THE MONTHLY MAGAZINE: JUNE 2016
GRAVE BARRIER REEF
‘We were diving in dissolving reef. The water had this terrible green ghostly quality – it was like diving in ectoplasm. It was awful. And essentially it was dying coral.” In the June edition of The Monthly I have a long piece on the devastating coral bleaching now playing out on the Great Barrier Reef. At the same time as news emerges that
the Australian Government has censored a UN report on the condition of the Reef and other iconic World Heritage sites for fear of frightening off tourists, scientists talk to me about their distress. What – if anything – can save the Great Barrier Reef? Link here.
COSMOS MAGAZINE: JANUARY 2016
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF WALLACE
Vojtech Novotny is a Czech entomologist who first travelled to Papua New Guinea 20 years ago. He came for the insects. He stayed for the people. Having heard much about him over the years, it was a thrill to visit his laboratory and field sites in Madang. The profile I’ve written is published in the December/January edition of Cosmos Magazine. He talks about his scientific journey, and his reflections on the precarious fate of the PNG tropical forests. Link is here.
‘You are very atypical for a human.’ This was the verdict of the microbiology team which evaluated the microbial population in my gut. This article for the special 10th anniversary edition of The Monthly explores the exploding medical frontier of the microbiome, ‘a seething ecosystem that has to be kept in balance and fed and maintained’. In the past few years new technology has delivered the step change equivalent of a telescope to explore our microbial dark matter, finally allowing science to begin to understand its potentially profound influence on our health and wellbeing. Now unlocked! You can find it here: https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2015/may/1430402400/jo-chandler/gut-feelings
THE MONTHLY MAGAZINE: FEBRUARY 2015
MANUS IN THE BALANCE
Life outside the detention centres on Manus Island: There’s another Manus Island you’d never recognise in Australian headlines. Beguiling, beautiful, baffling, it confounded Margaret Mead for 50 years. It was changed utterly by World War II, and is now undergoing another uninvited seismic change courtesy of Australia’s asylum seeker policy – ‘re-colonialsm’ some call it. Is this what the future of immigration policy looks like? It’s bought money, jobs, prostitution, deaths, social tension and environmental stress. My musings on that Manus for The Monthly now unlocked. Pictures: Vlad Sokhin.
NEW SCIENTIST JUNE 2014
GHOST OF THE CLOUD FOREST
We enter Australia’s lost world of species marooned by evolution to meet one of its rarest, a creature uniquely vulnerable to climate change.
IT TAKES less than three hours to travel from the busy tarmac of Cairns Airport, back 100 million years to Queensland’s primeval Wet Tropics rainforest. By the time the sprawling malls and suburban estates have given way to blue sky and sugar cane, we have already rewound several decades. Veering inland, we swim against the tourist tide streaming towards the Great Barrier Reef. As jungle encloses us, the notion that we have crossed into a more primitive dimension is encouraged by road signs cautioning drivers to watch out for southern cassowaries – stroppy, flightless birds sometimes likened to prehistoric turkeys. My feature for New Scientist magazine on the search for the vanishing – vanished? – lemuroid white possum. Link here
(UPDATE: This piece has just been selected to be re-published by New Scientist in September 2016 in a “best-of” collection of features entitled ‘Living Planet’.)
THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN MAGAZINE: 6/4/13 (Picture: Vlad Sokhin)
BUILDER BARRY KIRBY’S LABOUR OF LOVE IN PNG
‘On the best days Barry Kirby might deliver a baby into the arms of a healthy mother. After a difficult labour, he’s as exultant as she is exhausted. On the worst days he treks up to a village hidden in the jungle to find the sister, mother or husband of a woman who has died in childbirth, and will add her story to his overflowing archive of similar sorrows.’
GOOD WEEKEND: 3/9/11
‘For now, this skeleton is quietly entrusted to the safekeeping of the state and stored in a vault in the mortuary in Melbourne. There has been no eternal rest for him, rather a series of rude displacements. Records show he has now been twice disinterred – the first time in 1929. This is his third less-than-reverential entombment. If records didn’t show otherwise, Blau’s expert judgment would put the age of the man whose remains are laid before her as nudging 30 years when he died. But he was only 25. These bones travelled many hard miles of Victoria’s wild high country in a relatively short life, and the journey took its toll. “He had incredibly robust muscle attachments on his clavicles,” she explains. The muscles may be gone, but “where they attach to the bone, there’s an insertion, so the bony artefact of where that was building is still there”. These days, you might see something similar in the bones of serious bodybuilders. But this is the body of a serious horseman, one who traversed great distances working the reins on fast, flighty horses. The rough miles are also clocked up in the compressed vertebra of his spine. “When you get pressure from riding or from carrying very heavy loads, you can actually see a dip in the bones. You see the indicators of a lifestyle. This is a young man, very active, and it shows on the skeleton.”‘
THE POWER OF ONE:
‘This Dame is an unlikely political fighter — a widow in spectacles, a tidy nana coif and a floral blouse. If not for that mouth and the traditional clan tattoos her mother-in-law inked above one pale wrist long ago, she could slip back to her home town of Shorncliffe in suburban Brisbane, indistinguishable from the 60-somethings enjoying comfortable dowager status and a spritzer at the local golf club. But a teenage romance that turned into a 25-year marriage to one of Papua New Guinea’s most respected figures, and endures as a 40-year love affair with the nation she came to as a bride, mother and teacher, jolted her into an alternate reality. Carol Millwater was seduced first by a man and then by a rich culture of communal care and spirit. She grieves the loss of both. The man’s death was swift and sudden, while the society slowly fractures and diminishes under the thousand cuts of abrupt modernity, corruption, poverty and population growth.’
GRACE UNDER FIRE
‘The next two weeks will see Corporal Rachel Ingram spending long days in the desert encased in heavy body armour. At least the harsh Afghan summer is finally fading. At the season’s height, the sun was rising, and body armour ordered on, by 4am. “By the end of the day you’re watching the sun drop, begging it, just please, please, go down, go down,” … Sweat will set her long, dark hair like concrete under her helmet and drench her clothes – “soaked, like I’ve jumped in a pool”. She will wriggle out of her gear in the dark, wring it, wipe herself down with Wet Ones – “just the greatest invention in the world” – sleep a deep, stolen soldier’s sleep till she’s nudged awake for her turn on picket, and climb back into her still-damp kit.’
GOOD WEEKEND 9/5/09
A GOOD MAN IN AFRICA
‘Like his guernsey, O’Brien is black and white – the progeny of a tempestuous teenage encounter between two dancers, a daughter of the Amazon and an orphaned son of Africa. Heritier “Harry” O’Brien’s father had found his way to Brazil after picking his way across a border of minefields, aged only 11, to escape the latest pillage of a benighted country then called Zaire. A natural talent – and born survivor – the boy found his way to the corps of the Angolan National Ballet, touring the world, gaining sanctuary in Rio de Janeiro, and fathering the child who has grown up to pace the Collingwood backline.’
HIGHLY COMMENDED: MELBOURNE PRESS CLUB QUILLS
‘The work when we arrive, drilling ice cores to update the climate record, is done over six hours in minus 30°C conditions. We are taking the temperature of the planet, burrowing for a decade of atmospheric history down a 10-metre-deep blue hole. Fingers gloved and frozen, I use my tongue and lower lip to flip the pages in my notebook, while the seasoned scientists peel off their gloves to work, barely wincing. They extract, label and bag the precious lode of ice. The stew I boil for their dinner on the camp stove is cold as soon as I dish it out. My eyelashes – peeking through a woollen polar chador – are heavy with frost. When the truck breaks down 40 kilometres short of our beds at 3am, we jog on the ice in glacier boots and goose-down swaddling, cold seeping into our bones, willing the engine back to work. Eventually, it goes. It’s a small parable of the ice. Antarctica, unseen by humanity even 200 years ago, divines our future and archives our past. It matters to people as never before. It may be, as American writer Barry Lopez so perfectly observed, “a place from which to take the measure of the planet”, but it remains –resolutely unco-operative in that mission.’
You can read a copy of the story here – apologies that it is PDF from a clunky printout version.