had accidentally made the world's first synthetic aniline dye, producing a colour which later came to be called mauviene (mauve). Perkins found his dye was always consistent in colour and drew considerable interest from the royal family. It was quickly found to have an industrial value and Perkins started his own factory in London to produce the dye.

Perkin's discovery revolutionized dye making allowing others to develop many other colours and dyes. Two years later the French patented a synthetic red dye called magenta or fushsine. Other synthetic colours quickly followed. In 1905 Adolf von Baeyer (inventer of the aspirin) discovered how to produce a synthetic indigo (one of the most popular dyes) and the natural dye was quickly replaced. Natural dyes very soon lost their popularity to the more consistent and brighter synthetic ones. By the outbreak of World War 1 very few manufacturers were using natural dyes. Natural dyes are today finding a resurgence as people seak 'natural', environmental friendly alternatives and organic handicrafts turn to 'natural' products.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Arguably one of the most recognizable paintings of the 20th century is Pablo Picasso's Guernica. However many people who recognise the painting would not know what it was called nor what inspired Picasso to produce such a painting.

Guernica is painted in blue, black and white oil paint on canvas. It is 3.5 metres tall and 7.8 metres wide and is now located in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid. Picasso was commissioned by the Spanish Republican government to create a large mural for display at the World's Fair in Paris in 1937. The painting reflects the horror and devastation caused by the bombing of the Spanish town of Guernica by German and Italian planes on 26 April 1937, during the Spanish Civil War.

The Spanish Civil War was fought between 17 July 1936 and 1 April 1939. It began when a group of Spanish army generals tried to overthrow the Spanish government, under the presidency of Manuel Azana. The generals, supported by the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (C.E.D.A.), monarchist (known as Carlists) and the Fascists Falange became known as the Nationalists and were soon supported by Hitler's Nazi Germany, Mussolini's Fascist Italy and Portugal. General Franco, who had brought his soldiers from Morocco, was named as the leader of a Nationalist government on 1 October 1936.

After the coup attempt there were many uprising by workers around the country supporting the Republican government. The army were ruthless in crushing these revolts. The Republican side received support from the Soviet Union and Mexico. Volunteers flocked from all over the world to join the Republican cause, including volunteers from Australia and over 2,000 Americans. By the end there were over 30,000 volunteers from some 53 countries. These were often grouped together in 'International Brigades'.

Shown here are Australian troops who had enlisted independently in the Spanish Civil War.

Many reporters also converged on Spain to report the war first hand. These included Ernest Hemmingway, George Orwell and Robert Capa. George Orwell even joined in the fighting on the Republican side. Such was the coverage that it has sometimes been called 'the first media war'.

The war was seen as a battle between communism and fascism. It has also been seen as a prelude to World War 11, and it was certainly a chance for countries to test out military hardware and tactics. It saw tanks used on a large scale and in an offensive role and it saw large scale aerial bombing of towns such as Guernica.

Troops manning the barricades in Spanish streets.

The town of Guernica was 15 kilometres behind the Republican front lines. It was in the heart of Basque territory, a people who had held out against the Nationalist armies since the beginning of the civil war. Franco wanted to make an example and punish the city of 5,000 people. The German Luftwaffe's Condor Legion, led by Lieutenant Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen (cousin of the Red Baron)were keen to try out new aerial tactics and so targeted the city of Guernica for aerial bombardment. The bombing took place on a Monday when the town was full of people for market day. The Condor Legion bombed the city from a very low height before making another pass and machine gunning groups of fleeing civilians. The city exploded into a fire-ball and was completely devastated, 1,654 people were killed and 889 wounded. The world was horrified.

The war became known for its brutality and horror. Over 300,000 people lost their lives in the war, over a third of these were civilians executed by the other side. The war was marked by executions, assassinations and mass killings. The war ended when the remnants of the Republican army fled across the border into France in March 1939.

Interestingly a tapestry copy of Picasso's Guernica hangs on the wall of the United Nations building in New York City. When Colin Powell and John Negroponte held a press conference at the United Nations in 2003 the tapestry, which was in the background was covered up for the event by a large blue curtain. It seemed unfitting to be arguing for the war on Iraq with a painting commemorating death and destruction behind them....... and directly behind the speakers' head would be a horse's hindquarters (which to me would somehow seem very fitting).

This famous photograph by Robert Capa shows a soldier at the point of death. It was taken during the civil war in Spain.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


This week Australian, and world media outlets focused on the miraculous birth of a 100 kilogram baby Asian elephant at Sydney's Taronga Park Zoo. It was miraculous not only because the birth was the result of artificial insemination, but also because during the mother's difficult labour it was thought that the calf had died. Zoo staff and veterinarians had pronounced the calf dead while still in the womb as they could find no signs of life. It is now believed that the calf had gone into a coma-like state, probably as a reaction to the trauma it was experiencing.

Although the male calf is described as still 'very weak' it has tried to take its first steps and has accepted a feed of several litres of colostrum, a form of milk produced by nursing mothers which helps to build up disease resistant anti-bodies in the baby. The baby elephant's mother, Porntip was artificially inseminated 22 months ago as part of the zoo's breeding program. The mother has been trying to encourage the young calf to suckle and has been gently caressing the calf with her trunk.

At present there are between 15 and 20 thousand elephants in captivity around the world. Some of these are in zoos, such as Taronga, but others are in circuses or other forms of limited freedom. In the wild, both the African and the Asian elephant are listed as endangered species. The Asian elephant only exist in small herds in Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Thailand. These herds total between 30,000 and 44,000 individual elephants. Latest estimates of the number of African elephants which exist in the wild today are about 400,000 individuals.

One of the main reasons for the demise of elephant populations has been the ivory trade. This trade had been steadily growing since the 1940s but with the increased availability of automatic weapons during the 1970s and corrupt governments willing to take their share in profits a severe strain was put on wild elephant populations. In 1986 concern over diminishing elephant populations resulted in the implementation of an ivory quota system, where each tusk was marked and coded with its country of origin. In this way the trade in ivory could be monitored and regulated.

However the illegal ivory trade continued. Burundi and South Africa were singled out as the two main offending countries. Controls put into place were relatively easy to evade. For instance by 1988 Burrundi had only one live elephant left in the country yet they continued to export approximately one-third of the world's supply of raw ivory.

Hong Kong and Japan have been the two main importers of elephant ivory, between them taking over half of the world's supply. The tusks are used to make carvings for sale as jewellery and art. In Japan the ivory is cut into small blocks for signature stamps (called 'hanko'). In 1999 an illegal shipment from Rwanda to Japan of 420 kilograms of cut ivory blocks was seized in Paris. This suggests the trade still continues.

In 1989 a ban was placed on the trade of all African elephant parts, including ivory. However seizures of ivory between 2004 and 2007 suggest that as many as 20,000 elephants are being killed annually to feed the world's ivory markets. At times these bans have been relaxed in part. In 2002 Botswana, South Africa and Namibia were approved to export elephant skins and trinkets made from ivory to certain destinations. In 1997 Zimbabwe were allowed to export dried elephant skins, ears and feet-most were sold to Japan and the US (in the US now you can buy elephant skin boots). The export of elephant tusks as hunting trophies is allowed each year from 8 African countries, most of these going to the US (some 400 sets annually). It is feared the relaxation of bans may lead to an increase in the demand for ivory and again put pressure on endangered elephant populations.

The 20 year ban on the international trade in ivory comes up for renewal in June of this year. Five African countries: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Malawi have been lobbying for the abolition of this international ban. They have even agreed to set up a joint ivory marketing board to sell to countries which are not part of the agreement, such as Taiwan and Korea. This weekend, March 13 two African nations, Tanzania and Zambia, will ask the United Nations for exemptions from the bans already in place. You can sign a petition against these exemptions by following the link: .http://www.avaaz.org/en/no_more_bloody_ivory/98.php?cl_taf_sign=6NJXypzF

(The photographs on this post are from the Elephant Breeding Centre at Chitwan, Nepal. They include a rare set of twins born in captivity)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Many people associate the tulip with Holland. However it is not native to Holland but was introduced to that country from the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. The flower is native to mountainous region of western Europe and central Asia.

The Turks regarded the flower as special, being cultivated for the pleasure of the sultan and his court. There were strict laws preventing the tulip from being sold outside the capital, punishment meant exile from the country. The Turks were also believe to have held the first tulip festival. This was held at night, under a full moon. There were aviaries of exotic birds and the guests had to wear clothes which complemented the colours of the flowers.

During the mid-sixteen century it is believed that the Austrian ambassador to the Turkish Empire took some tulip bulbs from Constantinople to his garden in Vienna. From here it spread into central Europe and eventually Holland in 1562. The bulb became very popular and the Dutch took the lead in trading and breeding prize specimens.

In the 1630s in Holland this trade in tulip bulbs became an obsession. Both wealthy and poor began to speculate investing in bulbs. The bulbs were sold by weight. So many people speculated on the future weight of the bulb. They would buy bulbs, plant them and wait for the soil to nuture them and increase their weight. It was often said it was like making money out of thin air, and so the trade became known as "the wind trade".

The situation was made worse by a disease which began to infect Tulip bulbs. Instead of killing the plant it caused changes to the colour of the flower. Huge flames and splashes of colour on the petals only added to the excitement and the desire these flowers caused. Traders were now able to demand even higher prices for new varieties.

The price of these bulbs rose dramatically. They would be bought and sold and even change owners a number of times while they were still in the ground. During 1636 and 1637 this speculation reached such absurd proportions that it is referred to as "Tulipomania". During this time tulip bulbs have been recorded as selling for the same price as a house. There is a record of a bulb being swapped for a brewery in France, and it became acceptable that a single bulb could be given as a dowry for a bride. Others were swapped for acres of land or a horse and buggy. A bill of sale shows one bulb being sold for “two [loads] of wheat and four of rye, four fat oxen, eight pigs, a dozen sheep, two oxheads of wine, four tons of butter, a thousand pounds of cheese, a bed, some clothing and a silver beaker.”

Tulip fever swept the country and many other ordinary industries were neglected and forgotten. Of course religious leaders and moralists tried to stop this speculation. The government even passed laws but it still continued until its inevitable collapse. When the collapse did come many people lost everything they owned. Some varieties did continue to command high prices but generally the demand dried up. It took decades for Holland to recover from this economic crisis, its effects being comparable to the Wall Street crash and the Great Depression of the 20th century.

Photographs on this page were taken in Holland and supplied by Elizabeth Shore

Friday, March 5, 2010


Here are two more 50 word stories.

Tinkerbell had just been given her wings. Her first day as a fairy. She was going to make everyone proud. She saw him. A big ogre. Sitting beside the river looking sad. She'd land on his arm and cheer him up with a wish. A smooth landing.
"Bloody mosquitos".

In his tattered coat he looked across the farm at the golden corn. Finally, a good year. Then they came. A black cloud. Crows. He'd get rid of them before they caused havoc. He waved his outstretched hands. One landed on his shoulder and pecked the straw from his head.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Boys will be boys! As an historian and a history teacher I am interested in most things historical, especially the way people lived. It seems many other people share this interest. In Australia there are a plethora of re-enactment groups. I could find over fifty of these groups listed, covering many periods in history. These range from Ancient Greeks, Romans, Vikings, Knights, Condottieri, Pike and Musket, Napoleonic, American Civil War, Colonial, Victorian era, World War 1 and World War 11.

Historical re-enactors try to recreate as accurately as possible life as it was lived in the historical period they are interested in. Generally this involves adopting the dress of that period and performing demonstrations for special events, festivals, museums, educational purposes or for members of the group to gather and immerse themselves in the history they are living. Often the members of these groups will carry out extensive research into the period they are representing. For each event or public demonstration there have been days, months and years of trial, error and research to get a piece of clothing, a craft or a method of combat as close as it was to its historical counterpart.

My earliest contact with these groups was stories told to me by my good friend, historian Edgar Penzig. Edgar himself had been involved in Colonial Australian reenactment groups. When his daughter married a member of a group who reenacted the American Civil War they had decided to get married in Union uniforms. A complete colour party marched to the church, including drummer boys and flags. Of course Edgar hired a uniform for the event. He told me he was the only one there in a confederate army uniform..... but that was Edgar.

In February 1999 I marched, and I mean marched, from Parkes to Bathurst and a part of a reenactment of the Boomerang march. This was a reenactment of a World War 1 recruitment march. The reenactors followed the route of the original marchers. This began with a train trip from Parkes to Daroobalgie, then marching to Forbes, Yamma Station, Eugowra, Gooloogong, Canowindra, Cowra, Woodstock, Lyndhurst, Carcoar, Blayney, Newbridge and Bathurst.

This a a photograph of the original march.... though the reenactment group looked very similar.

The other group I became involved with were the New Varangian Guard. Guard members recreated the arts, crafts, clothing, weapons, food, art and combat of the Varangian Guard. The original Guard were Vikings and Rus who travelled to Byzantium during the 9th to 13th centuries and found employment there as mercenaries. Because of all the intrique in the court of Byzantium, and the bravery of the Varangian, they were soon enlist by the emperor as trusted bodyguards. They became known as the 'axe-wielding guard' because many were armed with axes as their weapon of choice. The Varangians fought in many battles for the Byzantine Emperor.

I attend a number of New Varangian functions. One of my favourite was the hunt weekend held by the Blue Mountains garrison. A number of 'hunt related activities' took place over the weekend. This included target shooting with bows, hunting a quarry (a well padded person) with blunted arrows, a feast and story telling. There was a young teenager there who just wanted to be in everything all the time. We ended up putting him in armour (including helmet and faceguard) and playing William Tell by trying to shoot an apple off his head. Ten people fired arrows at him....... despite the armour it must have been daunting having arrows firing at your head! We enjoyed it. I ended up winning the weekend...... not because I won any events but because I placed high in each event to give me the highest total, including the story telling. See bullshit baffles brains.

I also attended the New Varangian Guard tenth birthday celebrations in Melbourne. These were held at Monslavat, an artist colony, in a medieval hall. A friend and I walked in through a balcony at the top of the hall..... it was like being transported back in time. A medieval banquet was taking place. Everyone was in costume. There were jugglers, acrobats and story-tellers and a host of medieval food. We drank mulled wine, mead and alcoholic cider from our drinking horns, which because of the shape you couldn't put down. And that night we slept in Viking style tents.

I see on the internet that the New Varangian Guard are flourishing and have garrisons all around Australia.

Earlier days.....obviously! Stumbled across this photograph in the archives, which prompted this post.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


What is a marimba? Well, I'll get to that.

Recently I visited the small village of Greenethorpe in central NSW, about 30 kilometres from Cowra. The town itself has a population of about 100 people, with another 100 living on farms in the surrounding area. The town was originally built in 1908 to accommodate workers on the nearby Iandra Station, then owned by George Henry Greene.

The town boasts a General store/Post Office, a petrol station, a primary school, an Irish pub (built from mud bricks) and an art gallery. The gallery features the work of talented artist, John Hill, a painter and sculptor. John is also well known for the transformations he does on caravans, turning aluminium boxes into functional, works of art, or 'gypsy' homes. The one he is working on now is fantastic. It is a timber cottage built on the back of a truck and has storage places for his boat and tools underneath the bedroom.

Nearby is also Iandra castle, a 53 room 'English' castle. This was built by Mr G. H. Greene from 1899 to 1903. It is now a private residence, though there are tours of the castle every month.

The village is beautiful, peaceful and friendly, and at present very green and lush. It has recently participated in a 'farm to rent for a dollar a week' promotion to try to attract residents to the town. Though having seen the place I am surprised this is necessary..... it was idyllic.

I was there to help install a children's playground at the school. The school had just over 20 students at present. The students were happy and keen, and it appeared a lot of learning was taking place. However what caught our attention were the marimbas. These were stored in an open weather-shed, so the students had access to them all the time and were encouraged to make use of them frequently.

So what is a marimba. Well it is a musical lnstrument, I imagine from the same family as the xylophone or the glockenspiel. It is made on a timber frame and has pipes made from PVC pipe. On top are wooden slats which are struck using sticks or mallets with a rubber end on them. They produce a rich, percussion sound. Three students can play on the instrument at once.

The marimba originated in Africa and was taken to the Americas with the slave trade where it adopted its modern form, though there are many variations on what they are made from, what they look like and their form and shape. Professional, orchestral quality instruments can cost thousands of dollars, but there are also books (and I imagine internet articles) which explain and give measurements for building one at home.

The students at Greenethorpe all know how to play the instrument and have recently won prizes at the local eisteddfod competition. Because they have access to the instrument all the time they can practice anytime they are in the play ground. The marimbas the school have have all been painted and decorated by a local artist and make for an impressive display. The students were only too happy to entertain us with two tunes which they have been learning, and we were only to happy to be distracted from our work and listen.