Land clearing on the rise as legal ‘thinning’ proves far from clear-cut

Land ClearingA ‘thinned’ landscape, which provides far 
from ideal habitat for many species.

Land clearing is accelerating across eastern Australia, despite our new research providing a clear warning of its impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, regional and global climate, and threatened native wildlife.

Policies in place to control land clearing have been wound back across all Australian states, with major consequences for our natural environment.

One of the recent policy changes made in Queensland and New South Wales has been the introduction of self-assessable codes that allow landholders to clear native vegetation without a permit. These codes are meant to allow small amounts of “low-risk” clearing, so that landholders save time and money and government can focus on regulating activities that have bigger potential impacts on the environment.

However, substantial areas of native forest are set to be cleared in Queensland under the guise of vegetation “thinning”, which is allowed by these self-assessable codes. How did this happen?

Thin on the ground

Thinning involves the selective removal of native trees and shrubs, and is widely used in the grazing industry to improve pasture quality. It has been argued that thinning returns the environment back to its “natural state” and provides better habitat for native wildlife. However, the science supporting this practice is not as clear-cut as it seems.

Vegetation “thickening” is part of a natural, dynamic ecological cycle. Australia’s climate is highly variable, so vegetation tends to grow more in wetter years and then dies off during drought years. These natural cycles of thickening and thinning can span 50 years or more. In most areas of inland eastern Australia, there is little evidence for ongoing vegetation thickening since pastoral settlement.

Thinning of vegetation using tractors, blades and other machinery interrupts this natural cycle, which can make post-drought recovery of native vegetation more difficult. Loss of tree and shrub cover puts native wildlife at much greater risk from introduced predators like cats, and aggressive, “despotic” native birds. Thinning reduces the diversity of wildlife by favouring a few highly dominant species that prefer open vegetation, and reduces the availability of old trees with hollows.

Many native birds and animals can only survive in vegetation that hasn’t been cleared for at least 30 years. So although vegetation of course grows back after clearing, for native wildlife it’s a matter of quality, not just quantity.

Land clearing by stealth?

Thinning codes in Queensland and New South Wales allow landholders to clear vegetation that has thickened beyond its “natural state”. Yet there is little agreement on what the “natural state” is for many native vegetation communities.

Under the Queensland codes, up to 75% of vegetation in an area can be removed without a permit, and in New South Wales thinning can reduce tree density to a level that is too low to support natural ecosystems.

All of this thinning adds up. Since August 2016, the Queensland government has received self-assessable vegetation clearing code notifications totalling more than 260,000 hectares. These areas include habitat for threatened species, and ecosystems that have already been extensively cleared.

Map of tree clearing in Queensland


Locations of tree felling

It may be that the actual amount of vegetation cleared under thinning codes is less than the notifications suggest. But we will only know for sure when the next report on land clearing is released, and by then it will be too late.

Getting the balance right

Vegetation policy needs to strike a balance between protecting the environment and enabling landholders to manage their businesses efficiently and sustainably. While self-regulation makes sense for some small-scale activities, the current thinning codes allow large areas of vegetation to be removed from high-risk areas without government oversight.

Thinning codes should only allow vegetation to be cleared in areas that are not mapped as habitat for threatened species or ecosystems, and not to an extent where only scattered trees are left standing in a landscape. Stronger regulation is still needed to reduce the rate of land clearing, which in Queensland is now the highest in a decade.

Protecting native vegetation on private land reduces soil erosion and soil salinity, improves water quality, regulates climate, and allows Australia’s unique plants and animals to survive. Landholders who preserve native vegetation alongside farming provide essential services to the Australian community, and should be rewarded. We need long-term incentives to allow landholders to profit from protecting vegetation instead of clearing it.

Our research has shown that Australian governments spend billions of dollars trying to achieve the benefits already provided by native vegetation, through programs such as the Emissions Reduction Fund, the 20 Million Trees program and Reef Rescue. Yet far more damage is inflicted by under-regulated clearing than is “fixed” by these programs.

Imagine what could be achieved if we spent that money more effectively.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of April Reside 
April Reside – [Researcher, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, The University of Queensland];
Image of Anita J CosgroveAnita J Cosgrove
Research Assistant in the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, The University of Queensland
Image of Jennifer Lesley SilcockJennifer Lesley Silcock
Post-doctoral research fellow, The University of Queensland


Image of Leonie SeabrookLeonie Seabrook
Landscape Ecologist, The University of Queensland


Image of Megan C EvansMegan C Evans
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Environmental Policy, The University of Queensland






This article is part of a syndicated news program via the Conversation


Labor takes a political risk and opposes government’s tougher citizenship legislation

Labor-opposes-governments-tougher-citizenship-legislationPeter Dutton says changes to citizenship 
legislation are a modernisation that would bring Australia in line 
with other countries

The government has finally found an issue it can cast in terms of “national security” on which it can get a fight with Labor.

Bill Shorten usually sticks leech-like to bipartisanship on anything with even a whiff of “security”. But now the opposition has said “enough” on the proposals to toughen the criteria for people seeking citizenship.

In political terms, the question is whether the government can turn this into an effective wedge against Shorten, claiming he is “soft” on citizenship. Labor’s challenge is to keep the debate as one about what are reasonable conditions to place on aspiring Australians.

The government believes it is in tune with the mainstream; its eye to the politics was obvious when Malcolm Turnbull went out of his way to make a statement on the matter at Tuesday’s news conference on his latest energy security initiatives.

“The Labor Party does not value Australian citizenship enough to say, as we do, that it must be more than simply the outcome of an administrative tick-and-flick form-filling process,” Turnbull said. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton invokes national security and claimed Shorten has been “mugged by the left of his party”.

The proposed legislation requires potential citizens to have a higher English proficiency than at present. Additionally, the applicant will need to have lived in Australia as a permanent resident for at least four years (just one at present).

There will be a defined process to assess a person’s commitment to Australian values, helped by the longer residency requirement; people will have to show what they’ve done to integrate into the community.

The immigration minister will acquire the power to override decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on citizenship, subject to a court appeal.

Labor is opposing the bill as a whole; it wants it referred to a Senate inquiry, and says that then, if it considers there are parts worth supporting, it would ask the government to bring them back in separate legislation.

Aware Labor is treading on potentially dangerous ground, citizenship spokesman Tony Burke is trying to fireproof it. “Don’t lie and pretend something is national security when it is not,” he said.

The opposition is challenging in particular the longer qualifying period and the harder English test.

The government has a case with the former; comparable countries make residents wait between five and eight years before applying for citizenship. It is on more dubious ground on English testing, where the standard is to be raised to “competent”.

This is a level where the person has “an effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings. They can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.”

Burke pointed out that the questions now asked of those seeking citizenship are in a test “which is written in English. If you can’t speak English, you can’t pass the test.”

He warned the new requirement would “guarantee there will be a group of permanent residents who live here their entire lives and are never invited to take allegiance to Australia and are never able to be told by the Australian government: ‘you belong’. That is a fundamental change in our country.”

While it is desirable, not least for their own benefit, to have aspiring citizens acquire good English, people can also be excellent citizens even though their English language will always be poor. Many of us know people like that.

One motive for upping the English requirement might be fears about inward-looking communities. But insisting on the proposed level of English proficiency makes for a very un-level playing field, discriminating against those from certain countries.

Immigrants should be encouraged to become citizens – surely that is likely to be a positive for national security because it promotes a more unified nation. A “two-class” situation in the migrant/refugee population, where some can’t make the cut because of the language issue, is not what we want.

Dutton dismisses Labor’s concerns about the longer qualifying period and the harder language test.

Possibly wearing a focus group on his sleeve, he says: “The Australian public wants to see an increase in the English language requirement, they want to see people meet Australian laws and Australian values”.

There have been mild concerns in Coalition ranks about people who are about to qualify for citizenship under current rules but will face waiting longer. Dutton has told colleagues to bring him any particular cases.

If the government is playing politics with its citizenship move, Labor will have its eye on what might be opportunities on the ground.

These changes won’t be popular with some in ethnic communities, where Labor seeks votes.

On the other hand, some of those who’ve entered the citizenship tent can be less than sympathetic to aspirants.

The government may get the legislation through regardless of Labor’s stand, via the crossbench. If so, the opposition would have to decide whether it would undertake to alter the law if it won the election, or just move right on.

This article was written by:
Michelle Grattan
Michelle Grattan – [Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra]






This article is part of a syndicated news program via the Conversation

Blasphemy is still a crime in Australia – and it shouldn’t be

Blasphemy-is-still-a-crime-in-Australia The crime of blasphemy is about  
protecting God and Christian doctrine from scurrilous commentary, 
and Christians from offence.

The crime of blasphemy has had a bit of publicity lately. British comedian Stephen Fry was recently reported to police in Ireland on accusations of blasphemy, for comments made on TV about what he would say to God if he had the chance.

Jakarta Governor Ahok was recently convicted and sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy in Indonesia.

You might also find yourself reported to police or sent to prison for blasphemy in Australia, where is it still a crime.

The crime of blasphemy

Blasphemy is a crime against the common law (the body of judge-made law we inherited from England). Only Queensland and Western Australia have abolished it. But it continues to exist in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, the ACT and Norfolk Island.

The crime of blasphemy is not about vilifying or inciting hatred against people on the basis of their religion. Some states have separate laws against that.

The crime is about protecting God and Christian doctrine from scurrilous commentary, and Christian religious sensibilities from offence.

The Federal Court has described the elements of the offence of blasphemy as follows:

The essence of the crime of blasphemy is to publish words concerning the Christian religion, which are so scurrilous and offensive as to pass the limits of decent controversy and to be calculated to outrage the feelings of any sympathiser with or believer in Christianity.
A temperate and respectful denial of the existence of God is not an offence against the law, which does not render criminal the mere propagation of doctrines hostile to the Christian faith. The crime consists in the manner in which the doctrines are advocated. Whether in each case this is a crime is a question of fact for the jury.

In other words, it is a crime to “outrage the feelings” of Christians in respect of their religious beliefs.

Blasphemy has a loose similarity with Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it unlawful (but not a crime) to offend someone on the basis of their race. Federal Liberal MP and former human rights commissioner Tim Wilson has said that extending 18C to cover religion would amount to a “national anti-blasphemy law”.

The crimes legislation in NSW and the ACT both set out identical minor limitations on blasphemy prosecutions:

No person shall be liable to prosecution in respect of any publication by him or her orally, or otherwise, of words or matter charged as blasphemous, where the same is by way of argument, or statement, and not for the purpose of scoffing or reviling, nor of violating public decency, nor in any manner tending to a breach of the peace.

In other words, it’s a crime in NSW and the ACT to outrage the religious feelings of a Christian, but only if you’re intending to scoff at Christianity. Blasphemy can be committed by speech, writing, art or other form of communication.

The crime of blasphemy is only about Christianity. You are legally free to blaspheme against any other religion.

There have been no recent prosecutions in Australia. The most recent NSW conviction was of William Jones in 1871 who was sentenced to two years’ prison for blasphemy. In 1919, Robert Ross was sentenced to six months’ prison under old federal postal laws for attempting to send blasphemous material about communists ransacking Heaven through the post.

However, in 1997 George Pell tried unsuccessfully to get a court injunction to prevent the National Gallery of Victoria from displaying the Piss Christ artwork on the basis that the artwork was blasphemous.

Why blasphemy laws are bad

The crime of blasphemy is wholly inconsistent with a secular and religiously diverse Australian society.

The crime of blasphemy gives official preference to Christianity over other religions, since it is lawful to outrage the religious feelings of adherents of non-Christian religions. The law should not play favourites among religions.

It also involves the state enforcing religious orthodoxy (correct belief) and religious orthopraxy (correct behaviour) and threatening people who do not conform with criminal punishment. This is not a proper role for the law.

Blasphemy laws are also contrary to international human rights norms, which Australia is supposed to uphold. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has said in its General Comment 34, outlining its official interpretation of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, that:

Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights].

When might the crime of blasphemy be abolished?

New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English recently promised to abolish the crime of blasphemy after he was told it still exists in NZ, but has said there’s no urgency to do so.

In 1994, the NSW Law Reform Commission recommended abolishing the offence of blasphemy in NSW. The commission also noted that every law reform commission that has considered the offence of blasphemy has recommended it be abolished. Due to lack of political will, NSW has never acted on this recommendation.

Abolition in Australia might occur soon. A federal parliamentary committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the right to freedom of religion or belief. I recently appeared before that committee and suggested that the committee recommend that federal parliament use its constitutional power to implement Australia’s international human rights obligations to abolish the crime of blasphemy throughout Australia.

As yet there is no indication of when the committee will hand down its recommendations. Let’s hope those recommendations include abolishing the crime of blasphemy.

This article was written by:
Image of Luke BeckLuke Beck – [Senior Lecturer in Constitutional Law, Western Sydney University]






This article is part of a syndicated news program via the Conversation


What we know, don’t know and suspect about what causes motor neuron disease

Motor neuron disease Some types of MND start with a 
loss of grip. But what causes this?

Since 2014, the ice bucket challenge, which involves people pouring a bucket of icy water over their heads, has raised awareness and much-needed research funds for motor neuron disease. While research for a cure is underway, first we need to know what causes it.

MND affects two per every 100,000, or approximately 420,000 people worldwide. It occurs in all countries of the world, and does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status.

MND is the name given to a group of diseases in which the motor neurons that control muscles progressively die. Motor neurons are cells in the brain and spinal cord that allow us to move, speak, swallow and breathe by sending commands from the brain to the muscles that carry out these functions.

Motor neurons can be divided into either upper motor neurons, which live in the main brain region and project into the brainstem and spinal cord, or lower motor neurons, which reside in the brainstem or spinal cord and directly innervate muscles.

Image of iced water being poured over a willing victim
The ice bucket challenge went viral all over the world, spreading awareness of MND. NBA Yao school/AAP

Normally, upper motor neurons transmit signals to lower motor neurons, directing them to make movements. The lower neurons then signal the muscles themselves, controlling normal movements. When the signal is disrupted at some point in the pathway, it affects the ability of muscles to contract and move.

MND is classified, in part, by whether the upper or lower neurons are the ones degenerating and dying. In amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease, the most common type of MND, both upper and lower motor neurons are affected. Other types of MND may just affect one or the other, and each condition has slightly different symptoms.

Disease of the upper motor neurons causes stiffness of muscles (spasticity), muscle weakness and exaggerated tendon reflexes, such as knee jerks. But if the lower are primarily affected, muscles no longer receive innervation, causing them to weaken and waste away (atrophy), while also developing uncontrollable twitches (fasciculations) and losing their reflex responses.

Image of Lou Hehrig
US baseballer Lou Gehrig was diagnosed in his 30s, and his specific type of MND became known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Wikimedia Commons

If both are affected, symptoms usually start mildly with a loss of grip, a slurred word or stumbling while walking. The disease then spreads as motor neurons continue to die, affecting all skeletal muscles, which are under control by the central nervous system. This leads to muscle weakness and atrophy on both sides of the body.

Muscles become spastic, spasm and display uncontrollable twitches. In 75% of individuals, muscles of the face and throat that control speech, swallowing and chewing also become weak and waste away, leading to slurred or nasal speech and difficulty eating. Over time, the disease spreads to muscles of the diaphragm and chest, leading to an inability to breathe without mechanical support, and eventually, death.

Symptoms of MND can vary from person to person, and the rate of progression can also differ widely between individuals. However, it does progress in all cases. For the majority of people, this period of disease progression is quite rapid, with most living two to five years after the onset of symptoms. Only 20% of patients live for five years, 10% for ten years and 5% for 20 years or more. One famous notable exception is the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who was first diagnosed at age 21 and is now 75 years old, meaning he has lived with the condition for over 50 years.

The cause of most cases of MND is currently unknown, although multiple hypotheses have been put forward. This is currently an area of major research throughout the world.

Genetic causes

A small number of cases of MND (5-10%) are inherited from family and can be attributed to a specific genetic mutation, or an alteration in the sequence of DNA. It’s estimated that, currently, about 60% of the genes associated with familial MND have been identified. For most MND genes, an individual only needs to inherit one copy of the mutated gene to cause the disease.

The first gene mutation to be discovered in MND was one called “SOD1”, in 1993. SOD1 mutations account for about 10-20% of cases of familial MND (and 1-2% of sporadic cases). While it’s unclear exactly how changes in this gene lead to MND, it’s thought that it takes on a toxic property, leading to damage in the brain cells and, eventually, death of motor neurons.

Another important gene implicated in familial MND is “C9orf72”, which was found in 2011 and is known to be the most common genetic cause of MND. Mutations in this gene account for 25-40% of familial MND (and 7% of sporadic cases). This gene has also been shown to account for 25% of cases of another neurodegenerative disease, a type of dementia called frontotemporal dementia.

This gene contains abnormal repetitions in the DNA code, called repeat expansions. While healthy individuals have up to 30 of these repetitions, individuals with MND, frontotemporal dementia or both can have hundreds or even thousands of repeats. But it’s still a matter of debate how this could lead to the development of the disease, with several potential mechanisms put forward, and further research needed.

In addition to these two major genetic discoveries, several other genes have been implicated (NEK1, TDP43, FUS and UBQLN2) that appear to play a smaller role in the number of cases of MND they cause.

It’s important to remember, though, that genetic mutations play a small role in most cases of MND. While 5-10% of cases are familial, with a clear genetic link, the other 90-95% of cases are sporadic and are likely to be due to a complex interaction of genetic risk factors and environmental variables.

Age and gender

Non-genetic factors that may contribute to the development of MND have been extensively studied over the years, with several potential causes emerging. One of the major risk factors for MND is advancing age. MND is rare before the age of 40, with an average age of onset of 58-63 years for sporadic MND and 40-60 years for familial MND.

Males are also more likely than females to have MND, but we don’t know why.

Lifestyle causes

A number of lifestyle risk factors for MND have also emerged. Smoking is known to increase the risk of MND, with one study indicating smokers were 42% more likely to be diagnosed with MND, while former smokers had a 44% higher risk.

Certain dietary factors, such as higher intake of antioxidants and vitamin E, have been shown, at least in some studies, to decrease the risk of MND.

Interestingly, increased physical fitness and lower body mass index (BMI) have been shown to be associated with a higher risk of MND. The diagnosis of baseballer Lou Gehrig led scientists to theorise that strenuous physical activity and excessive use of muscles could contribute to the development of MND.

While evidence for this has been inconsistent, an increased risk for MND has been demonstrated among professional soccer players, and MND patients have higher levels of vigorous physical activity compared to individuals without MND. Other factors, however, may account for this relationship, such as repeated head injuries, another purported cause of MND.

Image of Neil Daniher
Former AFL footballer Neale Daniher suffers from MND and campaigns for more funding and awareness. Julian Smith/AAP

A number of occupations have also been found to be associated with increased risk of MND, including electrical workers, farmers, house painters and military personnel. Other individuals exposed to electromagnetic fields, certain chemicals, pesticides and heavy metals, such as lead, manganese, iron and selenium, during the course of their work are also at risk.

But it’s still unclear how exposure to these toxins may lead to the development of MND, and not all studies in this area have been consistent in demonstrating increased risk. Another issue with these toxin exposure studies is that many rely on self-reports, with individuals having to recall their past exposures. This can lead to recall bias, where people with the disease are more likely to report a past exposure, leading to an over-inflation of risk.

Other illnesses

Exposure to viruses has also been cited as a potential cause of MND. Polio virus, for example, can infect motor neurons, and may be linked to later weakening of these neurons.

Retroviruses, such as HIV, have also been shown to be potentially linked to the development of MND.

In addition to viruses, other medical conditions may also be linked to an increased risk of MND. Type I diabetes has been shown to be associated with a threefold increase in risk (although, interestingly, Type II diabetes was associated with a lower risk for MND).

Consistent with other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, increased inflammation has also recently gained attention as a potential cause of MND. One study showed that, in MND, inflammatory cells called macrophages can ingest motor neurons.

What makes treatment so complicated?

Despite decades of research, there is only one treatment currently approved for MND, a drug called riluzole (Rilutek), first approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1995. This aims to reduce the release of the neurotransmitter glutamate from motor neurons, which was once thought to drive the death of these neurons. But the drug doesn’t reverse nerve damage or muscle weakness caused by the disease, and only prolongs life for about three months.

Aside from riluzole, most current treatments such as muscle relaxants or physical therapy attempt to maintain patient quality of life.

In May 2017, the US approved the first new treatment for MND in 22 years, a drug called Radicava (edaravone), which is expected to be on the US market by August 2017. This drug, originally developed for the treatment of stroke in Japan, was approved in 2015 for the treatment of MND in Japan and South Korea.

The drug aims to prevent damage of neurons, and the company that developed it reports it can slow the physical decline of MND patients by 33%.

The drug, which is not a cure and only slows disease progression, is stunningly expensive, costing nearly US$150,000 a year. And patients in the last stage of the clinical trial that led to approval in the US were only followed up to six months, so the long-term benefits of the drug are unknown. The drug is not yet approved for use in Australia.

The causes of MND are many and complex. This is further complicated by the fact we don’t know what ultimately causes the death of motor neurons when someone has MND. If we could find this out, then we may well be on the way to developing more effective, and perhaps even curative, therapies for the disease.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Lyndsey Collins-Praino
Lyndsey Collins-Praino – [Senior Lecturer in School of Medicine, University of Adelaide] and
Image of Viythia KatharesanViythia Katharesan – [Lecturer in the School of Medicine, University of Adelaide]






This article is part of a syndicated news program via the Conversation

‘The way they manipulate people is really saddening’: study shows the trade-offs in gig work

Uber Gig workers saw their work as  
flexible but also with its risks. Reynaldo Vasconcelos/Newzulu/AAP

Uber driver Michelle, thinks her job is fantastic when she’s only after part-time hours. But she’s given it a couple of months and she says she’s not getting anywhere.

To be able to earn A$800 she has to actually pull in A$1,500, averaging 70 hours a week. The money per hour can be good, but only when it really picks up. Looking at the current job market, she doesn’t want to do two full-time jobs to make the same amount of money that she used to earn in an office, working half the time.

She feels exhausted. She used to think people in Melbourne were good drivers, but now that she’s been driving all day, she sees a fair amount of aggression. Six weeks ago she was trying to merge into traffic and a man in a ute next to her showed her a crowbar.

Her latest day off she spent sleeping because she was so tired.

Michelle (not her real name) was one of our study participants. We interviewed 60 ridesharing and food delivery workers like her. And the reality of their experiences is far more nuanced than others make out.

Work in the “gig economy” is often depicted as flexible by businesses and those who run the platforms that offer work, or as exploitative by labour activists and commentators.

A key finding is that gig workers arbitrate between the costs and benefits of gig work. Many interviewees preferred their gig work over other forms of low-paid work (most commonly cleaning, hospitality, retail) because of abusive bosses, underpayment, and underemployment. In comparison, gig work is seen by these workers as providing a more appealing work environment.

While some rideshare drivers note they need to work long hours to earn the equivalent of a full-time wage, they also emphasise their enjoyment of their rideshare work. One food delivery worker summed it up:

It is more flexible. You can do whatever you want. You are on the street talking to the people enjoying. You can do exercise as well on the bicycle. And, it is good money.

Despite these workers’ sense that there are opportunities in gig work – their experience was not overwhelmingly positive. There was a group of workers who felt marginalised, had few choices, and the gig work was a last resort.

These workers saw gig work as a stopgap measure while they looked for “real” jobs. In these cases they were doing it because it got them out of the house, to supplement their income or before starting their own business.

Social versus isolating

The workers in the study saw social interactions as part of their gig work as one of the more enjoyable aspects. What varied between rideshare and food delivery workers was how these interactions took place.

Food delivery drivers often end up crossing paths during their shifts and informally waiting together. As one worker summed up:

You end up knowing most of the riders, because you see them pretty often. You kind of speak with each other, and there is a social club.

By contrast rideshare drivers noted that their work could be quite physically isolating. Some drivers engaged in online forums with other drivers but would never meet up with them. Despite limited social interaction with other drivers, rideshare drivers reported that this is where they derived most of their job satisfaction.

Freedom versus control

The drivers we interviewed expressed a sense of freedom and flexibility because they had “no boss, no set hours”. However, the flip side of this was a sense of limited control over work. As one food delivery worker described:

I currently fit my life around their work…obviously I have to work around busy times – lunch and dinnertime.

Both delivery riders and rideshare drivers – found that only particular pockets of time across the day were profitable. This was usually lunch and dinner times, especially weekends for food delivery, and weekends and evenings for rideshare drivers. So while their options to sign on or off the app (the platform that employed them) were flexible, realistically their productive working hours were determined by patterns of consumer demand.

Both the rideshare and food delivery platforms also unilaterally changed the terms and conditions of engagement, which directly affected earning potential. Both groups of workers expressed particular concern about the periodic increases in the commission taken by the platform, reporting cuts to earnings of up to 15%. One driver lamented:

The way they [the platform] manipulate people….is really saddening.

Ridesharing workers were also concerned about being financially over-committed due to the cost associated with purchasing and running a vehicle. This financial burden, coupled with continued changing rules of game, and the capacity for these platforms to arbitrarily “deactivate them” led to anxiety and frustration. One worker described this:

It used to be good before they did all the price cuts and started treating their drivers like trash. We have had 30% cuts since I came on board whilst demand hasn’t matched supply. I make around $10 an hour.

Best of a bad lot

Our emerging findings suggest gig workers often understand the trade-offs between the positive and negative features of their work but see this as a reality of their position within the labour market.

A number of our interviewees felt exploited and/or would prefer better paying “real jobs”, validating the concern on regulation, pay and conditions in this industry. But, gig work allows these workers to meet their immediate needs and gives them a sense of being their own boss.

The gig workers enjoyed the high levels of autonomy in their work, and many of them saw their gigs as the best in a market characterised by low paid jobs.

This article was co-authored by:





This article is part of a syndicated news program via the Conversation

A quarter of kidney donors are living: what you need to know to be a donor

Kidney donors People undergoing dialysis would  
have a better quality of life if they had a kidney transplant. 

At any one time, more than 1,400 Australians are on an organ transplant waiting list. The most common organs in demand are kidneys, followed by the liver and lung.

While the number of deceased organ donors in Australia has doubled since 2009, rates of live donor transplantation – where a person donates one kidney or, rarely, a portion of their liver – are relatively static.

In 2016, 265 Australians donated a kidney to a friend or relative, making up about a quarter of all kidney transplants. Live donor liver transplants are rare (only two occurred in Australia last year) and often donated from a parent to a child.

Who needs a kidney?

Kidneys filter toxins from the blood and regulate fluid balance. When kidneys are functioning so poorly a person needs dialysis to do the work for them, we say the person has “end stage kidney disease”.

In 2015, there were nearly 12,500 Australians undergoing dialysis. End stage kidney disease often occurs gradually and is commonly a result of diabetes, high blood pressure and types of autoimmune kidney disease called glomerulonephritis.

Many patients with end stage kidney disease would live longer and have a better quality of life following a kidney transplant compared to staying on dialysis. But the shortage of donor organs means preference is given to those likely to have better outcomes and reasonable life expectancy after transplantation.

Australian guidelines require patients have an 80% likelihood of survival at five years after transplantation to be eligible for the wait list. Tests are done to ensure the potential transplant recipient has acceptable heart health to undergo the operation, and that there are no cancers or infections that will be made worse by medications that suppress the immune system (“anti-rejection drugs”).

The donor’s kidney function is assessed, and the risk of them developing a kidney disease in future is evaluated. This is both to ensure the donor enjoys good kidney function after removal of their kidney, and that the recipient receives a well-functioning kidney. Donors also routinely undergo psychological evaluation.

Image of kidneys filtering
Kidneys work by filtering out toxins from the blood and regulating a person’s fluid balance.

Where do donors come from?

A potential recipient is encouraged to ask friends and family if they would be willing to donate a kidney. If not, the potential recipient can go on the deceased donor list to wait for a compatible kidney.

People often donate organs to their blood relatives, but it’s also possible to give a kidney to someone who is not related, such as a spouse or close friend. Some people use social media to solicit organ donations, and some have been successful. Specific matching sites also exist in countries such as the US, with the aim of getting healthy volunteers to altruistically donate a kidney.

But methods of acquiring a donor who is previously unknown to the recipient are controversial and generally discouraged in Australia for ethical reasons. In Australia, a person could donate a kidney altruistically to someone on the waiting list. In this situation, the donor and recipient do not find out each other’s identity.

The Australian paired-exchange program allows greater numbers of live donor transplants to occur through paired kidney donor swaps. For example, if Jane’s potential donor John is unsuitable to give her a kidney because of matching issues, and Bob’s potential donor Barbara is unsuitable to give him a kidney, Barbara can donate a kidney to Jane, and John can donate a kidney to Bob.

Last year, an altruistic donation kicked off a domino chain of six paired-exchange donations, with the final kidney from a paired exchange donor going to a patient on the deceased donor waiting list.

Live donors must be over 18, but it’s preferable if they are over 30 as older age at donation minimises their chance of developing an unexpected condition that threatens their kidney health down the track.

Do you need to be a ‘match’?

Different people have different combinations of proteins on the surface of their cells that allow the immune system to determine what is part of the body (self) and what are foreign agents (non-self). These proteins are determined by genes called human leukocyte antigens (HLA).

The immune system is designed to recognise self HLA so it doesn’t target its own tissues. It is advantageous to have high degrees of HLA match (also called tissue match) between a donor and recipient, but it’s not absolutely necessary. A closer degree of HLA match means the immune system is less likely to reject the kidney.

Image of blood relatives
Blood relatives are most likely to donate an organ.

Usually people need to be the same blood group to donate a kidney. But some living donor transplants can occur across different blood groups. These are called ABO incompatible transplantation. For this to happen, the recipient must undergo plasmapheresis – a process in which antibodies (proteins that attack foreign invaders) are removed from their blood and they are given strong medication to suppress the immune system.

Only people with end stage kidney disease can be listed for deceased donor transplantation. But living donor transplants can be “pre-emptive”, taking place before the need for dialysis.

This has advantages, such as not having to take time away from work or study to do dialysis. People who undergo pre-emptive transplantion have a lower risk of death and loss of kidney transplant function compared to people who spend time on dialysis before getting a transplant.

Are there risks to donors?

Kidney donors usually remain in hospital for a few days after surgery, which is usually conducted as “keyhole surgery”. This involves a camera and instruments being inserted through a small incision and the kidney being pulled out through it.

Full recovery time is around six to eight weeks. Complications, such as bleeding or blood clots, related to the operation are rare. There is a very small risk of death around the time of the operation, estimated at 3.1 in 10,000 donors, or 0.031%. Although the patient populations differ, this is less than for other minor operations such appendicectomy (estimated in a recent study at 0.21%).

There is no long-term increased risk of death or heart disease. Donating a kidney is likely to cause a slight increase in blood pressure over time.

After donation, the remaining kidney increases its capacity to filter blood, and kidney function usually returns to 70-80% of the previous level. This is adequate, and does not result in any symptoms related to kidney disease.

Studies comparing kidney donors to equivalently healthy non-donors found kidney donation increases risk of end stage kidney disease about three- to five-fold. But the risk is very low to begin with (around 0.06% for a white US man and 0.04% for a white US woman).

The kidney donation experience is usually positive. In one study, 95% of kidney donors in the US rated their experience as good to excellent. They reported an improvement in their sense of meaning in life and self-esteem. But a degree of psychological stress related to donation was common, and 20% reported a financial burden.

The Australian government gives A$4.1 million to run the Supporting Living Organ Donors program. This scheme includes reimbursing employers for sick leave for those who donate an organ, as well as other initiatives that aim to remove financial barriers to organ donation.

This article was written by:
Image of Holly HuttonHolly Hutton – [Nephrologist, PhD candidate at Centre for Inflammatory Diseases, Monash University., Monash University]


More information about living kidney donation is available at Donate Life, Kidney Health Australia, and the Supporting Living Organ Donors program.






This article is part of a syndicated news program via the Conversation

Volcanoes under the ice: melting Antarctic ice could fight climate change

Volcanoes-under-the-ice--melting-Antarctic-ice-could-fight-climate-change Furious winds keep the 
McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica free of snow and ice. Calcites found in  
the valleys have revealed the secrets of ancient subglacial volcanoes.

Iron is not commonly famous for its role as a micronutrient for tiny organisms dwelling in the cold waters of polar oceans. But iron feeds plankton, which in turn hold carbon dioxide in their bodies. When they die, the creatures sink to the bottom of the sea, safely storing that carbon.

How exactly the iron gets to the Southern Ocean is hotly debated, but we do know that during the last ice age huge amounts of carbon were stored at the bottom of the Southern Ocean. Understanding how carbon comes to be stored in the depth of the oceans could help abate CO2 in the atmosphere, and Antarctica has a powerful role.

Icebergs and atmospheric dust are believed to have been the major sources of this micronutrient in the past. However, in research published in Nature Communications, my colleagues and I examined calcite crusts from Antarctica, and found that volcanoes under its glaciers were vital in delivering iron to the ocean during the last ice age.

Today, glacial meltwaters from Greenland and the Antarctic peninsula supply iron both in solution and as tiny particles (less than 0.0001mm in diameter), which are readily consumed by plankton. Where glaciers meet bedrock, minute organisms can live in pockets of relatively warm water. They are able to extract “food” from the rock, and in doing so release iron, which then can be carried by underwater rivers to the sea.

Volcanic eruptions under the ice can create underwater subglacial lakes, which, at times, discharge downstream large masses of water that travel to the ice margin and beyond, carrying with them iron in particle and in solution.

The role of melting ice in climate change is as yet poorly understood. It’s particularly pertinent as scientists predict the imminent collapse of part of the Larsen C ice shelf.

Researchers are also investigating how to reproduce natural iron fertilisation in the Southern Ocean and induce algal blooms. By interrogating the volcanic archive, we learn more about the effect that iron fertilisation from meltwater has on global temperatures.

Image of subglacial calcite
A polished wafer of the subglacial calcites. The translucent, crystalline layers formed while in pockets of water, providing nourishment to microbes. The opaque calcite with rock fragments documents a period when waters discharged from a subglacial lake formed by a volcanic eruption, carrying away both iron in solution and particles of iron. 

The Last Glacial Maximum

During the Last Glacial Maximum, a period 27,000 to 17,000 years ago when glaciers were at their greatest extent worldwide, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was lowered to 180 parts per million (ppm) relative to pre-industrial levels (280 ppm).

Today we are at 400 ppm and, if current warming trends continue, a point of no return will be reached. The global temperature system will return to the age of the dinosaurs, when there was little difference in temperature from the equator to the poles.

If we are interested in providing a habitable planet for our descendants, we need to mitigate the quantity of carbon in the atmosphere. Blooms of plankton in the Southern Ocean boosted by iron fertilisation were one important ingredient in lowering CO2 in the Last Glacial Maximum, and they could help us today.

The Last Glacial Maximum had winds that spread dust from deserts and icebergs carrying small particles into the Southern Ocean, providing the necessary iron for algal blooms. These extreme conditions don’t exist today.

Hidden volcanoes

Neither dust nor icebergs alone, however, explain bursts of productivity recorded in ocean sediments in the Last Glacial Maximum. There was another ingredient, only discovered in rare archives of subglacial processes that could be precisely dated to the Last Glacial Maximum.

Loss of ice in Antartica’s Dry Valleys uncovered rusty-red crusts of calcite plastered on glacially polished rocks. The calcites have tiny layers that can be precisely dated by radiometric techniques.

Image of a piece of subglacial calcite coated pebble
A piece of subglacial calcite coating pebbles. This suggests that the current transporting the pebbles was quite fast, like a mountain stream. The pebbles were deposited at the same time as the opaque layer in the calcite formed.

Each layer preserves in its chemistry and DNA a record of processes that contributed to delivering iron to the Southern Ocean. For example, fluorine-rich spherules indicate that underwater vents created by volcanic activity injected a rich mixture of minerals into the subglacial environment. This was confirmed by DNA data, revealing a thriving community of thermophiles – microorganisms that live in very hot water only.

Then, it became plausible to hypothesise that volcanic eruptions occurred subglacially and formed a subglacial lake, whose waters ran into an interconnected system of channels, ultimately reaching the ice margin. Meltwater drained iron from pockets created where ice met bedrock, which then reached the ocean – thus inducing algal blooms.

We dated this drainage activity to a period when dust flux does not match ocean productivity. Thus, our study indicates that volcanoes in Antarctica had a role in delivering iron to the Southern Ocean, and potentially contributed to lowering CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Our research helps explain how volcanoes act on climate change. But it also uncovers more about iron fertilisation as a possible way to mitigate global warming.

This article was written by:
Image of Silvia FrisiaSilvia Frisia – [Associate Professor, School of Environmental and Life Sciences , University of Newcastle]





This article is part of a syndicated news program via the Conversation


Goodbye to the Gatwick, and to so much of the old St Kilda

Goodbye-to-the-Gatwick The closure of the Gatwick Hotel means
those most in need of shelter  have lost another place they could stay.

The closure of the Gatwick Hotel in St Kilda represents a new front in the ongoing gentrification debate in inner Melbourne. It highlights inconvenient truths about cultural appropriation, heritage as a driver of urban renewal, and the marginalisation of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Gentrification taps into the fundamental urban planning and social issues facing Melbourne and other big Australian cities in coming decades. In particular, it has impacts on liveability, housing affordability, and social cohesion.

Gentrification has its benefits

Gentrification and the financial investment it represents can be a positive and transformative process for local communities. Better access to education and health services, as well as welcoming, attractive and vibrant streetscapes, are just some of the benefits of urban regeneration.

But, too often, the economic benefits of regeneration are separated from its social impact on existing residents. Rising property prices and rents are inevitable with gentrification. As a result, people on low incomes or who rely on social welfare are forced out as the wealthier middle class moves in.

The adaptive reuse or restoration of heritage buildings plays a key role in this process. Such developments can provide a sustainable and culturally sensitive solution to the challenge of increasing population density in our cities. Nonetheless, the debate on the role and value of heritage buildings is often paradoxical and divisive.

At its simplest, the divide is between those who passionately argue for preserving these buildings for their historical and cultural value, and those who see heritage as an unnecessary restriction on urban development.

Sometimes, the two sides align, as is largely the case with the Gatwick. Those in charge of the building’s redevelopment buy into the benefits of gentrification, with this development creating an opportunity to market luxury apartments at a substantial premium.

Trading on edginess and authenticity

The issues surrounding the Gatwick feed into a much more complex and potentially problematic debate about how we value our urban environment.

The threat to heritage is not destruction of the building itself. It’s the loss of a more intangible and hard-to-commodify aspect: the “collective memory” of stories, folklore and history. This forms the cultural fabric that contributes to the urban character and identity of an area.

The reality of life at the Gatwick was sometimes difficult. But, for decades, it provided a home for those most in need of shelter and safety. In the public consciousness, however, the Gatwick was a potent symbol of the inner city’s social problems: homelessness, drug addiction, prostitution and violent crime.

Local traders, residents and politicians all campaigned for its closure. Even the retail decline of Fitzroy Street was blamed on the hotel’s reputation.

It could be argued, though, that this very notoriety played a pivotal role in moving St Kilda along the path of gentrification. In recent decades, property developers have successfully marketed St Kilda as an edgy – but safe – place to live.

The area’s undeniable heritage, set against the backdrop of drugs, prostitution and a healthy dose of rock ’n’ roll folklore, knits together in an irresistible narrative that feeds the public appetite for “cultural authenticity”. In street after street, elegant but tarnished historic buildings have allowed investors to buy into this local mythology with relative ease.

Those who gave area its character lose out

The bitter irony is that this quest for authenticity has left long-term locals, such as the former Gatwick residents, vulnerable to the pitfalls of gentrification. The narrative, of which they formed an integral part, has moved on. New residents have co-opted the authenticity of St Kilda’s past while rejecting the challenging reality of how these social issues play out locally.

In effect, the very people who arguably contributed most to the local community’s cultural diversity and vibrancy are the first to be excluded. This pattern of appropriation, commodification and finally exclusion is replicated in historic suburbs across Melbourne and other cities.

The Sonnets from the Gatwick short documentaries explored the lives of those 
who called the hotel home.

The producers of Channel Nine’s The Block have bought the Gatwick. Under the TV spotlight, the gritty boarding house will undoubtedly be transformed into stylish and desirable apartments aimed at wealthy buyers.

But what does the future look like for its former residents? By ignoring the impact of urban regeneration on the homeless and vulnerable, are we acknowledging that closing the gap between our wealthiest and poorest residents is an impossible task?

Reducing urban regeneration to a system largely driven by the accumulation of personal wealth, with little or no thought for the profound social displacement that gentrification can bring, risks further marginalising those residents who already have little or no say in the future of our cities.

This article was written by:
Image of Gareth WilsonGareth Wilson – [Researcher at the Australian Centre for Architectural History, Urban and Cultural Heritage, University of Melbourne]





This article is part of a syndicated news program via the Conversation


Sunday essay: the wonder of Joyce’s Ulysses

Sunday-essay---the-wonder-of-Joyces-Ulysses A parade in St Petersburg 
last year celebrating Bloomsday,the day on which Ulysses is set.

James Joyce once said to his friend Frank Budgen:

If there is any difficulty in reading what I write it is because of the material I use. In my case the thought is always simple.

“Difficulty” is an understatement for the reader’s experience of the bewildering Ulysses, with its notoriously experimental styles and form, extravagantly wrought language, and approach, in which nothing is “stupidly explained” – a stance that the young Joyce had praised in his idol, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.

Image of A 1922 portrait of James Joyce. shutterstock
A 1922 portrait of James Joyce. shutterstock

Declan Kiberd’s book Ulysses and us: The art of everyday living explores the somewhat generous proposition that Ulysses is a “book of wisdom” about the everyday world. The key to understanding the genius and richness of Ulysses, I suggest, is Joyce’s inspired “simple” thought of interjecting into this “one day in the life” of a city — its smells and sounds, its sandwichboard men, jingling brass bed quoits, gorgonzola cheese and burgundy, its trams and pubs — an epic apparatus of correspondence that draws us to explore the vast canvas of the work.

By “correspondence”, I mean where one element – say an object, sensation, or cognition – resonates with another, forging a meaningful connection. The most overt form of this is the referencing of Homer’s Odyssey throughout the novel’s 18 episodes. Homer tells the story of Odysseus (the Roman form of this name being “Ulysses”), a guileful Greek warrior, and his epic adventures throughout the Mediterranean region on his way home to Ithaca, to be reunited with his kingdom, his constant wife Penelope (whose virtue is besieged by suitors), and his son Telemachus.


The correspondences between this story and a rather uneventful day in Dublin are by no means self-evident. Odysseus’ counterpart in Ulysses, Leopold (Poldy) Bloom is an advertising salesman who leaves home to go to a funeral, and to work, in the knowledge that his wife Molly (Penelope) intends to have an affair that day with Blazes Boylan. Meanwhile, the young poet and intellectual Stephen Dedalus is living a somewhat bohemian life in the Martello Tower with the blasphemous, garrulous, amusing Buck Mulligan. The paths of Dedalus and Bloom cross during the day and night until they meet and have a wide-ranging conversation. Bloom takes care of a now drunken Stephen, and invites him home to stay the night.

The correspondences then, do not necessarily entail finding similarities between everyday life and the epic, but they can evoke connections and comparisons that lead us to reflect. The effect is often comic (Odysseus, participant in the great siege of Troy is reduced to Bloom besieging potential advertisers), in a book of which Joyce said “there is not one single serious line in it”, but some correspondences resonate deeply.

For instance, Poldy misses his natural son Rudy, whose death has badly affected his marriage. Stephen (corresponding to the son Telemachus) resembles his literal father rather too much: the verbally inventive, intemperately drinking Simon Dedalus. He could perhaps use the tempering touch of caring, practical-minded Bloom. And even a marriage marred by infidelity is, in Ulysses, something to celebrate. Learning how to read Ulysses also leads us to read human experience in ways that defy conventional expectations.

Dirt for art’s sake: Ulysses’ reception

Ulysses’ electrifying novelty polarised opinion from the outset. After it was published by Sylvia Beach in Paris in 1922, T.S. Eliot called it the

most important expression which the present age has found; it is a book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape.

Many readers were unprepared for the strong language, detailed attention to bodily functions, including female orgasm, and Molly Bloom’s uninhibited discourse. Not only does this modern-day Penelope defy the Homeric virtue of constancy, but she revels in her transgression: (“yes and damn well fucked too up to my neck nearly”). For many, including those who had read the book only partly or not at all, it was chaotic, formless, or as Joseph Brooker notes, a latrine, a “phone book”, a desert “as dry as it is stinking”.

First published by The Little Review, in serial form, it was the subject of an obscenity trial and was banned in the USA, then the UK. In 1933, however, Justice Woolsey’s decision in the US District Court observed that Ulysses was not “dirt for dirt’s sake”.

In Australia, the news that it was obscene, and the news that it was not, took longer to break. The Brisbane Courier Mail of 19 September 1941 claimed that “after being freely available to the public of Australia for the last 20 years”, Ulysses had been “banned by the Minister for Customs”. The ban was not overturned until Gough Whitlam’s 1972 accession to power. (Gough once gave a copy of the banned book to his wife.)

A damaged love story

Image of Bloomsday in Dublin, 2011
Bloomsday in Dublin, 2011. William Murphy/flickr

One of Joyce’s enduring creations is that of a community of people worldwide who meet to read, discuss or dramatise Ulysses each June 16. Ulysses is not only Joyce’s time capsule of Dublin on that day in 1904, but a monument to his beloved partner Nora Barnacle. It was on June 16 1904 that Nora first “walked out” with Joyce, and administered what he described to her in a letter as a sexual “sacrament”. Later that year they eloped in self-proclaimed exile to the Continent.

However, on a rare return trip to Dublin five years later, Joyce’s friend Vincent Cosgrave hinted that he had enjoyed Nora’s favours before Joyce did. Joyce, agonised with doubt, was shattered. Ultimately a good friend, J.F. Byrne, reassured him that the story was untrue. Years later, Joyce assigned Byrne’s address to Bloom: 7 Eccles Street. Joyce’s crisis of faith over Nora’s fidelity had, somewhat masochistically, inspired the central event of Ulysses. And indeed, Peter Costello’s thoughtful biography of Joyce suggests that Cosgrave’s boast was not necessarily empty.

Image of A Dublin Martello tower
A Dublin Martello tower. David Jones/shutterstock

The “plot” of Joyce’s epic is otherwise just two cartographer’s lines, the intersecting paths of Bloom and Joyce’s alter ego Stephen Dedalus. Dedalus believes himself cast out of the Martello tower by flatmate Buck Mulligan, and surrenders the key to him. Bloom forgets his key. Both are symbolically usurped; Dedalus does not know where he will spend the night.

The first six episodes of Ulysses follow firstly Dedalus’ and then Bloom’s mornings, using internal monologue to reveal the protagonists’ thoughts. In later episodes, the structure, language and logic of the writing itself undergo a dizzying series of experiments. These developments constitute Joyce’s own “Odyssey of Style”, which takes the reader on a wild ride.

The seventh, breakout chapter for instance, “Aeolus”, is centred on the offices of the Freeman’s Journal and Evening Telegraph. Aeolus is associated with the Greek god of the winds, whom Joyce mischievously associates with the art of rhetoric. This was set out in a table of correspondences for each episode that he used to explain his design to a mystified public. Aside from the preponderant gossip and banter, in this episode both great oratory and nauseatingly flowery writing receive extended attention — the latter to hilarious effect, as Simon Dedalus and other layabouts damn the purple prose splenitively before, parched by their exertions, inevitably adjourning to the pub.

A panoply of rhetorical devices is employed in the episode, which is punctuated by a series of newspaper-style captions or sub-heads, and incorporates multiple references to air flow, as various blowhards in the offices shoot the breeze or, in the case of declining lawyer J.J. O’Molloy, seek to “raise the wind”: ie, borrow some cash.

But what is most impressive in this episode is how Joyce extracts meaning through adroitly signalled chains of correspondence that, in the political climate of 1904, make pointed connections between Ireland’s history of subjection (symbolised in Nelson’s Pillar and the GPO, from which “His Majesty’s vermilion mailcars” circulate), and her nationalistic aspirations. Chillingly, the episode is set at the time (12 noon) and place of the 1916 Easter Uprising. A gloomy proclamation by editor Myles Crawford, “We’re the fat in the fire” proves prophetic. Indeed, these offices did burn in 1916. Joyce had begun planning this episode in 1917.

Following episodes include a parodic history of English literature (“Oxen of the Sun”) and a phantasmagorical absurdist drama set in seedy Night-Town (“Circe”) where even objects such as gongs, soap and gas jets get speaking parts. Impressively, Joyce even wrings poetry and beauty out of an apparently technical and scientific mock catechism (“Ithaca”), which includes an inventory of seemingly every Bloom possession.

Image of the last line of Molly’s famous monologue
The last line of Molly’s famous monologue. greg/flickr

Lastly, there is the justly famous tour de force of Molly’s unpunctuated stream of conscious monologue (“Penelope”), the subject of countless memorable rehearsed readings in Bloomsday activities. “Penelope” is an epic in its own right, in which Molly reviews her day, past lovers, Poldy himself. Molly is accorded the last word.

Ulysses by correspondence

Joyce likely derived his principle of correspondence from multiple sources, although he adapted it to his own purposes. His early interest in mystical and hermetic philosophy followed the loss of his fervent Catholic faith. Two early influences on Joyce were the poet William Blake and the Swedish philosopher and theologian Swedenborg. Both were interested in the idea of correspondence between the material and divine realms, and the spiritual principle that earthly conditions reflect higher realms.

Bloom expresses a parallel idea in a passage from the “Calypso” episode, where he visits the pork butcher to buy a kidney for breakfast.

Leaving the shop, Bloom responds to an everyday object:

Watering cart. To provoke the rain. On earth as it is in heaven.

Mysteriously, the very next line records that

A cloud began to cover the sun slowly, wholly. Grey. Far.

Even mundane experience need not be meaningless. Take for example, the references to meat in “Calypso”. In Homer, Calypso is the goddess who detained Odysseus on her island for years for her carnal pleasure. For Bloom, the sight of sausages in the butcher’s window is answered by his desire to perv on the “hams” of the next door girl, whom he in turn associates with a tattered religious garment, a scapular, “defending her both ways”. For Joyce, church and policing are closely linked; both are in the confession business. Bloom now indulges in a memory, or fantasy, of the girl enjoying a cuddle with a policeman in Eccles Lane: “They like them sizeable. Prime sausage.” Later, his disparate musings on meat link us to universal themes of sex, death and advertising.

Image of cooking sausages
Sausages invoke a reverie on sex, religion and death. Shutterstock

As a young man, Joyce had read Lamb’s The Adventures of Ulysses and was attracted to its supernatural elements. Ulysses is punctuated by curious parallels between Bloom and Dedalus, and various synchronicities: Poldy thinks about Blazes Boylan, who immediately appears; Stephen, who has complained about Ireland’s three masters, in a later scene turns his head back suddenly to see a three-master ship. These are not the contrived coincidences of Dickens but realistic experience, attended to in the spirit of wonder.

Bloom in wonderland

Ulysses is a feast of a book. The walls and the streets echo with laughter, song and banter. The life lived in the shops and pubs and workplaces, the décor, the clothes, the advertising signs and appliances, is brought back to life in these pages, filtered through the minds of artistic Stephen and scientific but “wonderstruck” Bloom. “Wonder” is one of Bloom’s favourite words; there is much to wonder at.

Image of the Quay's Bar
Ulysses captures the life of a city. Jaclin/flickr, CC BY-NC
Ulysses captures the life of a city. Jaclin/flickr, CC BY-NC

In the first episode, Stephen stands at the stairhead on the tower, haunted by visions of his dead mother:

Buck Mulligan’s voice sang from within the tower. It came nearer up the staircase, calling again. Stephen, still trembling at his soul’s cry, heard warm running sunlight and in the air behind him friendly words.

Is this mere hallucination, the product of a stressful night, or the continuance of unresolved grief at his mother’s death? And what can we make of Bloom’s parallel experience that same morning?

Quick warm sunlight came running from Berkeley road, swiftly, in slim sandals, along the brightening footpath. Runs, she runs to meet me, a girl with gold hair on the wind.

Since a cloud has just begun to cover the sun, it seems likely that Stephen’s vision occurs at a similar time to Bloom’s. Kiberd’s beautiful suggestion that this is Bloom’s “Homeric vision”, is appealing. Equally, he could be hallucinating his absent daughter Milly, but then how do we explain Stephen’s similar vision? A definitive answer is not necessarily achievable.

Whatever we make of it, Joyce’s epic resembles the “open work” spoken of by Umberto Eco: one that invites us to explore it for ourselves. The supreme virtue of Ulysses is that it so richly rewards the considerable exertions required of us.

This essay was written by:
Image of SF McLarenSF McLaren – [Author: Reframing A Portrait of the Artist: Joyce and the phenomenological imagination, Western Sydney University]


Some relevant resources:

Which edition of Ulysses?

Choosing the preferred edition of Ulysses is not a transparent choice, given the vexed publishing history of this book, and the so-called Joyce Wars. Many critics prefer Hans Walter Gabler’s corrected text (1986). Danis Rose’s attempt to find a more definitive text has met with mixed reviews. Jeri Johnson’s introductory essay to the book in the Oxford World’s Classics series is excellent, and this edition also has some very useful notes on each chapter at the back. Take note however that this is a reprint of the original typesetting of 1922 and so is prone to some possible textual errors.

Audio resource

An excellent audio recording from an ensemble cast that really brings the book alive. In my view, the best way to approach Ulysses: Free downloadable files at:

Guides and commentary

It has been said that one does not read Joyce, one studies Joyce. Certainly there is no shame in taking a guide book with one, when embarking on a reading odyssey. Bear in mind however that guides can be a mixed blessing: they can over-explain and over-interpret, or present us with an overwhelm of information.

A popular, updated guide to Ulysses:

Blamires, Harry. The New Bloomsday Book: A Guide through Ulysses 3rd ed. London: Routledge, 1996.

A reasonably demanding guide to and interpretation of Ulysses, from an influential Joyce critic:

Ellmann, Richard. Ulysses on the Liffey. London: Faber and Faber, 1972.





This article is part of a syndicated news program via the Conversation

The new space race: why we need a human mission to Mars

Why-we-need-a-mission-to-MarsA view from the ‘Kimberley’  
formation on Mars taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover.The strata in the fore- 
ground dip towards the base of Mount Sharp,indicating flow of water toward a 
basin that existed before the larger bulk of the mountain formed. 

If we want to know whether there is life beyond Earth then the quickest way to answer that question is to explore Mars. That exploration is currently being done by remote space probes sent from Earth.

The race is on though to send human explorers to Mars and a number of Earth-bound projects are trying to learn what life would be like on the red planet.

But the notion of any one-way human mission to Mars is nonsensical, as is the thought that we should colonise Mars simply because we are making a mess of Earth.

The first suggestion is pointless and unethical – we would be sending astronauts to their certain death – while the second would be a licence for us to continue polluting our home planet.

I believe we should go to Mars because of what we can learn from the red planet, and from developing the technologies to get people there safely.

The SpaceX entrepreneur Elon Musk last September outlined his vision for a mission to send people to Mars by 2022. But first he is planning to send people around the Moon.

Fly me to the moon … Ok 
Photo published for SpaceX to Send Privately Crewed Dragon Spacecraft Beyond the Moon Next Year
SpaceX to Send Privately Crewed Dragon Spacecraft Beyond the Moon Next Year
We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the Moon late next year. They have already paid a significant deposit to do a Moon mission…. 


I think Musk will send two space tourists around the Moon and back to Earth, not in 2018 as he has predicted, but probably within a decade. He has not yet experimented with having passengers aboard a rocket.

Our journey into space

It’s worth looking at how we got to where we are now in terms of humans in space and space exploration.

Image of the first footprint on the moon
More than a billion people watched Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong take humankind’s first step on another world. NASA

The first footprint on another world was made by US astronaut Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969 (US time) when he left the Eagle lunar lander and stepped onto the Moon.

One small step…

The Moon is as far as humans have explored in space but we’ve sent probes to explore the other planets in our Solar system, including Mars.

Several failed attempts were made to send a probe to Mars but the US Mariner 4 was the first to successfully photograph another planet from space when it made a flyby of Mars in July 1965.

Image of Mars
The red planet Mars. NASA

The USSR’s Mars 2 orbited Mars for three months in 1971 but its lander module crashed onto the planet. The lander of the Mars 3 mission also failed.

NASA’s Viking 1 performed the first successful landing on Mars, on July 20, 1976, followed by Viking 2 on September 3, 1976.


Image of the dunes of Mars as seen by Viking 1.
The dunes of Mars as seen by Viking 1. NASA/JPL

The Viking missions were the first to search for life on that planet, since when others such as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, which landed days apart in January 2004, have looked to see if Mars could have had life in the past.

No evidence of life has been found so far, but the techniques available now are far more advanced and we know much more about the planet. We do have abundant evidence of water on Mars.

The benefits of space exploration

Apart from looking for life, why bother with a mission to send humans to Mars? Many aspects of our modern lives would not be possible if it were not for our interest in space.

We rely on satellites for communication, timing and positioning. Satellites help to keep us safe from severe weather, especially in Australia.

The Apollo and other NASA missions led to developments in micro-electronincs that later made it into household devices such as calculators and home computers.

NASA has detailed many of the spinoffs it says stem from its research for exploration of space, which even include the dustbuster.


Image of the modern household dustbuster
The modern household dustbuster has its origins in the Apollo Moon missions. Shutterstock/Sergey Mironov

Intangible, but critical nonetheless, is the inspiration we derive from space exploration. It can be very significant in attracting young people to science and engineering, something needed more and more as our economies continue to transition to an ever higher-tech future.

In the US there was a large spike in tertiary enrolments in science and engineering during the Apollo missions to the Moon.

A new space race

We are using more and more sophisticated craft to explore Mars. It is a broadly international venture involving NASA, the European Space Agency (22 member nations), the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation, the China National Space Administration, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

We are witnessing not only collaboration but competition. Which nation (or company?) will first return to the Moon and then land astronauts on Mars? It is beginning to look like a new space race.

Why focus on Mars? We already know that early in its history, more than three billion years ago, Mars had a surface environment much like that of Earth at the same time, featuring volcanoes, lakes, hot springs, and perhaps even an ocean in the northern hemisphere.

This animation shows how the surface of Mars might have appeared billions of years ago.

Life on Earth then was microbial, the evidence for which is preserved in 3.5 billion year old rocks in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

So we are searching for microbes on Mars. Despite being microscopic, bacteria and their cousins the Archaea are complex organisms. Methane already discovered in the atmosphere of Mars hints at the presence of such life but is not definitive.

If there ever was life on Mars it may still be there, underground where it will be protected from cosmic and ultraviolet radiation. From time to time it might emerge on the surface in some of the gullies that seem to result from the breaching of underground aquifers.

It might not seem exciting to discover former or living microbes, but if we can demonstrate that they represent an independent origin of life the consequences will be profound.

We will be able to predict confidently that there will be life all over the universe. Somewhere out there will be intelligent beings. What might happen then currently lies in the realm of science fiction.

The future lies in more missions to Mars. So far all missions have been one-way and robotic, but plans are underway for a mission to return samples from Mars, and sometime this century there will be astronauts on Mars, not in “colonies” but in research bases like those in Antarctica. It is inevitable.

This article was written by:
Image of Malcolm WalterMalcolm Walter – [Professor of Astrobiology, UNSW]





This article is part of a syndicated news program via the Conversation