Guardian: There is no valid argument for circus animals

First published in the Guardian on 9/7/2013

The suggestion by a committee of MPs on Tuesday that zebras, camels and several other wild species are appropriate in travelling circuses will cause dismay, outrage and some measure of agreement.

Whether transportation causes animals unacceptable stress, or circuses represent an environment ripe for abuse, can be argued back and forth. But why does a debate about this even exist?

There is an eternal tension between humans and the rest of the animal world. Our existence relies on some measure of exploitation. Animals are routinely killed and enslaved to further the human purpose. And, apart from cases of inhumane treatment, much of this relationship has a necessary evil argument in its favour.

We engage in these ethical debates, and sometimes fall on one side or the other, every time we pull on a leather jacket or eat a leg of lamb. But where does the line between essential and unnecessary get drawn? Somewhere, I would say, around travelling circuses.

Travelling conditions for animals in circuses cannot be as good as not travelling at all. An animal cannot be abused in a circus if it isn’t there. This is a problem that comes with a fairly simple solution.

There is no compelling human interest argument here. Just our insatiable desire to be entertained.

It’s important to consider the prospects of the operators of these institutions. Two of them still exist in Britain and they hold licences for 21 animals between them. This is their way of life and undoubtedly there are entertaining aspects to their shows.

But sometimes you get caught on the wrong side of history ploughing an archaic furrow and then it’s time to innovate or relocate. Plenty of circuses now exist animal-free. Couldn’t the government spend the money set aside for regulating these operators on helping them to hire strikingly talented, well-remunerated humans to entertain crowds and reinvigorate the spectacle?

The argument that circuses give children the opportunity to see animals that are exotic and special is true. And they surely display certain species’ physical prowess. But this arena also encourages children to view animals in a decontextualised and subordinate way. There is little educational value here such as exists in zoos.

We should be presenting the natural world to our children as something supra-human and untameable. How can they value an animal as wild and supreme when it performs, no matter how impressively, simply for giggles?

To call these animals “wild” is a misnomer. In this context we define wild as anything not normally domesticated in Britain. But let’s not kid ourselves, this is a caricature of wildness. A bit of casual, family-friendly barbarism in which we are encouraged to subjugate principle for the sake of entertainment.

So next time the circus comes to town, save your money, buy a Life on Earth DVD and settle in with the kids to be spellbound by what is truly the greatest show on Earth.


Cameron Irwin – Cover – Saturday Mercury 3/12/11

HE lives a life that would add a few lines to the forehead of even the coolest mum.

He surfs, wakeboards, skydives, rides motorbikes and generally gets his kicks by terrifying himself.  His mates number among the most fearless big-wave surfers in the country – yet they all name Cameron “Stocky” Irwin as the bravest person they know.  The reason?  He can’t move his legs.

Since he broke his neck on the bottom of a Margaret River swimming pool four years ago, the 27-year-old has defied the advice of doctors and anyone else who told him that being disabled meant he was unable.  His life is a monument to resilience and adaptation.

Cam is now focusing on his biggest surfing challenge yet.  He is planning on tackling Tasmania’s infamous Shipsterns Bluff, arguably Australia’s most dangerous surf break.  Yet whatever he does in the future, his mum Jan Jack says his greatest achievement has been his refusal to let a broken neck wreck his life.  You can put the man into a wheelchair, but you can’t put the wheelchair into the man.

Cameron Irwin

Stocky charging at Eaglehawk Reef - Stu Gibson

“I dove into the pool, hit my head on the bottom and felt my neck break and I instantly knew: I’ve just put myself in a wheelchair,” Cam recalls the sickening moment with a slightly embarrassed smile on his face; as if he’d broken a stubbie instead of a vertebrae.  “I kooked it,” he chuckles in the laconic drawl native to beachside suburbs.

His mother, sitting close to her son at the kitchen table of their Clifton Beach home, says that from the very first phone call, Cam’s mindset was one of acceptance.  “Cam, being Cam, said to me ‘Yeah Mum, I don’t think I’m going to walk again’.” Jan said.  Her slightly moist eyes tell that she carries her son’s trauma as if it was her own.  However maternal pride is a hard thing to mistake. “Until you are in that situation, you don’t know how you’ll react,” she said. “Cam’s attitude got me by.”

Upon receiving the phone call that every mother dreads, Jack raced from Clifton to Royal Perth Hospital, Western Australia.  Cam’s memory of that time is a lonely one. He was bolted into a brace, staring straight up with only fluorescent lights and a morphine drip for company.  A procession of doctors’ faces loomed in and out of view. “And then,” the relief still noticeable in his voice, “it was mum’s face.”

During six weeks of total immobilisation, Cam’s resilience shone through.  He was instrumental in the recovery of other patients he shared a ward with, one in particular who he says was “just a horrible person to begin with, being really mean to all the nurses.”  Cam told his hospital room-mate that he had to shoulder his share of responsibility for his injury.  The key, he says, has been accepting blame but not punishing himself.

“I dove into a swimming pool. I kooked it. I’ve got no-one else to blame but myself,” he said.  “But there’s no point blaming myself ’cause that’s not gonna get me anywhere.  Let’s just get on with it.”  And if it was someone else’s fault, if he had been hit by a drunk driver? “I think I’d be the same. I don’t really think that I’ve got that resentment in me.”

Following the accident, Cam took on ever-increasing physical challenges.  His injury was severe. His splintered vertebrae had nicked the spinal cord and he was left a partial quadriplegic.  Luckily, he says, “my hands are pretty much awesome”.  But he has no movement from the chest down. At first, he says, even taking a bath was an ordeal.

He was determined to surf again. Initially he pushed the envelope with only tacit motherly approval.  His response to her concern about his first skydive? “I’ve already broken my neck once Mum.”

With the assistance of a tightly-knit group of mates Irwin recently became the first person in a wheelchair to ride a quadbike from Granville Harbour to the Pieman River and back.  This month the wheelchair-bound waterman brought his Shipsterns dream within reach when he revisited Eaglehawk Reef.  It was his first post-accident venture into the more dangerous world of reef surfing.  “The Reef” as it is known to locals, breaks in the middle of Pirates Bay, thundering onto a barely submerged rock island.
Cameron Irwin

Close friend and life-long neighbour Nick Harris was assisting Irwin on that day by paddling with him and pushing him over the edge of waves that would challenge all but the most competent of surfers.  Local surfers watched on with a slight lump in their throat as a life-jacketed “Stocky” Irwin grinned his way into wave after wave.  But his mates were confident in his ability. Before pushing Cam into his first wave, Nick simply yelled to the crowd: “If anyone sees Stocky drowning, just go and grab the kook by the scruff of his neck. OK?”

Later, Nick talked about watching the mate he grew up with reclaim a life that appeared lost.

It is obvious that Cam’s fortitude is not lost on his old mate. “The way he has dealt with it has been an inspiration,” Nick said.  “It reminds you not to get down on anything in your own life,” he said.

Cam admits that it is often his friends’ enthusiasm that helps him overcome his own fear.

If he hesitates, “they say to me, ‘you’ll be right, let’s just do it’. Then it’s, yeah, no worries, let’s get it done.”  He says that without his mates’ encouragement and assistance, he would never have been able to resume his adrenaline-soaked life.

“I don’t mind asking people for help,” he said.  “There’s a lot of people that are too proud and I think that’s why a lot of people don’t go and do stuff like this. I don’t care. I just say, ‘I wanna do it, I need you to help me’.”

Cam’s attitude is not just applicable to life as a quadriplegic. His self-effacement has allowed him to see his personal disaster in context.  He seems unaware that what he has been through would have broken many who considered themselves tough.

“I was talking to a friend before you came over and I said, ‘This guy’s coming to interview me. I’m not really sure why.’ She said to me, ‘You do realise that you’re pretty awesome, Stock’.”

Cam grins, shifts back in his chair, and shakes his head.

Roadkill – Help Stop the Carnage

Tasmanian devil joey - Photo: Barry Irons

This article appeared in the December issue of Tasmania Enjoy Magazine.  An online copy is available at, pg 28-32

One animal every two minutes.  There is no way around it, Tasmania is the roadkill capital of the world.  However Greg Irons, owner of Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, is finding ways to reduce the terrible toll – and he needs your help.

“The one negative thing that we hear from visitors to Tasmania,” says Greg, an affable 27 year-old wildlife crusader, “is that we have so much roadkill.”

The numbers are staggering.  At least 300 000 animals perish every year under the wheels of motorists in the island state.  Greg says that when you include things like frogs and lizards the number may be in excess of 1 million.

“The really tricky thing about roadkill,” says Greg, “is that it is actually the sign of a healthy ecosystem.  If you have lots of animals, you have lots of roadkill.  In Tasmania we have the almost unique position of having over-populations of some of our native species.  This high density is the reason we see so many brushtailed possums, pademelons and Bennetts wallabies on our roads.”

So the sheer amount of dead animals is actually a good thing?

“Not at all,” Greg says.  “The opposite in fact.  These animals are not dying humane deaths and they leave behind untold numbers of orphans which are protected in the pouch when their mother gets knocked down.  It’s a serious animal welfare issue.”

“Possibly the worst effect is that we lose more than 3 000 endangered Tasmanian devils on our roads every year.”

Devils are scavengers, says Greg, and feed on other animals that have been knocked down.  Routinely falling victim to the cars themselves.  “Roadkill affects devils more than any other species in Tasmania,” he says.  “Roadkill is a devastating issue and at Bonorong we have been working very hard to create a community solution to this community problem.”

Greg has just won the Pride of Australia Environment Award for his innovative wildlife rescue program that he runs from his wildlife sanctuary near Hobart, Tasmania.  The “FOC Wildlife Program” is a 24hr rescue and assistance service which provides aid to animals in need.

Greg inspecting an injured wedge-tailed eagle. Eagles scavenge on the road and are often hit by motorists. Only a few hundred breeding pairs remain.

“When we started this program 18 months ago,” he says, “Tasmania was the only state in Australia without a wildlife rescue service.  Now we have close to 500 volunteer rescuers on the ground.  The numbers speak for themselves.  We are receiving over 2000 calls per year asking for our help.

“The rescuers are amazing.  The passion that they bring to the programme is incredible.”  Greg talks about Matt Barwick, a Hobart university student, who spent the last week trying for the “perfect week” of seven rescues in seven days.  “You have to hand it to these guys, they give up their time to help out animals in need.  Amazing.”  Although, says Greg, he suspects there may be an element of study procrastination for the student rescuer.  “We are planning on doing a recruitment drive on campus,” he jokes.  “We’ll be able to raise an army!”

So how can visitors to Tasmania be involved in reducing the roadkill problem?

“The best thing that anyone can do is to slow down,” Greg says.  “If we drove at 80km/hr instead of 100km/hr at night then research has shown that roadkill in Tasmania would literally halve.  That’s 150 000 animals.  Not to mention it is safer for all of us.

“Of course sometimes the animals are unavoidable.  They just jump straight in front of you.  Roadkill is a reality of driving.  The great thing is that now there is somewhere to call for help 24 hours a day.  Bonorong’s phone number is a hotline that is always manned.”  He adds that if you call him at night and don’t receive an immediate response, then keep on ringing.  “I sleep with the phone next to my head every night but sometimes I need a couple of goes to wake up.”

“We are here to provide advice and co-ordinate rescues, but people can start the process before they even call us.  The most important thing is your safety.  If you are getting out of your car and onto the road, make sure it is safe to do so.  A lot of our animals in Australia carry their young in a pouch, so it is really important to check and see if the animal was carrying a joey.  Often the mother cannot be saved but the little one can.”

If there is a joey in the pouch there are some easy steps to maximise its chances of recovery, says Greg.  “I taught these little tricks to over 3000 primary school kids last year, so there is no need for anyone to feel like they can’t make a difference.”


DON’T FEED IT anything (especially cows milk, they are lactose intolerant)

Keep it WARM and DARK like a pouch.  The best thing to do is to put the joey in a beanie, or another item of clothing.  It doesn’t want to be any warmer than the temperature inside your shirt and that is actually a great place to put it.

Stress is the biggest killer of these animals so keep it QUIET, don’t put the car radio on or talk too loudly

CALL BONORONG (03 62 68 11 84) any time of the day or night

According to Greg, motorists can also make a big contribution to the survival of the Tasmanian devil.  “One of the best pieces of advice that we can ever give to people was suggested to me by a six-year-old boy.  I was on a tour and talking about how devils get hit on the roads a lot.  This little fella piped up and said, “why don’t people put rubber gloves in their glove-box so that they can take the animals off the road when they hit them?”  Genius.”

“This is what I love.  If everyone just does a little bit we can make a real difference to a big problem.”

A Little Book Review

Published in The Student Observer (University of Tasmania) in 2010


Review: How To Be A Real Man – A Practical Guide, by Josh Pringle


Karl Mathiesen


I was just reading about blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) in my Field Guide to Australian Mammals.  The fe-whales (which are larger than the he-whales by three metres or so) can grow to 33 metres in length.  “The largest mammal ever to live”.  How rad is that?


Then a song came into my head.  I hadn’t heard it since my stepdad sang it to me when I was a young fella and my head was full of ships, knights and pirates.


The Greenland Whale Fishery


‘Twas eighteen hundred and fourty-six,

On March the eighteenth day,

We hoist our colours to the top of the mast,

And to Greenland bore away, brave boys,

And to Greenland bore away.


Oh, the look-out up on the mainmast stood

With a spy-glass in his hand.

‘There’s a whale, there’s a whale, and a whale-fish,’ he cried.

And she blows at every span, brave boys,

And she blows at every span.’



Now the harpoon struck and the lines played out,

But she gave such a flourish with her tail,

She capsized our boat and we lost five men,

And we could not catch that whale, brave boys,

And we could not catch that whale.



Oh, Greenland is a barren place,

It’s a place that bears no green,

Where there’s ice and snow, and the whale fishes blow

And the daylight’s seldom seen, brave boys,

And the daylight’s seldom seen.


Just remembering that song got me all adventurous and daydreaming.  In older days, real men were whalers.  Not that that is necessarily cool.  But folks back then didn’t think like we do now.


So now what?  Are real men whalers still?  Not in Australia anyway.  Are real men Sea Shepherd pirates?  Or do they write strong letters of consternation to the International Whaling Commission?  Do they know what jib-sheets are?


Has manhood become superfluous?  What need is there for hunters with Woolworths around the corner?  Didn’t Germaine say if women could conceive on their own then men might get bred out alltogether.  Or did I just dream that up in an impotent fever?  Have we lost the biological imperative?


Thankfully, I may have found some answers in a little book of wisdom I found in a café whilst sipping on a latté (real men use words with diacritical marks).  Josh Pringle’s How To Be A Real Man – A Practical Guide has furnished me with all sorts of tips for my journey to manhood.


I am learning the words to Springsteen’s back catalogue and shaping up for my first bear fight (no bears in Oz so I’m gonna fight my teddy).  Now, when someone asks me how long something is, I tell them in millimetres.


The truth is that real men really are a bit useless.  We have stupid daydreams about hunting massive fish and we usually forget to get the tuna at the supermarket.  But I feel okay about that.  Sometimes we do things that feel like they are a bit manly.  Even though girls can do them too.  Like using a drill or making a firewood stack with super-structural integrity.  It is somehow important to know the difference between types of screwdrivers.


Besides uselessness isn’t the worst thing that could befall nearly half the human race.  Useless can be quite interesting.  Like Uni and Antiques Roadshow.


x man love


ps.  Josh’s micro-book is free and is lying face down in cafés and bars across Hobart.  Probably just next to Josh himself.

The Sun was Shining on the Sea

This piece, which appeared in the Tasmanian Times in 2010, was my first published work.  It is a 2100 word investigation into the possible contamination of a river in north-western Tasmania.   

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright–
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

Karl Mathiesen


There’s something odd going on in the George River and there’s something even odder
going on out of it.  Trying to decipher the investigation into why the river is toxic is like trying to make sense of a Lewis Carroll poem.  Come for a wander along the beach, if you don’t get it, don’t worry, no-one seems to.

The George River trickles out of the Rattler Range in north-eastern Tasmania.  Gathering volume and speed it flows through tall stands of Eucalyptus Nitens plantation forest.  Emerging onto pastureland the George meets the Ransom.  It then flows sedately (and now toxically) into the oyster-laden bay which bears its name.

In February Australian Story reported on the travails of two doctors who have spent much of the last decade raising concerns about strange occurrences within the catchment.  Drs Alison Bleaney GP and Marcus Scammell became worried after a dramatic rise in oyster mortality in the late 1990s coincided with an observed rise in the cancer rate in the Break O Day municipality.  A preliminary investigation by the Government concluded that it was freshwater inundation from floods that was killing the oysters.  The oyster farmers in the area disagreed, saying that it was usual for oysters to survive and even thrive through periods of flood.  Something, they said, was wrong with the water.

In 2004 Bleaney, a local GP, and Scammell, a Sydney based marine ecologist, released a report called Environmental Problems Georges Bay, Tasmania, otherwise known as the Bleaney-Scammell Review or BSR.  They were worried that pesticides sprayed on the plantation forests in the upper catchment could be contaminating the river.  They also noted that there was a strange co-incidence of environmental health events – human cancer, oyster death and the emergence of the Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour Disease.

Rather than investigate the report the Tasmanian Government has worked very hard to discredit the doctors.  The pair have since pooled their resources and compiled a large body of research which attests that there is something seriously wrong with the George River.  It appears that, in addition to pesticide pollution, there is a toxin drifting downstream.  Bleaney says that the toxin, when mixed with pulses of pesticides which occur during rain periods, can have compound effects on health right through the ecosystem.  The toxins can cross through tissue membranes.  This could have “unpredictable, unexplained effects.”  Bleaney and Scammell’s research was conducted through six independent laboratories.  It found that the toxin occurs in the leaves of Eucalyptus Nitens.  Bleaney says that during their investigation the Nitens tree was the only source of the toxin they could find in the catchment.

This was the story which was released on the ABC’s Australian Story program.  If the science proves to be valid (and Bleaney insists “the labs have been meticulous”) then the Tasmanian Government will have spent six years and many resources on discrediting two private citizens who have been raising legitimate public health and environmental concerns.

The Nitens tree is a fast growing eucalypt imported from Victoria.  Contrary to recent media reports the plants are in no way genetically modified.  Forestry Industries Association of Tasmania Chief Executive, Terry Edwards, says “there are no genetically modified trees growing in Tasmania.”  He says to do so would breach a governmental moratorium on GM crops and would require FIAT to apply for a special government permit.  The plants have been selectively bred in order to produce maximum yield.  Just as farmers breed the largest and healthiest cattle “the selection process that occurs is selecting the fastest growing seedlings”.  According to Edwards the chemistry of the leaf undergoes only a minute change if any at all.  When asked whether or not this selective breeding process could be a contributing factor to any water contamination issue he said simply: “No”.  In a letter to Australian Story before the program went to air he repeated that there was no genetic modification of the trees.  The program asserted that the trees were ‘genetically improved’ and did not offer qualification of this term.  According to Australian Story there is evidence of “subtle differences in chemistry with the leaves”.  In the program Dr Chris Hickey from New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research says that these differences between Tasmanian and Victorian trees have nothing to with their toxicity but rather contribute to the stability of the surface foam in which toxins are transported.  FIAT has since called for the matter to be investigated by the federal and state governments.

The original BSR, Bleaney says, “was never a scientific document at all.”  The BSR “might have been flawed but jeepers, we couldn’t have done any more than that with no money, no resources.”  Rather it was a series of observations of environmental and human health anomalies occurring within one river catchment at the same time.  “A lot of science starts from observation,” says Bleaney.  “You see an apple fall from a tree and you start to wonder.”  It just so happens that this apple might be rotten.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

During the premiership of Paul Lennon a review of the BSR was commissioned by the Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment.  The DPIWE review, conducted by Professor Paolo Ricci, focussed entirely on the nature of the BSR rather than its content and the issues raised within.  “The BSR lacks scientific credibility and should not be used for policy analysis,” said Ricci.  He goes on to make recommendations on the manner in which further research should be conducted.  However that was enough for the Government.  It gave them the ammunition they needed to silence the doctors and their supporters.

The following is an exchange recorded on Hansard between MPs Nick McKim, David Llewellyn and Steve Kons in the House of Assembly in March 2007.  It refers to the Percival report which supported the observations of Bleaney and Scammell.

“Mr McKim [Greens MP]- ‘Members will recall the Percival Report, which was commissioned from a scientist within the then Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment.  Members will also recall that I actually released that report on behalf of the Government and members will further recall that Dr Percival made it very clear in that report that it was not just freshwater inundation that resulted in a massive death of oysters in Georges Bay.’
Mr Llewellyn [Deputy Premier]- ‘Remember that I said I don’t agree with him.’
Mr McKim – ‘I know that you do not agree with him, Minister, and that is very interesting because what that says to me is that you commission research from within your department and if it suits you politically you agree with it but if it does not suit you politically you disagree with it.  That is what that says to me.  Interestingly, what you cannot do is provide any scientific rebuttal -’
Mr Llewellyn – ‘There is scientific rebuttal.’
Mr Kons [Minister for Primary Industry, Water and the Environment] – ‘Paolo Ricci.’”
What is interesting is that Ricci’s review was concerned solely with the BSR.  There is no mention of the Percival Report.  Llewellyn claimed that the Ricci review offered scientific rebuttal to a report which found that there was something other than George River floodwaters causing oyster deaths.  The Ricci review was never designed to address the oyster death issue.  As Ricci stated:
“This review is based solely and entirely on the material contained in the report Environmental Problems Georges Bay, Tasmania.”
The Government used the Ricci report as a comprehensive repudiation of any suggestion that further research needed to be conducted in the catchment.  The Ricci report is available from the DPIPWE (they added Parks this year) website (  Tasmanian Times contacted the Department in order to find out how much the taxpayer had paid Professor Ricci and received this reply:
“As for your questions, it’s not this Department’s policy to put public servants up for student assignment interviews whether those requests be written or in person. The staff are busy in the conduct of their jobs, as I’m sure you would appreciate.”

The only other place the Ricci report is available is on the website of Croplife Australia.  Croplife is the major lobby group for the pesticide industry.  Bleaney describes them as “the heavy mob”.  They represent corporations like Monsanto, Du Pont and Syngenta.  The Lennon Government essentially funded a lobby paper for these polluters.  More worryingly for Tasmanians is that in their attempts to discredit Bleaney and Scammell they employed combative tactics usually reserved for these heavy-weight lobby groups.
“My commitment to you is that I welcome frank and fearless advice,” said Premier David Bartlett to the Tasmanian Public Service in February 2009.  This issue is a true test of that statement.  It is also a test of Bartlett’s commitment to move away from the bullying tactics that were considered a characteristic of his predecessor Paul Lennon.
“It seems a shame,” the Walrus said,
“To play them such a trick,
After we’ve brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“The butter’s spread too thick!”

The George River Water Quality Panel was convened in March at Bartlett’s request.  Their brief was to establish a process “to address the scientific research issues raised in the “Australian Story” ABC television program”.  That the Tasmanian Premier is taking his cues from a current affairs program illustrates the bizarre nature of this affair.  Bleaney explains that she used to believe that the media was a waste of time. “That you could write the science and that would be enough.”  Clearly Bleaney felt that the only way to force the Government’s hand was to circumvent the process by going to the media.

Due to release an interim report on Monday May 31, the panel announced on Friday May 28 that it would be delaying for a month in order to wait for some “outstanding information”.

This information is being provided by the Director of Public Health Dr Roscoe Taylor.  As Dr Andrew Lohrey and Robert Belcher have already said in Tasmanian Times the Director has his reputation at stake here.  On Bleaney’s observations of a cancer cluster in the Break O Day area Taylor has argued consistently that “there has been nothing to suggest anything out of the ordinary or adverse trends”.  He has also repeatedly said that the water in the catchment is safe to drink.  He also requested the Tasmanian Government supply funding so that carbon powder can be added to the water to remove harmful substances.  Just in case.  Taylor’s latest press release on the issue can be found at  It repeats the phrases “no scientific evidence”, “it is not clear” and “no evidence” constantly throughout his release.  Still framing the argument through the prism of the Ricci report.

The public relations company Font PR, which is managing the Panel’s media communications, has confirmed that the Ricci report is one of the documents that the Panel have been referring to during their investigations.

Bleaney’s response to the delay was that they were stalling.  “My expectations are limited,” she said.  “I’m becoming very cynical.  What gets me is that we’re six years down the track and we’re still arguing about whether to get serious about this toxin or not.  Sticking your head in the sand is actually counterproductive.”

On Tuesday June 30 the Panel released their findings.  The official word is that there is no further investigation needed.  Bleaney calls it a good summary of the science so far, “all then wrapped up in politics”.  Greens water spokesman Tim Morris has said that this highlights the need for an independent body to investigate water health issues.  The question Tasmanians will ask is – isn’t that the government’s job?  Why should we need an independent panel to look into…  Hang on:

“About the Panel:  A panel of eminent, independent [emphasis added] scientists has been brought together to address scientific research issues linked to water quality in the George River.”

What is happening in the George River is odd.  The governmental reaction has been even stranger.  Why has the Tasmanian Government allowed this issue to continue for so long?  And why has it consistently undermined the work of Drs Bleaney and Scammell?  It is not because the public is ambivalent.  Bartlett cited “public concern” sparked by the Australian Story program as the motivating factor in convening the Panel.  Why are we delaying while a river may be poisoning itself and us?  Nonsense.

“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.

(The Walrus and the Carpenter was first published in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, by Lewis Carroll in 1872.  Walk along the unswept beach at