Responsible runners clean up Australia Reply

By Danielle Williams and Thuy Hong Bui

Responsible runners

From left: Katerina Dominguez, Melissa Petsalis, Leanne Ooi and Madison Belogiannis. Photograph courtesy of the Responsible Runners Brighton Le Sands group.

Australia is renowned for its beautiful beaches and marine
environment. From Bondi Beach to the Great Barrier Reef, we’ve built a reputation – and a thriving tourist industry – on the beauty of our coastline. But are our beaches really as clean as they appear?

Each week, at beaches around the country, volunteers from Responsible Runners come together and collect up to 10 kilos of rubbish off their local beach, often in just 30 minutes. Responsible Runners was founded in 2012 with the aim of reducing marine debris by encouraging locals to take part in regular clean-ups at Bondi Beach. There are now more than 15 groups operating in communities throughout NSW and Australia, all promoting the “Pulse Up, Waste Down” philosophy.

Leanne Ooi is a co-founder of Responsible Runners in Brighton-Le-Sands, which was launched last week. Unlike many beach users, she noticed the cigarette butts, plastic bottles and other waste gathering on the beach. “It actually looked pretty clean, but when you take a closer look there’s so much rubbish on there,” she said. “It makes me really angry when people can’t dispose of their litter in the correct way. I often pick up rubbish on my own but it does feel a bit hopeless.”

Coming across Responsible Runners gave Leanne the inspiration to step up her rubbish collecting efforts and join a growing movement. More…

On being Muslim in Sydney Reply

By June Ramli

Catherine Street Mosque

A community builds a mosque

There is a celebration going on at Maya Camilla’s house. One of her friends has just received some excellent news — her temporary Australian residency visa had finally been approved.

“We are having a potluck party and I am making my meatballs,” she said.

Maya, a Muslim, lives near Punchbowl train station. She says the main reason she chose to live there was because she could join the Muslim community in the area.

“Most of the fast food outlets here, like KFC and McDonalds, serve their burgers using halal meat. Besides Indonesian Muslims, I’ve also noticed a large number of Lebanese Muslims here. I was told that there are some 2,000 of Muslims working and living in Sydney and most of them live in Punchbowl,” she said.

Maya first came to Sydney from Jakarta with her husband and children in 1999 after receiving an Australian Development Scholarship to complete a Master’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Technology, Sydney.

“I came as an international student but soon after I graduated, I decided to emigrate here. This is not the first time my husband and I have lived abroad. Before coming to Sydney, I was studying at Huddersfield University in Manchester, UK. The World Bank had offered me a scholarship to complete a degree in electrical engineering,” she said. More…

Microplastics a new threat to quality of major waterways Reply

By Alexander Salenko


Research into use of microplastics suggests important waterways like Sydney Harbour are again under threat of pollution. Photograph by Peter Dowley used under Creative Commons licence

Every time you wash your face or your fleece jacket, you may be releasing small plastic pieces into the water cycle. The contamination in Sydney Harbour is extraordinarily high. Vivian Sim, a young scientist at the University of NSW, presented the results of her research into our use of microplastics at a public event at the Mosman Art Gallery recently.

When you stand in front of a toiletries shelf in a supermarket, you see many different bottles, jars, cans and tubes. The contents are of various colours and consistencies. In some, there are air bubbles and in others, small colourful beads. These beads can be found in shampoo, body soap, toothpaste and in almost all face scrubs. They serve as abrasives for cleansing purposes and in many cases they are made of polyethylene, a material usually used to make bottles, bags or clothes. Every time you clean your face or wash your teeth with these products, microplastic beans get into the water cycle.

Vivian Sim has been working on the dispersion of microplastics in the harbour for three years. She has discovered that in certain hotspots, 100 milligrams of sediment can contain up to 100 particles of microplastics. This amount is much higher than in other comparable harbours. Ms Sim’s report, which was released for the first time last August by the Sydney Institute of Marine Science, has caused a great stir. Rob Stokes, the NSW Minister for the Environment, has promised to support a national ban on the production of microplastics by 2016. More…

Mothers have their say about homework Reply

By Tiana Vitlic

Homework pic

Opting in or out of homework. Photograph by Christopher Long used under Creative Commons licence

It’s no secret that busy parents struggle with daily house chores and managing family time, let alone having to assist their children to complete homework. For parents, this happens all too often as homework becomes a part of their daily routine.

A number of primary schools in New South Wales has implemented the option for parents to opt out of homework after taking into consideration the struggle parents face in taking the time to help their children. While the number of schools employing this option is minimal at present, there has been much debate on the matter.

Linda Couani, 41, is a mother of two daughters, aged 5 and 7, who attend a primary school in Sydney’s south-west. As a working mother, Mrs Couani is pleased to be able to opt out of homework.

“I find it very difficult to spend the time completing homework on a nightly basis. It takes away from family time, too,” she says, adding that homework should be limited to reading and revision.

“I think reading is important. I also think revising what the children have already learnt in school is a much better way to tackle learning at home. But this concept of bringing new work home and learning a whole new component is a joke.”

Mrs Couani’s youngest daughter, currently in kindergarten, receives homework that consists of a program called Mathletics, an iPad application called Reading Eggs, in addition to assigned home reading. Her older daughter, who is in the third grade, not only receives textbook exercises and assigned homework, she is also required to complete two assignments per term. More…

Flood of greyhounds need homes as inquiry investigates live baiting Reply

By Keith Davidson

Greyhound rescue groups in New South Wales have received dozens of unwanted dogs since the live baiting scandal hit the greyhound racing industry. The NSW Government ordered an inquiry into widespread animal cruelty after horrific footage on ABC’s Four Corners program revealed greyhound trainers used live rabbits, piglets and possums to entice their dogs to run faster.


Ben and Sonja with Daisy at Enmore Park, where she sometimes plays with other rescued greyhounds.

Following the dismissal of its board, Greyhound Racing NSW set up a task force to investigate the allegations. It suspended 11 registered participants and heard inquiries against seven trainers. No NSW trainers have been charged yet.

Sponsors, including Macro Meats, Schweppes, McDonald’s, Bendigo Bank and Hyundai, have distanced themselves from the racing industry in the wake of the scandal. Natalie Panzarino, spokeswoman for Greyhound Rescue, is concerned many greyhounds will become unwanted as funding dries up.

“As prize money dwindles, the dogs will no longer be earning their keep,” she says. “Also, trainers have been banned over this and if their dogs aren’t making money then they may think the dogs aren’t worth keeping.”

Animal welfare groups claim cases like the recent discovery of greyhound mass graves in the Hunter Valley are typical. Mark Pearson, registered officer of the Animal Justice Party, has heard dozens of stories and believes abuse is rampant in an industry with a “mindset of disregard”.

“It is clear cruelty is rife in greyhound racing,” he says. “These dogs are shot, beaten, abandoned. It is a blight on the industry.” More…

Geocaching: the world’s best-kept secret revealed at National Youth Week Reply

By Cara Wagstaff

Geocaching was the buzz across Sydney last week. As part of National Youth Week 2015, the City of Sydney Council put on a free introductory event to geocaching for 12 to 25 year olds at Sydney Park in St Peters

geocaching by danielle

One more clue that helps unlock the puzzle. Photograph by Danielle used under Creative Commons licence

Sydney Park was the site of a treasure hunt of an unusual kind recently. Volunteers from Geocaching NSW took a group of young adults on a tour of the park, visiting historic landmarks such as the old brickworks site and the cricket pavilion in search of hidden caches.

The treasure hunters were geocachers, participants i n an enthusiast hobby where users search for hidden treasure using global positioning system (GPS) coordinates
provided online and a GPS enabled device.

Andrew Nelson, a passionate geocacher, says, “A geocacher will hide a cache, usually a plastic container with a log book inside it. He or she will then post the GPS coordinates online for others to try and find it.

“Once a user has identified a cache, the next step is to put the GPS coordinates into a GPS-enabled device, such as a smart phone, and closely follow the directed path. At the destination, once the cache has been found, the user writes his or her name in the log book inside the cache to officially record the find.”

Geocaches are found all over the world. It is common for geocachers to hide caches in locations that are important to them, reflecting a special interest or skill of the cache owner. More…

Fight For Millers Point subject of new documentary Reply

By Thomas Williams

The sell-off of public housing around Millers Point and The Rocks is being etched into history by a new documentary currently in production. The film, which is the first feature-length project by 27-year-old Sydney filmmaker Blue Lucine, follows the lives of Millers Point residents, including some who are refusing to leave their homes.

Forced Out and Blue

Filmmaker Blue Lucine’s new project ‘Forced Out’ focuses on the sell-off of Millers Point and the forced relocation of tenants

Ms Lucine’s documentary, which currently has the working title ‘Forced Out’, came into being shortly after Pru Goward, former Minister for Family and Community Services, announced in March 2014 that the NSW Government would auction off 293 high-value public housing properties in Millers Point, Gloucester Street and The Rocks, relocating 590 residents. The Government says it intends to complete this sale by March 2016, and will put sale proceeds back into the public housing system.

Ms Lucine says she began her film with an open mind, but soon faced a stark reality. “I started with the opinion that maybe the Government’s plan was the best thing for Sydney but that changed once I was inside the houses and I saw the decay and just how badly everything has been left,” she says. “It just didn’t seem logical that the Government would think selling that amount of property in such a short amount of time was a good idea.” More…

Aboriginal leaders call for a treaty Reply

By Meike Wijers

The closing of some 150 Aboriginal communities in Western Australia has ignited a storm of outrage among both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. At a rally at the Redfern Community Centre on March 21. Aboriginal leaders urge people to reclaim their land and call for a treaty with the Government.

Stop the interventionWhile the fires of the Redfern Tent Embassy are lighting up in the dusk, around 60 people gather at the Redfern Community Center next door. The event, hosted by the Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney and presented by journalist and film-maker Jeff McMullen, marks the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 2015. Four Indigenous women call for a treaty that recognises the sovereignty of the First Nations People over their land and gives them the self-determination that was promised to them when Australia ratified the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1975. However, they claim not much has changed in the past 40 years.

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, well known as an outspoken advocate for Indigenous people and Northern Territory Australian of the Year 2015, delivers an emotional speech. “This is my country. It is the country of the First Nations. I will not put up with the atrocities that are happening over in Western Australia right at this precise moment. If that’s not a land grab, I don’t know what is.” More…

When plants suffer heat stress, the effects are far-reaching Reply

By Vasilis Ragousis

Andrea Leigh

Plant ecologist Dr Andrea Leigh’s current research focuses on how plants operate and survive in extreme high temperatures. Image courtesy UTS

The debate about climate change has been going on for years, but the fact is that temperatures are rising. The September of 2013 went on record as the hottest on record, surpassing the previous record of 1983 by more than a full degree. As the temperature keeps climbing, Australia’s plants and crops are facing increasing dangers.

Dr Andrea Leigh, a plant ecologist in the School of the Environment at the University of Technology, Sydney, is interested in arid environments. Her current research is on how leaves operate and survive in extreme high temperatures. In addition, she is the head of a Leaf Temperature Working Group funded by the ARC-NZ Network for Vegetation Function, with the aim of researching the impacts of small-scale microclimatic changes on leaf thermal dynamics.

She spoke at a public lecture on the impact of rising temperatures on human health and the environment at UTS on May 12.

“High temperature extremes are predicted to increase in both intensity and frequency in the future. I am interested in learning how and which plants will survive these increased extremes,” she says.

According to Dr Leigh, the impacts of extreme heat rises are already here. In the Pacific islands, entire populations are being forced to relocate to the mainland as their homes are swallowed by the water while extreme phenomena such as fires and cyclones are becoming more frequent. More…

Volunteers at the heart of the Festival Reply

By Amanda Smuin

The volunteers at the 2015 Sydney Writers’ Festival (SWF), affectionately known as ‘vollies’, are a diverse bunch but they all have one thing in common. They love books.

Jemma Birrell, the Festival’s artistic director, introduced the theme of this year’s Festival as “How to live” with the tagline, “It’s thinking season”. That certainly applies to this years’ crop of volunteers. Rosemary Burnside, a second year vollie, says, “I just love being part of the book world. Everybody there is a thinker and a reader and a sharer of ideas.”


Sydney Writers’ Festival volunteers meet former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, one of the 2015 Festival stars

Misty McPhail started as a volunteer, and is now the SWF volunteer coordinator. She says, “I saw how inspiring it was and wanted to get more involved.” After working with other events and as an artist liaison for the Festival in 2012, she started her current position in 2014. She describes her role as the best job on the team”.

The Festival relies on the volunteers to ensure the event is a success. The team has only eight staff year round however, their numbers swell to 15 in the lead up to Festival and they are helped out by 50 to 60 production crew members during the actual event. This year there are 371 events in 60 venues with 445 authors.

Rosemary Burnside, a second year vollie, describes the volunteers as “the glue holding it all together”. Misty McPhail agrees. “We can’t be 50 places at once or do everything; we need the help to run the venues and answer all the questions.” More…