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Here we will feature some rather amazing, weird and humorous news items and stories about Australia or things Australian.

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Bounty fails to prove tasmanian tiger's existence

Courtesy of ABC News Online
6 July 2005

The last known thylacine died in 1936. (ABC TV)

A Tasmanian wildlife biologist says speculation about the tasmanian tiger is likely to continue after the offer of a $1.25 million bounty failed to prove its existence.

The Bulletin magazine's reward offer has expired with no evidence of a living tiger found.

The magazine offered the reward in March, hoping to prove the thylacine had survived, despite almost 70 years with no confirmed sighting.

But the magazine's editor-in-chief, Gary Linnell, says after three months, "unprecedented interest" and $1.25 million worth of incentive, searchers have come up empty-handed.

"Not a shred of evidence, not a bone, not a dropping, not a shred of hair," he said.

But while Mr Linnell believes that shows the thylacine is extinct, wildlife biologist Nick Mooney says he is not surprised the bounty failed to find anything.

He says the level of evidence needed to claim the reward was virtually impossible to obtain legally.

"I think once people read the fine print and got over their eye strain they would've found out that this is just not possible, regardless of whether the thylacine was there or not."

Mr Mooney says all it proves is the enduring mystery of the tasmanian tiger.

"Unless there's absolute proof, people will go on speculating," he said.

The last known thylacine died at the Hobart Zoo in 1936.

Mr Mooney also says he is not surprised that only a few made genuine attempts to find the thylacine.

"It was always a great curiosity to see what turns up with these sorts of events," he said.

"They have happened in the past. Many years ago, Ted Turner offered $100,000 which was worth a lot more then of course, for similar evidence and nothing happened then either, but I've ceased to be terribly surprised by the lack of response."

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Ocean claims another Apostle

Courtesy SMH Online  3/7/05

Great ocean erode ... the sandstone structure soon after its collapse this morning.

Great ocean erode ... the sandstone structure soon after its collapse.
Photo:   Parks Victoria

Another of the famous Twelve Apostles limestone structures off Victoria's coast has collapsed, leaving only eight still standing.

One of the giant structures off the Great Ocean Road coastline was claimed by the ocean about 9am today, Parks Victoria spokesman Alex Green said.

"If you're standing on the boardwalk on the clifftop [looking out] at The Apostles, it's the second apostle [on the left]," he said.

"It was one of the major components of the scene."

Mr Green said the remaining rubble was sticking out of the water, which was filthy with dirt and debris from the collapse.

He believes the structure's demise won't detract from the site's popularity, and may even have a positive effect on visitor numbers.

"We had a similar incident with London bridge about 10 years ago and that story in itself has become quite a part of visiting the region," Mr Green said.

"It's a good opportunity for before and after photos and will generate a lot of discussion about the natural processes along this coastline and how it's always changing."

Kerry Deyell, who works at Port Campbell's visitor information centre, says she spent most of the past summer looking at the landmarks.

"It looks completely different as it's changed the whole line-up. It's quite bizarre," she said.

"It's one of the iconic, top heavy shaped ones. It almost looks like it didn't fall very far but crumbled because it's not a block of rock, it's a mound of rubble."

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New Aussie finds citizenship uplifting

Courtesy of ABC News Online
 May 31, 2005

A resident of Ipswich in south-east Queensland is hoping to enter the Guinness Book of Records after becoming an Australian citizen in a hot-air balloon today.

New Zealand-born Kevin Sulzberger is awaiting confirmation from London, but believes his naturalisation ceremony in mid-air is a world first.

Mr Sulzberger has lived in Ipswich for 15 years.

He says there were several reasons for finally taking the oath.

"One is my mother is an Australian," Mr Sulzberger said.

"And on the 28th of next month we've got our 150th anniversary of when my great-great grandfather came from Germany to Tasmania.

"We've got a reunion down in Tasmania and it was sort of from there that we got the idea that maybe I should become an Australian myself."

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Skirt conceals live fish

Courtesy of Sydney Morning Herald Online
6 June 2005

A purpose-built apron containing 15 water-filled plastic bags used to smuggle 51 live tropical fish into Australia.   

A purpose-built apron containing 15 
water-filled plastic bags used to smuggle
 51 live tropical fish into Australia.

Photo: Australian Customs Service 

A woman has tried to smuggle 51 live tropical fish into Australia concealed beneath her skirt.

The woman, aged 43 from Rosanna, in Victoria, arrived at Melbourne airport on a flight from Singapore on Friday.

Customs officers said they were alerted by "flipping" noises coming from the vicinity of her waist.

The woman was found to have 15 water-filled plastic bags concealed beneath her skirt, suspended in a purpose-built apron, said Australian Customs Service acting regional director Jaclyne Fisher.

Efforts were continuing to identify the fish found inside the bags, Ms Fisher said.

A Rosanna home has also been searched by authorities and another five fish seized.

"The fish ... could have posed potentially serious quarantine, environmental and health risks had they not been seized by Customs," Ms Fisher said.

The woman is facing a maximum penalty for the illegal importation of wildlife of $110,000 and ten years' jail.

It is the second seizure of live fish at Melbourne's airport in recent months.

In March, customs officers stopped an alleged attempt to smuggle rare Asian Arowana fish by an airline crew member.

"Wildlife trafficking is a cruel practice as many of the offenders ignore the health and well-being of the animals by packing them tightly in small areas for long periods of time," Ms Fisher said.

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Hunt for the black panther

February 27, 2005
Courtesy of The Sun-Herald

A television crew is hoping to prove the existence of a mystery feline creature that has been haunting Blue Mountains residents for decades, Eamonn Duff writes.

Natalie Schmitt delves into her backpack and suddenly dry retches. It's not yesterday's sandwiches that trigger the zoologist's reaction, it's the kilo of leopard excrement she has nestled in her hands. "I'm glad you can smell how strong and pungent the odour really is," she says with a scowl. Leopards, indeed, should be ashamed of themselves. But on this occasion, faeces from no other animal will do. Acquired from a private zoo, the leopard scats are about to be used as bait - big cat bait.

Schmitt, a documentary presenter, is in the Blue Mountains with a crew from Perth-based Storyteller Productions to attempt to film or trap the mysterious black cat that for decades has plagued Sydney's west and north-west communities including Richmond, Grose Vale, the Hawkesbury and Lithgow. The crew has been commissioned by the Discovery Channel to produce a one-hour documentary about the possible existence of panthers (black leopards) in NSW. And they are setting down the last of eight infra-red motion sensor camera traps that have been strategically scattered throughout the Blue Mountains National Park.

"Leopards use scats to mark their territory," Schmitt says, "and in big cat territory, no other animal is capable of leaving a scent quite like this. That's why it's the ideal bait. Hopefully our target will believe something similar has wandered in. And hopefully, it won't be able to resist taking a look."

For a small army of urban warriors who live on Sydney's fringes, the film crew's presence is a welcome victory. After years of failing to convince anyone that a colony of "big cats" exists in their backyard, someone is finally taking them seriously.

While the legendary creature - and those who have seen it - remains the subject of widespread amusement in the big end of town, Schmitt has no doubt the animal exists.

"We've studied all the evidence and, based on what people say they have seen, particularly the creature's tail length, it sounds to me as though it's most likely a melanistic leopard, as opposed to a jaguar, which is larger.

"As for how it got here, well I guess that would be the real mystery. We know there are records of private local zoos that go back to the turn of the century. We also have to consider that in times gone by it was pretty easy to get your hands on one of these creatures if you really wanted to."

American goldminers brought big cats to the region in the 1850s, as did soldiers returning from World War II. "If, over time, those same animals were set free, then it's highly possible they would have survived. There's an abundance of food and no competition, after all."

If anything convinced the Discovery Channel to fund the project and screen it as part of its popular Animal X series, it was the number of people who claim to have seen the creature. Since an official "big cat database" was launched seven years ago, 145 people, including a doctor, dentist, jeweller, pilot, Rural Fire Service personnel and an officer from the Department of Agriculture, have stepped forward. A NSW detective is among the most recent witnesses.

The detective claims that he watched the cat, which was about 50 metres away, for more than a minute. And like most others, he was convinced it was a panther standing before him.

"These are all reasonable, rational people, three-quarters of whom had no prior knowledge of the cat's existence," says the woman who started the database, Grose Vale resident Chris Coffey. "They had nothing to gain by coming forward. But sadly, many have since discovered they had everything to lose."

The problem, of course, is that while the mysterious creature continues to pop up, nobody has ever landed the sort of indisputable evidence that would prompt David Attenborough to book the first flight to Sydney.

Armed, however, with the best high-tech gadgetry money can buy, the crew are hoping to change all that. From the moment they arrived at the beginning of February, the team of six has been concentrating efforts in areas where sightings have been most prolific. Generally, that means Grose Vale, where on January 19 construction worker Andrew Prentice became the latest person to see the creature.

The father-of-two tells The Sun-Herald: "I was up for work, daylight had just broken and I went to check the weather because if it's been raining, I can normally count on having an easy day. I opened up the curtains and, as I did so, I noticed this large black animal come out from the side of my dam. It walked up to the high side of the driveway. I looked at it in utter disbelief. I looked again and again. It was at least a metre long, it had a tail that was dragging down to the ground. But what really stood out was the way it walked. It was sly and it was slinky. It stopped, turned, gave a quick look towards the house and then strolled out of view.

"The rumours, for me, had all of a sudden come true. The thought of a camera never even came into play. I just kept thinking, this is bloody unbelievable."

Prentice, 49, adds: "I'm really pleased I saw it, for the sake of others as much as for myself. There are people around these parts who have taken a lot of stick down the years. When I contacted them, I could see from their faces how much it meant."

When asked if he considered the creature to be a danger to children, he replies: "It's big. I'd be concerned for anyone if they caught it on a bad day."

If you believe what locals say, there's something about Prentice's suburb that attracts the creature at a certain time each year. It's where the film crew are hoping to strike gold. After carefully negotiating their way down a steep ridge, they have anchored down at a dry, overgrown creek bed.

Apart from the eight infra-red cameras, the crew have travelled to NSW with three night vision cameras for their camp-outs. Then there's the Flir thermal imaging camera which detects body heat and can record the outline of a creature, even through dense scrub.

Alongside each infra-red camera, the crew have also laid down a special Ecotrap, an Australian invention which they hope will catch the creature should it come within a sniff of the leopard excrement being used as bait.

Before leaving the site, the team goes to painstaking lengths to blend its equipment in with the natural surroundings. And true enough, by the time they leave, you would never have guessed they were there. "There really is great potential to land something here," says director Carolyn Bertram, as she leads her team back towards the urban fringe. "One trap has been in place for a month. The rest are all now in position."

Bertram admits her crew are not expecting immediate results. "Inevitably, we will have disturbed areas and maybe left a few strange smells behind. It'll take time for the cat or cats to return. So we need to give it time."

Black panther sightings in NSW have been happening for decades and, in May 2001, a freedom-of-information request revealed that the State Government had been maintaining an active secret file on the creature. The Government's own X-file was opened in 1999 after local wildlife officials decided they could no longer afford to dismiss the stories they were being swamped with. In a letter to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW Agriculture's then technical manager for exotic animals Bill Atkinson said: "Eight months ago I started receiving reports from reputable people about a large [panther size] black cat being seen in the Grose Vale area. The animal has apparently moved into the Blue Mountains National Park each summer and returned to the Grose Vale area every winter for the last five or six years and killed a number of sheep and goats."

In a 1999 letter to NPWS director-general Brian Gilligan, Department of Agriculture head Kevin Sheridan also expressed concerns. "The reports are becoming too frequent for us to ignore the possibility. To do so could bring into question Government's duty of care if these alleged attacks happened to result in injury to a person."

The NSW Government agreed. In fact, it became so edgy about a possible threat to residents, it commissioned big-cat expert Dr Johannes Bauer to provide a professional opinion. When his findings were circulated in an internal memo, it sent a chill down the spine of everyone who received it. "Difficult as it seems to accept, the most likely explanation of the evidence . . . is the presence of a large feline predator," he said.

He went on to describe the vast, dense region in which the reports were surfacing as "optimal leopard habitat", adding: "In this area, [it is] most likely a leopard, less likely a jaguar."

The Department of Agriculture was later ordered to send "a suitably skilled person to enable this animal to be tracked, located and identified". Instead, it sent along an officer and a German shepherd dog. The "hunt" lasted just 72 hours and predictably ended in failure.

Atkinson told The Sun-Herald at the time that finding the creature would be difficult. "Planes go down in that region and are not recovered for days," he said. "People get lost and want to be found but they're not traced for days, either. So imagine trying to track one of these creatures when it simply does not want to be tracked. That's the task we face."

Around the same time, a Lithgow family produced a grainy video clip of a large, panther-like cat that had casually roamed into their backyard. And in 2002, Kenthurst teenager Luke Walker suffered deep lacerations following what he described as a terrifying struggle with a creature of the same description.

Atkinson , who used to be only too happy to provide a comment on the creature, now says he's been "instructed" not to speak on the subject. And while the last State Government inquiry in 2002 again concluded it was "more likely than not" a colony of big cats was roaming Sydney's outskirts, the latest official line is that no action be taken until scientific proof arrives in its lap.

Residents have been trying to obtain that evidence by sending locally found scat samples to laboratories for professional testing. Frustrated that results have for years been coming back negative, Hazelbrook resident Mike Williams decided to conduct a reliability test. In December last year, he collected scats from a panther at Bullens' Animal World at Warragamba and delivered them to two labs as part of a "reliability test". One of those labs is named by the State Government as a preferred site for testing of such material. Yet both have just returned back with the same result - "dog".

Coffey remains hopeful the documentary team will succeed where she and others have so far failed. If they don't, she fears a life may be lost before someone finally sits up and take notice. Hawkesbury Council mayor Bart Bassett shares that view. "I think it's very much here," he says. "I think it's been here for a long time. Do I think it deserves to be here? The answer is no. It's out of its natural habitat. It could end up killing or injuring somebody severely and I think for that reason, the authorities are playing a very dangerous game."

The question is, if conclusive proof is found, how do you even begin to eradicate the animal from an area of 1200 square kilometres? Not without spending a lot of money. Hawkesbury Council chief engineer Chris Lane says: "We as a council are well aware credible sightings are becoming more regular. Maybe it's because the breeding population has grown much larger, perhaps the drought has pushed them closer to the urban fringe. We don't know. But as a council we are genuinely concerned."

The documentary is due to screen in the US this year and here next year. Whether it creates history and vindicates a small but growing band of believers remains to be seen. For the time being at least, the legend of the Blue Mountains panther will remain just that.

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A Tassie tiger? It's the $3m question

By Richard Macey
March 26, 2005       Courtesy of Sydney Morning Herald

Photo: Mike Bowers

Is this a $3 million marsupial? With Tasmanian tiger fever reaching boiling point over mysterious pictures snapped by a German tourist, the bounty on the striped creature's back soared this week.

A Tasmanian businessman has offered $1.75 million for proof an animal presumed extinct for 70 years is alive and well, and The Bulletin magazine $1.25 million.

The millions have Nick Mooney, a Tasmanian wildlife officer, alarmed. He believes the rewards not only threaten any thylacines clinging to survival, but native wildlife as well.

Earlier this year, Mr Mooney and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery's director, Bill Bleathman, were shown two digital images, said to have been taken by a German touring Tasmania.

Mr Mooney hears of thylacine sightings "about 10 times a year" but both men agreed the snaps probably did show a partially obscured Tasmanian tiger. Neither, however, was willing to say the pictures were genuine.

Even this newspaper cannot say beyond a doubt that the pictures are of a live animal. The Herald and its sister paper, The Age, ran extensive tests on the pictures after being offered them three weeks ago. These included an examination by thylacine experts and an independent photographic specialist but the results did not conclusively show a live tiger, and we declined to buy the pictures.

The tourist took them on February 3 while driving through Tasmania's rugged central highlands with his girlfriend.

As evening approached they turned off the main road, and found somewhere to park for the night. He grabbed a bottle, put his camera bag around his neck, and set out looking for water. Not far into the bush he spotted a striped animal.

As the animal approached, he snapped twice. It then vanished and he he dashed back to tell his girlfriend. They returned to the spot but the creature was nowhere to be found.

The man's brother, who lives in Victoria, arranged through a journalist on The Age to show the pictures to Mr Mooney and Mr Bleathman.

"One," Mr Bleathman said later, "was very badly out of focus." The other, also blurred, revealed an animal partially obscured behind a log, 15 or 20 metres away. But a tail, and those distinctive stripes were clearly visible in the frame.

He described the thylacine evidence as "inconclusive", but cautiously added that without analysis from photographic experts "we can't rule it out".

Mr Mooney, who is a wildlife biologist with Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries, now will not comment on the pictures until the tourist hands them over for a detailed forensic analysis. They are still in the possession of the owner.

Robert Paddle, author of The Last Tasmanian Tiger, estimates there have been up to 4000 sightings since the animal became extinct, mostly by "people who are profoundly mistaken, or disturbed, or malicious".

After inspecting the pictures this week, the Herald's photographic managing editor, Mike Bowers, conducted his own experiments. First he copied a black and white photograph of a thylacine with its mouth wide open, in Hobart Zoo, taken in the 1930s. Using a colour picture of a thylacine pelt, sold at auction a few years ago, as a guide, Herald imaging specialists then coloured the photo.

"I blew up the picture, as big as I could, probably to a quarter the size of a real Tasmanian tiger. I then cut it out with a Stanley knife," Bowers said. "I stuck it in a tree fern in my front garden."

He photographed his cut-out, trying to produce a blur similar to that in the tourist's image by setting the camera out of focus.

"And I used a very slow shutter speed to blur it a bit more. I shot it at one-tenth of a second and purposely moved my hand as I shot it to blur it further."

This renewed interest in the thylacines has started a gold rush. The Bulletin promises its prize for anyone producing a living Tasmanian tiger before 5pm on June 30. Mr Mooney is confident no one will claim the bounty before the deadline.

Under the rules, which the magazine's editor-in-chief, Garry Linnell, described as "strict and unbending" only one thylacine per entry can be submitted.

It must be "alive and unharmed", a pure-breed, an adult, and "must be naturally conceived and not have been genetically engineered". And "the animal must not have been in captivity at the time the promotion commenced", ruling out any pets.

However, Mr Mooney said the requirement that entrants must "obey all laws ... that require permits, approvals or authorisations" needed to obtain a thylacine provided the real glitch for those after The Bulletin's money.

"We won't be issuing any permits," he said. "We have to draw a clear line between the welfare of the animal and public curiosity. Its welfare comes first."

Mr Mooney fears the millions on offer will start an international stampede that will threaten not only Tasmanian tigers but other native animals.

"The risk of trying to catch a thylacine is immense," he said. "I see no excuse for catching it. It would be completely unethical."

Several animals known to have been trapped died suddenly from the shock and a huge hunt would inevitably involve traps and hurt native species. Mr Mooney said although the species was presumed extinct it was "still wholly protected" under the law.

And to collect the $1.75 million offered by Thylacine Expeditions the person discovering the living Tasmanian tiger must be a customer on its tours. The owner, Stewart Malcolm, conducts tours of Tasmania's north-west, where the creature is said to roam.

His brother and business partner, Stewart, gave the game away. "It's a promotion."

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Yowie, he's no choc bar!

14 December 2004     Courtesy Sydney Morning Herald

Tim the Yowie Man ...                

Tim the Yowie Man ... ""They argued their main market is children and they would be confused between chocolate and me."

Australia's Yowie Man has won a battle to trademark his name after a legal challenge from a chocolate manufacturer.

Naturalist Tim the Yowie Man, aka Timothy Bull, today won the right to use his alias after winning a David and Goliath legal stoush with Cadbury Schweppes.

A Trade Mark Oppositions hearing in Canberra rejected Cadbury's attempts to block Mr Bull using the name Tim the Yowie Man.

Cadbury had challenged Mr Bull's application in 2000 to trademark the name, arguing its customers could confuse Tim the Yowie Man with its Yowie variety of confectionary.

Mr Bull, of Sydney, who documents unusual natural phenomena and has used the alias for 10 years, wanted to trademark the name so that he could release books and other products.

In her ruling, hearing officer Rachel Dunn said: "I am satisfied that a substantial portion of the Australian public would know of the dictionary meaning of yowie and be able to distinguish between use of the term in this sense, and use of the term by (Cadbury).

"... no ground of opposition has been established by (Cadbury) and thus the opposition fails in its entirety."

READ MORE ABOUT TIM THE YOWIE MAN  HERE

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Kitty's sitting pretty

By Richard Macey
May 3, 2005           Courtesy Sydney Morning Herald

Quit the litter … Doogal gets the hang of things.
Photo: Bob Pearce

It's not civilisation's biggest problem but, thanks to the ingenuity of a Sydney woman, a solution is in the can.

In January Jo Lapidge bought her children, Ben and Sophie, a Burmese kitten they named Doogal. "We only had Doogal a week before I was regretting getting him," Mrs Lapidge said yesterday, recalling the smell of his litter tray and the work keeping it clean.

Then she saw the movie Meet the Fockers, starring a cat trained to use its owner's toilet. "I thought, 'Right, I'm going to train my cat to use the toilet."'

While there were plenty of potty training devices for children, Mrs Lapidge could not find anything similar for cats. So, after two months of tinkering on 15 prototypes, she developed her first invention, Litter-Kwitter, a system of colour-coded rings.

The first step is to replace the litter tray with a red disc-shaped ring. Once the cat is doing its business in the middle, the ring is mounted in the toilet bowl.

"A stepping stool helps," said Mrs Lapidge, all the while noting that cats are gifted jumpers.

When leaping onto the red ring has been mastered it is replaced with an amber version that has a small hole, getting kitty used to balancing over the water.

As progress is made a green ring, boasting a bigger hole, is introduced. Finally the rings are removed, leaving the cat to balance on the normal toilet seat.

There was little risk of drowning, Mrs Lapidge said.

"Cats are very nimble."

She believed kittens could be trained in eight weeks.

"Training Doogal was a lot easier than my son," she said.

Now seeking a manufacturer, she is confident she has a commercial success. "One in four people shares their life with a cat," she said, estimating Australians spend $1.5 billion a year on 2.5 million cats.

She expected her invention would sell for $80 to $140, compared with $4000 to maintain a litter tray over a cat's life.

Mrs Lapidge, whose work has won her a place in Fresh Innovators, a national campaign highlighting new inventors, confesses that Doogal cannot flush.

"If only I had a penny for every time someone asked me that."

And her next invention? "If I could train a dog to use the toilet … I may look at that next year."

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Funeral firm wins stand for vertical burials

Courtesy ABC News Online 28 April 2005

After more than 15 years of trying, a plan to bury bodies standing up will finally be able to go ahead in south-western Victoria.

The Victorian Planning Minister has approved land earmarked for a cemetery near Derrinallum, to be rezoned from rural to public use.

The vertical burials will reportedly be the first of their kind in Australia.

Corangamite Shire's Sophie Segafredo says funeral company Palacom has overcome a number of hurdles to achieve the approval.

"It has been a long time coming," she said.

"The people who have been pursuing the project have been working on it for 10 or 15 years, so it's now a relief I'm sure to them that the rezoning is finally taking place.

"I'm not sure when they're intending to start burials there, but there's no further impediment to getting on with the project."

The managing director of Palacom says the company is delighted with the approval.

Tony Duplix says the Darlington cemetery trust will run the new cemetery.

Mr Duplix says he expects the project will now proceed quickly.

"It's really just housekeeping issues now, at the moment the land is effectively a paddock and the trust will just go ahead with fencing, signage, access, issues like that and then they'll be open for business which means that we too will be open for business," he said.


Tasmanian tigers seen near Melbourne?

  Courtesy 'Sydney Morning Herald'  18 August 2003

Tasmanian tigers, or thylacines, are running wild in parkland 25 kilometres from Melbourne's CBD, according to at least 20 sightings reported to the Victorian government.

Freedom of Information (FoI) requests revealed 63 possible sightings of Tasmanian tigers and big cats in Victoria, including a Parks Victoria report into multiple tiger sightings in the Warrandyte State Park, in Melbourne's north-east.

Other repeat sightings of Tasmanian tigers, panthers and pumas since the early 1990s centred around Wilsons Promontory National Park, in the south-east, and the Grampians range, in the west.

Melbourne researcher Michael Moss, who made the FoI requests to the Department of Sustainability and Environment and Parks Victoria, said the government was ignoring strong anecdotal evidence the Tasmanian tiger was alive and breeding in Victoria.

The last known Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, died in captivity in Hobart in 1936. It is believed to have been extinct on the Australian mainland for 2,000 years.

But Mr Moss said several recent sightings were made by credible witnesses, who gave detailed descriptions of the striped marsupial.

Mr Moss said many more reported sightings were ignored by sceptical park rangers and never officially recorded.

"If this was in Tasmania there would be the biggest hunt on ever - but because it was in Victoria no one takes it seriously," he said.

"I think every bushwalker down on the promontory and in the Grampians has a right to know these animals might be there."

Parks Victoria officer Glen Jameson, who compiled reports of thylacine sightings in the Warrandyte area between 1991 and 1999, said they could be an example of "mass sociogenic illness".

But he believed they were noteworthy because the people spoke with conviction, sincerity and did not come forward "in an atmosphere of media hype regarding Tasmanian tiger fever".

In 1996, Victorian National Party environment spokesman Peter Hall asked then state conservation minister Marie Tehan to investigate a reported thylacine sighting at Wilsons Promontory in 1993.

"I have no reason to doubt (this) account of the sighting as I believe (the person making the report) to be a very rational and responsible member of society," he wrote.

Ms Tehan declined his request unless hard evidence was found.

DSE wildlife biologist Peter Menkhorst today said there was no solid sign of thylacines or big cats in Victoria, despite several eye-witness reports over 20 years.

"Surely one would have been shot, or hit by a car, or died in the bush and someone would have discovered a skull," he said.

He said none of the 10,000 marsupial, cat and fox scats tested each year were from unusual animals.

But Mr Moss said the FoI evidence warranted a comprehensive survey of park mammal life.

"It's really an indictment on Parks Victoria. Here we are in 2003, and they can't rule out these animals," he said.

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 Last hop for frequent-flyer rat

An elusive rat with a penchant for flying high has repeatedly forced Qantas to ground a Boeing 737 over fears it could chew through the aircraft's wiring.

A crew member spotted the rat in the cabin just after the plane landed in Melbourne from Sydney last month.

"The plane has been in and out of service since the rat was first seen," Qantas spokesman Simon Rushton said yesterday.

"It's an unusual occurrence and we've been working hard to isolate the animal and remove it," he said.

"The main issue is the potential for it to chew into aircraft components. It can be wiring, foam panels," Mr Rushton said.

The rat was nothing if not wily, evading exterminators using modern and traditional methods. It turned its nose up at poisoned baits, traps and sticky mats.

Upping the ante, exterminators sealed the aircraft at Melbourne on Monday and pumped it full of carbon dioxide to starve the rat of oxygen.

Yesterday afternoon, the plane was unsealed and "we found the rat - unfortunately for it - in a deceased state", Mr Rushton said.

Qantas believed the rat could have boarded the aircraft in Sydney and flown all over the country since then.

Mr Rushton denied Qantas had risked air safety by taking passengers in the plane while the rat was on board.

Courtesy of Sydney Morning Herald  11 July 2003

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Kylie hits rock bottom    

Kylie's derriere continues to be an object of considerable fascination around the planet. Circulating via the internet is a song titled Ode To The Bottom.

Yes, you guessed it, this is a song written about and dedicated to the pop singer's peachy asset.

"It all started a few days ago when a national tabloid printed a life-size poster of Kylie Minogue's revered backside," says the song's London-based singer/writer Allan Van d'Arc. He told Spike he had received more than 500 emails since he posted the song on the internet last Thursday, but he was yet to send it to Minogue herself.  

Check it out here:   http://www.vandarc.com/

Courtesy Sydney Morning Herald  13 August 2003

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Students break dog washing record

World records have been broken at Sydney Olympic Park before, but none quite like this.

Twelve university students scrubbed their way into the book of Guinness World Records yesterday, washing almost 850 dogs of all shapes and sizes in eight hours.

The University of Sydney veterinary science students broke the record held by a group from the Netherlands, who had washed 715 dogs.

At Sydney Olympic Park yesterday, the students took just 6 hours to break that record, before going on to set a new record of 848 dogs washed in eight hours.

A spokeswoman for the students said they were "elated, delighted, and exhausted".

"They are very pleased [that] Sydney brought all its dirty dogs to Homebush today," she said.

"There were chihuahuas, great danes, the hairiest dogs ever seen, and dogs that were almost bald."

The event would help the University of Sydney Veterinary Science Foundation raise funds for animal health and welfare.  

Courtesy Sydney Morning Herald   15 Sep 2003

................................................................................................................................

Teen bunged up with flue

A teenager who lost his keys had to be rescued after getting stuck trying to climb down the chimney of his Melbourne home last night.

With no other way into his Fitzroy home, the 17-year-old climbed down the chimney until reaching the flue shelf and finding he could not go up or down.

Metropolitan Fire Brigade controller Trevor Woodward said the trapped youth screamed until he was heard by neighbours, who raised the alarm.

Firefighters lowered a rope and pulled him to the roof just before 9pm (AEST) last night.

"There was no one home so he was lucky the neighbours heard him," Mr Woodward said.

"As much as he was black and sooty, he was just as red faced as can be with embarrassment.

"I can only imagine the kid must have been pretty thin to even contemplate getting down there."

Courtesy Sydney Morning Herald  4 September 2003

..................................................................................................................................................

'Meteorite' narrowly misses Perth boy

Fragments of what could be a meteorite which narrowly missed a 10-year-old boy when it smashed into his driveway would be scientifically tested in Perth, the youngster's mother said today.

Anthony Elliss-Galati saw an odd-shaped object in the sky, heading towards him on Thursday as he played outside his Safety Bay home, about 50km south of Perth.

Anthony told his mother Jennifer Elliss he hid behind her car and watched the bird-sized object smash a hole in the driveway and shatter.

"I heard something hit the bitumen and then Anthony came inside and said there were rocks coming out of the sky," Ms Elliss said.

"He then handed me a piece and it didn't look like a normal rock - it was dull on the inside and silver on the outside and looked as if it had melted."

Ms Elliss said she went outside and was surprised at the large hole the flying debris had left.

"Anthony said he had seen it coming across the park and had to duck down behind my car to avoid being hit by it," she said.

Ms Elliss said although it was not massive, she believed the object was a meteorite.

"The pieces look exactly like a real meteorite I saw when I was a kid."

Ms Elliss has contacted the WA Museum and the Perth Observatory and will be taking the fragments to Perth tomorrow to have them scientifically tested.

Courtesy Sydney Morning Herald  10 August 2003

..............................................................................................................................................................

Hey mate, save us         

                 

There were some 9,000,000 koalas a century ago - now there are just 100,000, say campaigners on Save the Koala Day.

But despite the fall in their numbers they are not listed as endangered. In Queensland they are labelled "common", in NSW as "vulnerable" and in South Australia as "rare".

The lack of outcry over the loss of our iconic gum-chewer reflects a wider disregard for the state of the country's environment, says Deborah Tabart, executive director of the Australian Koala Foundation, holding its annual Save the Koala fundraising drive today.

"The koala is indicative of what's happening to the country as a whole, the issue of conservation is not understood by the average Australian, and that has to change," she said.

"Politicians need to understand that people are concerned about the environment and we have to convince them."

"In the 1920s, 3,000,000 koalas were killed in Queensland for their coats," she said.

"You can argue that twice that number were hunted and killed elsewhere in the country at the time."

Trapping may be illegal now, but koalas aren't out of the woods yet.

"Dogs, cars and busy roads are the main koalas killers at the moment," Ms Tabart said, "They form part of the wider issue however, the destruction and fragmentation of the koala's habitat by development and logging.

"About 2,000 die each year in south-east Queensland."

The koala is traditionally found in the thin band of eucalypt forest between the Great Dividing range and the East Coast, a prime area for the development of suburbs and satellite towns, Ms Tabart said.

"Balmain, Avalon and most other Sydney suburbs once supported koalas, but these days very few communities remain near the city."

The Sydney region's current koala populations are confined to Campbelltown, Gosford, the Blue Mountains and Ku-ring-gai Chase.

Courtesy Sydney Morning Herald   25 July 2003

............................................................................................................................................................................................................

Beer-coated CDs offer new sounds

A Melbourne DJ and scientist has come up with a new way to update CD collections - dip them in beer and let them dry before playing them.

The discovery, known as an "optical biocomputer", is the brainchild of Cameron Jones.

Mr Jones is a mathematician with a record of published research and the owner of a nightclub and bar in Melbourne, the journal New Scientist reports.

"I often change CDs when my hands are wet with beer," he said.

"One night I must have changed the CDs, touched the data surface, then left them for use on another night."

The following week, he put on a CD by Nine Inch Nails and found that it would not play properly because fungus had grown on it.

The fungus had not ruined the disc - the original audio was still there - but it would sometimes change in pitch and there were small staccato noises in the background.

Mr Jones's pet area of research is how signals can be transmitted through biological cells, which grow in a so-called "fractal" way, like tree branches.

He became intrigued by experimental musicians and DJs who, from the mid-1980s, sanded, varnished or even slapped paint onto CDs to create new sounds to sample.

Jones found that much subtler sounds could be achieved using fungal or bacterial growth, which can shape the sound in weird ways.

No damage has reportedly been done to his discs or players, but he warns that the technique does crash CD players on computers because the software cannot cope.

Courtesy of ABC News Online   11 September 2003

..................................................................................................................................................................

ULURU IN THE POST


A STRANGE phenomenon is occurring among tourists to Central Australia's famous big red rock, Uluru.

Overseas tourists have been stealing large and small pieces of the rock -- and then posting them back from all parts of the world, often at great expense.

Most senders complain of bad luck or mysterious misfortune after illegally removing the rocks from the sacred Aboriginal site, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta national park manager Brooke Watson said yesterday.

Thousands of rocks, along with samples of soil and sand, have been sent back to the park from such far-flung places as Germany, France and Spain, but also from around Australia, over the past 15 years.

"It's just a weird phenomenon," Mr Watson said.

"Everyone seems to say that they have had bad luck.

"The pieces come from all over and they keep coming every day.

"We stack them up and every now and then we try and return them to [Uluru] so that people's bad luck is dissolved."

One of the biggest Uluru fragments, a 7.5kg stone, was posted from Germany last year.

Another was sent with a letter reading: "Rumour has it that bad luck dogs anyone with a portion of the rock in their possession. I've had my share. Kindly return this to where it belongs."

It is illegal to remove anything from the park, which attracts around 500,000 visitors a year.

"I think people just want to capture a bit of the experience of being here," Mr Watson said.

"It is not only a sacred place for Aboriginal people, as it has been for many thousands of years.

"I also think it is a place of spiritual significance for lots of people from all over the world."

Mr Watson said park rangers and traditional custodians held ceremonies to put the rocks back every few years.

However he said that Australia's tight quarantine laws on the import of earth and rocks meant that many pieces were destroyed rather than returned to the park.

"AQIS [Australian Quarantine Inspection Service] usually sends us a note but it costs $42 a time to rescue them and we just don't have the money to do that," Mr Watson said.

Rocks have also been sent to the Alice Springs Council, tour organisations and the Central Australian Tourism Industry Association (CATIA).

Source:  Daily Telegraph   08 March 2003

...............................................................................................................................................................

 

SILLY SILLY WOY WOY HAS WEEK SPOT FOR KING OF THE ABSURD

By John Huxley
June 24 2003

In what will almost certainly be a world first for Woy Woy, people from the Central Coast town are planning to walk backwards for Christmas - starting in October.

Although organisers continue to agonise over whether they will really march backwards, or simply forwards with faces painted on the back of their heads and their hats turned around, they are confident the parade will provide the perfect kick-off to the first Spikefest.

The week-long event, which also includes Dixieland jazz bands, Irish rugby players and Ettalong comics, celebrates the life and times of Spike Milligan, who, in the words of local councillor Chris Holstein, "made the name of Woy Woy synonymous with comedy worldwide".

In the past, perhaps, the town did not quite know how to take Spike, a regular visitor to his parents' old home in Orange Grove Road until shortly before his death last year.

"He did say some outrageous things," chuckles Cr Holstein, chairman of the Spikefest organising committee of the Gosford City Council. "Like his famous remark about the town being the world's only above-ground cemetery."
 
Over the years, Spike declared Woy Woy a republic . He found it a sister town: itself. "Woy. A town twinned with Woy." He philosophised over the meaning of its name. "Woy. Woy. It's Aboriginal. Means 'deep water'. But which Woy means 'deep', and which Woy means 'water'?"

And he joked about its sybaritic citizens. "There are just three signs on the railway station platform. 'Woy Woy', 'Woy Woy', and 'Woy, Woy'. It's a special service for drunks."

Nowadays, though, Spike - who performed I'm Walking Backwards for Christmas with Goon Show colleagues Harry Secombe and Peter Sellers - is a favourite son in a town that promotes itself on baseball caps reading, "London, New York, Woy, Woy".

There is already a Spike Milligan room, featuring a collection of comic writing, at the local library, and there are plans for a permanent memorial.

Meanwhile, the organisers, who include Spike's 76-year-old brother, Patrick, hope Spikefest will become an annual event. "As you'd expect, it's all pretty chaotic right now, but we'll get there," says Patrick, who lives in Eastwood.

Patrick has designed the logo for Spikefest, visited schools in the Gosford area telling children about Spike, and entertained fellow committee members.

Organisers have been anxious to ensure the festival reflects all aspects of Spike's long life: not just his comedy, but also his intermittent mental illness and his environmental interests.

The festival starts with the parade on October 4 and finishes on October 11 when, appropriately, Ireland play Romania in the rugby World Cup in Gosford.

Spike loved the game and, in one of his last stories, recalled the time he tried to buy a ticket to see his Irish play the All Blacks in Dublin. "I went around saying 'Anybody got a ticket? Anybody got a ticket?' This woman came over to me and said: 'Yes, I've got one.' I said: 'Well, how much?' And she said: 'Two hundred pounds.' I said: 'Two hundred pounds! For that amount of money I could get the most beautiful woman in Dublin.' To which she replied: 'Ah, yes, but she certainly wouldn't give you 45 minutes each way with a wonderful brass band playing in the middle.' "

Source:  Sydney Morning Herald   24 June 2003

................................................................................................................................................................

PLATYPUS POISON MAY KILL PAIN

By Deborah Smith, Science Writer
February 17 2003

The excruciatingly painful poison produced by platypuses may be the key to new treatments for chronic pain.

Platypuses are the only mammals that make venom, which males squirt from spurs on their back legs when fending off other males during the mating season.

While not lethal to humans, its effects, which include swelling, can last for months.

Sydney researchers studying platypus poison have found it contains a range of substances that could eventually lead to new treatments for high blood pressure and better painkillers for conditions such as cancer.

Philip Kuchel, a University of Sydney biochemist, said it made sense in science to study strange creatures like the platypus. "If you look in strange places, you're likely to find something strange."

Platypus venom is unusual in that it appears to act directly on pain receptor cells. A jab from a spur also causes a drop in blood pressure. The protein in the venom responsible for this effect is similar to one produced in human blood vessels.

However, one of the researchers, Dr Allan Torres, has found that the platypus version comes in two forms. A small part of the protein in one form is present as the mirror image of its counterpart, which could make the protein more stable as it sits waiting in the venom glands.

This trick had not been seen before in a biologically important protein in mammals, Professor Kuchel said. But some spider venoms have these flip version proteins. The team has also discovered that platypus venom contains a new family of proteins that are folded in a similar shape to human proteins called defensins, which fight invading micro-organisms.

These four new platypus proteins have not been found to have any anti-bacterial action yet, but their role may be to keep the venom sterile. "They could still turn out to be the platypus venom's Dettol," Professor Kuchel said.

They are also considered prime candidates for triggering the intense pain, and their action on nervous tissue is being studied. Professor Kuchel said: "We still don't know all the different mechanisms of pain. It could be the platypus venom uses a mechanism that is different from anything we've looked at before."

Source:  Sydney Morning Herald   17 February 2003

...................................................................................................................................................................

THE RAILWAY GAUGE SHEMOZZLE 

When the various governments in Australia began building railway lines it was as obvious to them at the time as it is to us today that it was vital to agree on a common gauge.   But, they were unable to do so.   Stubbornness and stupidity won the day and each region went its own way.

 New South Wales used a gauge of 4 feet 8 ½ inches, Victoria 5 feet 3 inches whilst Queensland and Western Australia used 3 feet 6 inches.   South Australia used a mixture of all three.   Until comparatively recent times, passengers travelling from Sydney to Melbourne, for instance, had to alight at Albury and walk across the platform to a Victorian train waiting on the other side.   And, of course, freight also had to be transferred.

 Eventually, at enormous cost, a standard-gauge line was completed right across Australia and in 1970 the Indian Pacific service commenced.

 Australia has the distinction of having the longest straight stretch of railway line in the world – 297 miles (475 km) across the Nullarbor Plain.   Incidentally, Nullarbor is not an Aboriginal word, as one would suppose.   It is derived from a Latin word meaning “no trees.”   And this certainly describes the country;   as flat as a billiard table and with very little vegetation of any kind.

................................................................................................................................................................. 

THE COWRA BREAKOUT

 During World War II about 2,000 Japanese prisoners-of-war were imprisoned in a camp near Cowra, New South Wales, and one night in August, 1944, 1,100 of them suddenly burst out of their barracks and made a suicidal charge at the guards.   Scores were mowed down by machine-gun and rifle fire but 378 Japanese made it through the barbed-wire fences and escaped into the countryside.

 None of the escapees got very far and it only took nine days to round them all up.   The Japanese casualties were 231 killed and 112 wounded whilst the Australians lost a total of four men killed

 Cowra’s visitors’ centre has a display of photographs, souvenirs and a presentation which well-known travel writer Bill Bryson found so impressive that he wrote the following in his book, Down Under:

 As I entered, the lights automatically dimmed in the room.   A little introductory music played and then – this was the enchanting part – a young woman about six inches high stepped out of one of the framed photographs and began moving around among the objects and talking about Cowra in the 1940’s and the prison breakout.   My mouth fell open.   She didn’t just move about but interacted with the objects – stepped around books, idly leaned on a shell casing – as she went through her presentation.   As you can imagine, I got up and had a closer look and I can tell you that no matter how close you got to the glass (and I had my head pressed up against it the way children do when they wish to be amusing) you couldn’t see the artifice.   She was a perfectly formed, full-colour, charmingly articulate, rather dishy three-dimensional person right in front of me and only six inches high.   It was the most captivating thing I had seen in years.   It was obvious that it was a film projected in some way from beneath, but there wasn’t a stutter or bump, no scratchy lines or wriggly hairs.   It was as real as an image can get.   She was a perfect little hologram.   The narrative, it is worth noting, was sympathetic and informative – a model of its type.   I watched it three times and couldn’t have been more impressed.

 ‘Good, eh?’ beamed a lady at the reception desk, seeing the amazed look on my face when I emerged.

 ‘I’ll say!’

 Anticipating my questions, she passed me a laminated card that explained how it was all done.   The display was created by a company in Sydney, employing an optical trick that has been around for well over a century.   It was all to do with  projecting an image onto a glass plate artfully positioned in such a way as to become invisible to the spectator.   Beyond that the only real trick was taking fastidious care that the actress hit her marks exactly.   It must have taken months.   It was simply brilliant.”

............................................................................................................................................................... 

THE MIN MIN LIGHT

The Min Min light is a mysterious light which is spotted from time to time in the desert area surrounding a tiny town called Boulia, about 1,800 km north-west of Brisbane.   No one has ever managed to get close enough to it  to examine it properly but it is usually described as being a light about the size of a watermelon which floats or dances about.

Tim the Yowie Man went to the area recently, hoping to track down the light, but failed to do so despite the fact that he spent four hours driving up and down the lonely highway. One of the locals said to him, “If you look for the Min Min light, you will never find it – it will find you.”

One resident, Maureen Lincoln, told Tim that she had seen the light at least a dozen times.   “It doesn’t scare me, never has,” she said.   She described it as “a quivering red-hot coal in the sky that can move at tremendous speed.”   She dismisses the suggestion that it might be just a mirage caused by distant car headlights.

Dan Rhodes, of Wirrilyerna Station, said he saw the light about two years ago.   “I’ll never forget it as long as I live – it was low in the sky, a very bright, white light,” he said.

“At first, I thought it was a mustering chopper, but it was darting around too much to be man-made.”

So, how to explain the light?   Many theories have been suggested including UFO’s groups of fireflies, radioactive mineral deposits, escaping methane gas which is spontaneously combusting, night-time mirages and ball lightning.

..................................................................................................................................................................

GIANT EARTHWORMS

 Australia abounds in unusual animals but none are more exceptional than the giant earthworms that exist in south-west Gippsland, Victoria.   They grow up to 12 feet long (3.7 metres) and six inches in diameter (15 centimetres).   The only place in the world where they are known to exist is this small area in Gippsland.

 Other places may have their Giant Banana, Giant Merino or whatever but here we have the Giant Worm and it is properly represented by a museum building with the appropriate shape - a giant worm - and painted white.   Inside, is a display where you can get a glimpse of this curious creature through the glass walls of a large box and read the little that is known about it.   There are also photographs of specimens and a film.

 The scientific name of the worm is Megascolides australis and nobody has any idea how it happened to evolve in just this one small area.   It is so big that it can actually be heard squelching through the ground beneath one’s feet.

...................................................................................................................................................................

 A STRANGE BUG AND A STRANGE COINCIDENCE

 In 1931 the entomological world became very excited about a new discovery in Australia.

Some amateur naturalists found something that they had never seen before out in the bush on Cape Arid peninsula  in Western Australia.   It was a bit like an ant but it was pale yellow and had strange, staring eyes.   Specimens were forwarded to the National Museum of Victoria where scientists identified it as Nothomyrmecia, an insect which had been thought to have been extinct for a hundred million years.   It was a living relic from those times when ants were evolving from wasps.   This was an extraordinary discovery for the scientists - a bit like finding dinosaurs roaming around the jungle in South America.

 An expedition was organized but, despite a wide-ranging search, the site of the discovery could not be re-located.   Other searches followed but the result for each of them was the same.   Some decades later, the search was taken up again when a group of scientists from Canberra headed towards  the area in a convoy of vehicles.   They had a long, long way to go when one of the vehicles suddenly conked out in the middle of the South Australian desert and they decided they might as well camp there for the night.

 After finishing his evening meal one of the party, Bob Taylor, wandered idly about with a torch and was suddenly astonished to see a colony of Nothomyrmecia crawling about on a tree trunk.

 The site of the original discovery in 1931 has still not been found.

 ................................................................................................................................................................     

 WHERE DID THE ABORIGINES COME FROM?

 This is a complete mystery.   One would think that the most likely explanation would be that they came from somewhere north of Australia but this does not seem to be the case.

The Aborigines have no racial or linguistic similarities to the people in any of those countries.   So, it seems that they must have come a very long way,  possibly from the American continent, according to one recent theory.

 In 1969 Jim Bowler, a geologist from the Australian National University in Canberra, found in a dried-out lake bed at Mungo in western New South Wales the skeleton of a woman.   Carbon dating showed that she died 23,000 years ago.   Up until this time it had been thought that the Aboriginal occupation had commenced in fairly recent times.   Since 1969 further discoveries have been made and  the likely date of commencement has been pushed back further - probably to somewhere between 45,000 and 60,000 years.

 We are all familiar with the Kon Tiki expedition theory and perhaps that is how the first unwilling settlers arrived in this country - wherever they came from.

 Another mystery relating to the aborigines is that the early explorers found all around the Australian coast enormous shell mounds, some of them as high as 30 feet (9 metres).   No one knows, even today, the reason why they were created but a lot of effort was put into them because some were well inland and uphill.   In some cases the work is believed to have continued over many centuries.

...................................................................................................................................................................

THE RAILWAY GAUGE SHEMOZZLE 

When the various governments in Australia began building railway lines it was as obvious to them at the time as it is to us today that it was vital to agree on a common gauge.   But, they were unable to do so.   Stubbornness and stupidity won the day and each region went its own way.

 New South Wales used a gauge of 4 feet 8 ½ inches, Victoria 5 feet 3 inches whilst Queensland and Western Australia used 3 feet 6 inches.   South Australia used a mixture of all three.   Until comparatively recent times, passengers travelling from Sydney to Melbourne, for instance, had to alight at Albury and walk across the platform to a Victorian train waiting on the other side.   And, of course, freight also had to be transferred.

 Eventually, at enormous cost, a standard-gauge line was completed right across Australia and in 1970 the Indian Pacific service commenced.

 Australia has the distinction of having the longest straight stretch of railway line in the world – 297 miles (475 km) across the Nullarbor Plain.   Incidentally, Nullarbor is not an Aboriginal word, as one would suppose.   It is derived from a Latin word meaning “no trees.”   And this certainly describes the country;   as flat as a billiard table and with very little vegetation of any kind.

  ..................................................................................................................................................................

THE COWRA BREAKOUT

 During World War II about 2,000 Japanese prisoners-of-war were imprisoned in a camp near Cowra, New South Wales, and one night in August, 1944, 1,100 of them suddenly burst out of their barracks and made a suicidal charge at the guards.   Scores were mowed down by machine-gun and rifle fire but 378 Japanese made it through the barbed-wire fences and escaped into the countryside.

 None of the escapees got very far and it only took nine days to round them all up.   The Japanese casualties were 231 killed and 112 wounded whilst the Australians lost a total of four men killed

 Cowra’s visitors’ centre has a display of photographs, souvenirs and a presentation which well-known travel writer Bill Bryson found so impressive that he wrote the following in his book, Down Under:

 As I entered, the lights automatically dimmed in the room.   A little introductory music played and then – this was the enchanting part – a young woman about six inches high stepped out of one of the framed photographs and began moving around among the objects and talking about Cowra in the 1940’s and the prison breakout.   My mouth fell open.   She didn’t just move about but interacted with the objects – stepped around books, idly leaned on a shell casing – as she went through her presentation.   As you can imagine, I got up and had a closer look and I can tell you that no matter how close you got to the glass (and I had my head pressed up against it the way children do when they wish to be amusing) you couldn’t see the artifice.   She was a perfectly formed, full-colour, charmingly articulate, rather dishy three-dimensional person right in front of me and only six inches high.   It was the most captivating thing I had seen in years.   It was obvious that it was a film projected in some way from beneath, but there wasn’t a stutter or bump, no scratchy lines or wriggly hairs.   It was as real as an image can get.   She was a perfect little hologram.   The narrative, it is worth noting, was sympathetic and informative – a model of its type.   I watched it three times and couldn’t have been more impressed.

 ‘Good, eh?’ beamed a lady at the reception desk, seeing the amazed look on my face when I emerged.

 ‘I’ll say!’

 Anticipating my questions, she passed me a laminated card that explained how it was all done.   The display was created by a company in Sydney, employing an optical trick that has been around for well over a century.   It was all to do with  projecting an image onto a glass plate artfully positioned in such a way as to become invisible to the spectator.   Beyond that the only real trick was taking fastidious care that the actress hit her marks exactly.   It must have taken months.   It was simply brilliant.”

  ..................................................................................................................................................................

THE MIN MIN LIGHT

The Min Min light is a mysterious light which is spotted from time to time in the desert area surrounding a tiny town called Boulia, about 1,800 km north-west of Brisbane.   No one has ever managed to get close enough to it  to examine it properly but it is usually described as being a light about the size of a watermelon which floats or dances about.

Tim the Yowie Man went to the area recently, hoping to track down the light, but failed to do so despite the fact that he spent four hours driving up and down the lonely highway. One of the locals said to him, “If you look for the Min Min light, you will never find it – it will find you.”

One resident, Maureen Lincoln, told Tim that she had seen the light at least a dozen times.   “It doesn’t scare me, never has,” she said.   She described it as “a quivering red-hot coal in the sky that can move at tremendous speed.”   She dismisses the suggestion that it might be just a mirage caused by distant car headlights.

Dan Rhodes, of Wirrilyerna Station, said he saw the light about two years ago.   “I’ll never forget it as long as I live – it was low in the sky, a very bright, white light,” he said.

“At first, I thought it was a mustering chopper, but it was darting around too much to be man-made.”

So, how to explain the light?   Many theories have been suggested including UFO’s groups of fireflies, radioactive mineral deposits, escaping methane gas which is spontaneously combusting, night-time mirages and ball lightning.

..................................................................................................................................................................

GIANT EARTHWORMS

 Australia abounds in unusual animals but none are more exceptional than the giant earthworms that exist in south-west Gippsland, Victoria.   They grow up to 12 feet long (3.7 metres) and six inches in diameter (15 centimetres).   The only place in the world where they are known to exist is this small area in Gippsland.

 Other places may have their Giant Banana, Giant Merino or whatever but here we have the Giant Worm and it is properly represented by a museum building with the appropriate shape - a giant worm - and painted white.   Inside, is a display where you can get a glimpse of this curious creature through the glass walls of a large box and read the little that is known about it.   There are also photographs of specimens and a film.

 The scientific name of the worm is Megascolides australis and nobody has any idea how it happened to evolve in just this one small area.   It is so big that it can actually be heard squelching through the ground beneath one’s feet.

  ..................................................................................................................................................................

 A STRANGE BUG AND A STRANGE COINCIDENCE

 In 1931 the entomological world became very excited about a new discovery in Australia.

Some amateur naturalists found something that they had never seen before out in the bush on Cape Arid peninsula  in Western Australia.   It was a bit like an ant but it was pale yellow and had strange, staring eyes.   Specimens were forwarded to the National Museum of Victoria where scientists identified it as Nothomyrmecia, an insect which had been thought to have been extinct for a hundred million years.   It was a living relic from those times when ants were evolving from wasps.   This was an extraordinary discovery for the scientists - a bit like finding dinosaurs roaming around the jungle in South America.

 An expedition was organized but, despite a wide-ranging search, the site of the discovery could not be re-located.   Other searches followed but the result for each of them was the same.   Some decades later, the search was taken up again when a group of scientists from Canberra headed towards  the area in a convoy of vehicles.   They had a long, long way to go when one of the vehicles suddenly conked out in the middle of the South Australian desert and they decided they might as well camp there for the night.

 After finishing his evening meal one of the party, Bob Taylor, wandered idly about with a torch and was suddenly astonished to see a colony of Nothomyrmecia crawling about on a tree trunk.

 The site of the original discovery in 1931 has still not been found.

      ..................................................................................................................................................................

 WHERE DID THE ABORIGINES COME FROM?

 This is a complete mystery.   One would think that the most likely explanation would be that they came from somewhere north of Australia but this does not seem to be the case.

The Aborigines have no racial or linguistic similarities to the people in any of those countries.   So, it seems that they must have come a very long way,  possibly from the American continent, according to one recent theory.

 In 1969 Jim Bowler, a geologist from the Australian National University in Canberra, found in a dried-out lake bed at Mungo in western New South Wales the skeleton of a woman.   Carbon dating showed that she died 23,000 years ago.   Up until this time it had been thought that the Aboriginal occupation had commenced in fairly recent times.   Since 1969 further discoveries have been made and  the likely date of commencement has been pushed back further - probably to somewhere between 45,000 and 60,000 years.

 We are all familiar with the Kon Tiki expedition theory and perhaps that is how the first unwilling settlers arrived in this country - wherever they came from.

 Another mystery relating to the aborigines is that the early explorers found all around the Australian coast enormous shell mounds, some of them as high as 30 feet (9 metres).   No one knows, even today, the reason why they were created but a lot of effort was put into them because some were well inland and uphill.   In some cases the work is believed to have continued over many centuries.

 

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