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Thursday, 19 October 2017

Climbing Mount Exmouth

This went to air on the ABC on Sunday 29 October 2006 8:45AM, and you can still listen to it through this link, if you wish. One reason for placing this here is that Jeff McGill has just been in touch with me to correct a couple of points. I have sought and gained his permission to add his comments as a guest blog: you can find it here.

I keep a standard CV ready for the times when po-faced people ask me for an account of my experience, skills and habits. Among other thing, it says, more or less truthfully, that my hobbies include walking upsmall mountains slowly and sitting on top of small mountains wondering how to get down. Last September, I re-defined my sense of 'small', but I never planned it that way.

Another hobby is having temporary obsessions, cascades of curiosity that end up as talks like this, or books. This time, my obsession was with explorers in Australia and the methods they used. It will probably end up as a book, but it's had me off chasing all sorts of oddities. I rode camels in Central Australia a couple of years back, in part to work out how John Horrocks came to be shot by his camel.

This time my target was a mountain in the central west of New South Wales, a peak that John Oxley spotted from 130 kilometres away in 1818. By world standards, we have sad mountains in Australia. Our highest peak is barely 2200 metres above sea level, and most ranges are much less.

The Warrumbungles are volcanic remnants in central New South Wales, the result of our tectonic plate having passed over a hotspot some millions of years ago. Mount Exmouth reaches 1206 metres, making it the highest peak in the Warrumbungles. There used to be a road part of the way up, but that's long since closed, so I walked all the way from a car park at about 330 metres, but I thought I had started out much higher up. I'd looked at an old map and when I was thinking about walking up Mount Exmouth, I assumed the top of the old road was my starting place. This was not a good idea.

I'd looked at the contours and worked out the vertical part of the climb, going from the top of the old road about 750 metres above sea level. When I found the road wasn't there any more, I forgot to look at the map again, and missed noticing that I was starting much lower down. I headed off, expecting to walk up a small mountain and sit on it, but I was much more than 450 metres below the summit.

The first part is suitable even for old-age pensioners (indeed I met two British OAPs as I was walking out), and while it rises a bit, maybe 30 metres from end to end, it isn't extreme. Then you come to the old road, and that suddenly becomes steep pinch after steep pinch. It's pleasant enough if you can make your own pace, and because it bends, it's deceptive. You go up a rise, turn, and find another rise, or on one occasion, two kangaroos hurtling down the track. In one straight line it would be heartbreaking; here, it offers constant variety.

I always wear Volley sandshoes when I walk. This upset our English guide in the Troodos mountains of Cyprus recently; she wanted me to wear boots, until I showed her the soles and explained that roofing contractors here wear nothing else. Her eyes flickered at this curious Australian custom, then another Australian in our group clarified, 'On their feet', he said.


This kangaroo saw me coming and stood his ground.
Anyhow, Volleys are traditional with wilderness walkers of a certain vintage. I am of that vintage, and I've walked in them for 35 years or more. They let you feel the ground, so I walk quietly, especially when I am alone. My silent progress meant I was frequently alarmed by kangaroos feeding by the track. Animals that saw me only at the last minute and fled, thumpingly through the bush. My heart thumped even louder, but I knew they'd been equally alarmed.

Something like 250 metres to go!
Two-hundred-and-fifty metres below the peak, you come close to the mountain proper, and from a small saddle, you start walking up. That was the point where I looked more closely at the map and wondered why I was feeling so worn.

I realised my error, that the total climb was more like 850 metres, not 450. I'd now climbed 600 metres, not 200 metres, but having gone that far, I thought I would try a bit more. My legs were querulous but I spoke sternly to them. We would do the last 250 metres, I snarled.

The final climb begins as a narrow trace across and up a scree of loose rock. There was nothing too daunting, but the track drives steeply up to a bend and then doubles back on itself. Off the scree, there's a flat bit through trees, before the path slides up the mountainside again.

At one point I needed to work around a rock face carefully, with strands of fencing wire strung between two trees behind me. It was slippery, nothing dangerous, but I'd seen no fresh footprints on the way up (and I was in fact the only person up that far that day), so I knew help would be a while coming.

I'd posted a walk plan, giving 8.pm as the alarm time to send out searchers, which now seemed a bit late. So I needed to go extra carefully over stuff I wouldn't think twice about down at sea level. There was a steep drop below me, so I just took my time, leaning in and keeping three limbs attached at all times. Serious climbers might sneer at my Nervous Nellie technique, but I felt safer.

That eagle only came close when I wasn't ready.
A wedge-tailed eagle had been circling the peak all morning, and now it swooped in repeatedly, about five metres over my head as I worked around the face. Of course, as soon as I rounded the corner and got my camera out, the rotten magnificent bird lost interest in me and drifted away out of range.

So I just kept plodding up the track, wondering if I really needed all this. Suddenly, I was on top. Well, I was on the ridge, and that meant I only had little jump-ups along the ridge to the peak. My knees groaned a bit, but in the end, they jumped.

It was a perfect day for being on top of a mountain; two days later, I drove past, coming back from the west, and the peak was all wrapped in cloud. But that day I had a perfect monarch-of-all-I-survey view of the Warrumbungles. I ate salami, cheese and dried apples, I drank water, I mooched.

On top of the world.
I went there to see what Oxley saw. I wanted to see Mount Harris (which I'll get to in a moment), but it was hidden in haze. I wanted to see the mountains to the east, which drew Oxley on, through Tamworth and Walcha, down to Port Macquarie, and I saw them, but only as distant smudges.

That teasing eagle stayed well up, but kept flying so its shadow passed over me - it had to be deliberate - and because it was in the sun, I was unable to capture it with the camera. It circled at a distance until a second eagle came into view. They flew wingtip to wingtip, then the new bird rolled over and grasped at the first eagle with its talons, after which the two of them dropped, talons together, falling down the sky before they parted, recovered, and did it again. I wondered at this: was it a mating display or aggression? As far as I could see, they never made actual contact with their feet.

My knees continued to remind me that they're elderly. They'd had enough, they averred. Four hours from starting, I headed back down, each step carefully placed. The day wasn't hot, but I still used most of the four litres of water I took. I never used my kiwi jacket, my sweater, the extra food, the torch or the other emergency stuff, but they were insurance. Best of all, I didn't use the bivvy bag, an orange plastic sack large enough to put broken people in to keep them warm, dry and visible. I've carried it for 19 years, and never needed it yet.

It took three hours of slow and careful treading to get back to the car. I swore occasionally at Mr Oxley, who said that he got up there in two brisk hours, and seems to describe the route I was on. Like most of the so-called explorers, he was probably following what some of them called 'a native road', in other words, a foot track worn by generations of Aboriginal feet.

It was a hard climb.
The day after Mount Exmouth, I drove west, and then north, to walk up Mount Harris, described by a later explorer, Charles Sturt, as 'a hill 120 feet high', but one of just two rises near the Macquarie River. Mount Harris is private property, but the owner, John Egan, gave me permission to walk up it.

John Oxley visited that hill in 1818, saw the Warrumbungles, the Arbuthnot Range, as he called it, and decided to go there. He saw the Great Dividing Range from Mount Exmouth, and decided to push on to Walcha and then to the coast at Port Macquarie. Mount Harris is north of Warren and far enough west for the flies to be bad already. It was of course, the only day that my trusty fly veil wasn't in my pack.

Photography in dense fly swarms is no fun, as anybody who's been in the high country in summer will know. In spite of the flies, in spite of no veil, I came back with 500 pictures. It was spring, and there'd been rain in the west. Not a lot, but enough to make flies and wildflowers flourish.

The area's dead flat, right across the flood plain, so I was amused at one point to find a flood depth indicator in the middle of nowhere. It would be most useful in a flood to have a sign telling you that you'd been driving in two metres of water for the past five or ten kilometres.

It's the sort of country where explorers climb trees or each other's backs in desperation, seeking the sight of a landmark, any landmark, on the horizon. There are no 35-metre trees, so a hillock reaching that locally amazing height is a boon, especially when a person on top can see an interesting peak, almost 130 kilometres away.

Explorers like distant landmarks to take sights on as they travel, because it helps them map their way. One of my beefs with the school curriculum is that trigonometry would be a lot more interesting if the applications of triangulation were given better coverage in maths classes, and it'd be nice if the reliance of explorers on 'native roads' became an element in the history class.

Anyhow, there I was on Mount Harris, which I hadn't seen from Mount Exmouth because it was lost in the haze, but now I could see the Warrumbungles and Mount Exmouth from Mount Harris. They were faint, but they were there. Mr Oxley managed to see each from the other, so he must have been lucky.

Mount Harris was named for John Harris, the surgeon who patched up Governor Phillip after he was speared near my home in Manly. He also gave his name to Harris Street, Ultimo, the Sydney home of the ABC, to Harris Park in Sydney and to at least one other mountain.

In 1801, Harris went on the first expedition to study the resources of the Hunter River, and a hillock there was labelled 'Mount Harris' as well. It was used as a reference point while they were mapping the river, but this mere pimple has since fallen off the map, so I went looking for it.

There's another hill on the Hunter, originally named Mount Ann, and then dubbed Comerford's Hill, and if you go there as I did, it has a road up it called 'Mount Harris Drive', but it's not the original Mount Harris of 1801, so I was glad to have found the surgeon's second and rather more important personal mountain out west. I'm glad I toddled up Oxley's Mount Harris.


And looking back, I'm equally glad I went up Mount Exmouth, but I probably wouldn't do it again on my own, and possibly not even in company; one has to learn one's limitations with age. Or maybe one should ignore the limitations and go out in style? Not just yet though, there are too many Mount Harris-sized small mountains to walk up and sit on top of. I just need to clarify my internal concept of 'small mountain' a bit. Small is beautiful, but the genuinely small can be a joy forever.

Now make sure you read the preceding item in this blog.

The wrong Mt Exmouth

This is the story of how you can get things wrong. Jeff McGill alerted me to my error, and I believe in setting the record straight, so I suggested to him that I could add the original talk to this blog, with his notes.

His response was:


No problem, peter, as long as we cite john whitehead....he's the expert. I was struggling to understand the inconsistencies until I read his work. He is now acting as a brains trust on my own book on the warrumbungles which is about 95 per cent finished, and now in the process of being double-checked :)

So, with thanks from both of us to John Whitehead, here’s his correction:

Dear Peter,

I just wanted to send you a little bit of info to ease your mind on one particular topic – your climb to the top of Mount Exmouth.

I'm a former newspaper editor and keen writer of history...and am doing a book at present on my family, who were pioneers in the Warrumbungle Mountains from 1841, holding several farms in the range.

My great-great grandmother was Rachel Jane Kennedy/McGill/Inglis who became quite a folk hero of the region as a midwife, squatter-fighter and horsewoman. She, and my family, always knew Mount Exmouth as 'Mount Wambelong'.

Peter, I read about your experience climbing Mount Exmouth, "to see what Oxley saw". You said it took you many hours, and your knees groaned in the steepest sections, and on the way down, you said: ‘It took three hours of slow and careful treading to get back to the car. I swore occasionally at Mr Oxley, who said that he got up there in two brisk hours…’. 

There was no need to be so hard on yourself, Peter. Oxley was on a completely different mountain. He actually climbed Mount Bullaway, to the north.

The mountain range was of course first seen by European explorers in 1818 when Oxley approached from the west. Three peaks stood out on the skyline, so he cited their compass bearings and named them: Mount Exmouth [Mount Bullaway], Mount Harrison [Mount Wambelong/Exmouth] and Vernon’s Peake [Tonduron Spire].
On his way through, Oxley camped at ‘Kangaroo Hill’ (today's Mount Tenandra) and then spent a few nights at ‘Loadstone Hill’, easily-identified as present-day Black Mountain, because of the wild effect its magnetic rocks had on his compass.

From this campsite, Oxley looked due east to the large peak that he called ‘Mount Exmouth’ – today’s Mount Bullaway.

He wrote in his journal: ‘We set off early this morning to ascend Mount Exmouth, distant four or five miles: at its base we crossed a pretty stream of water, having its source in the Mount; it took us nearly two hours of hard labour to ascend its rugged summits…’.

Mount Bullaway is 8 kilometres from Black Mountain, fitting perfectly the ‘four or five miles’ described by Oxley, and the ‘pretty stream’ flowing out of the mountain was Caleriwi Creek, also called Frasers Creek. And, today it still takes about two hours to climb Mount Bullaway.

The modern peak that is incorrectly-named Mount Exmouth – Oxley’s ‘Mount Harrison’ – was in a different direction and much further away. For Oxley to walk more than 12 kilometres across a marshy plain (a full day’s work given the marshy flooding that it was experiencing at the time), and then climbing to the top of the mountain (a 5-7 hour round-trek, according to the National Parks & Wildlife Service), only to then battle it back across the flooded plain to return to Loadstone Hill by 4pm, as Oxley noted in his journal, seems impossible.

When the explorer left Loadstone Hill, he described his route to the north-east, ‘over low strong ridges, the sides and summits of some of which were very thick brush of cypress trees…We [camped] in an extensive low valley north of Mount Exmouth and running under its base, bounded on the north-east by low forest hills.’

That describes present-day Goorianawa valley. If Oxley’s ‘Mount Exmouth’ was truly the Mount Exmouth of today, the only ‘valley’ would be the one underneath Siding Spring Observatory – and it does not have ‘low forest hills’ to the north-east, but rugged mountain ridges.

When you throw in the explorer’s own maps and bearings, it is clear Mount Bullaway was the peak climbed. John Oxley never set foot within the present-day boundary of Warrumbungle National Park.

Oxley’s route was, in the 1960s, comprehensively plotted by local researchers such as John Whitehead – a keen historian who was a shire engineer of Coonabarabran Council  and a national park trustee. His conclusions and maps are explained in detail in his painstaking 2008 book, The Warrumbungles: Dead Volcanoes, National Parks, Telescopes and Scrub.

Oxley’s original mountain names from 1818 were forgotten by the white settlers of the 1830s-1850s who used Aboriginal words instead, and knew the tallest peak in the range as ‘Mount Wambelong’. That name was also cited on parish maps and in newspaper articles.

The confusion began in the 1930s when environmentalist Miles Dunphy – who was spearheading the campaign to create a Warrumbungle National Park – drew up a tourist map for the use of early visitors. It was a beautiful piece of work, but Dunphy took it upon himself to rename Mount Wambelong as ‘Mount Exmouth’, based on his mistaken belief that it was that peak that had been climbed by Oxley.

Dunphy’s map – the only of its type in existence – was printed and reprinted, and government staffers and others cited from it for decades, entrenching the error.

By the early 1970s, local researchers had mounted such a strong case that Dunphy was mistaken, that the peak was officially renamed Mount Wambelong. This, however, left some influential noses out of joint.

‘Having Oxley pass through Warrumbungle National Park was seen by many to enhance its status as a tourist and historical attraction,’ John Whitehead explained, whereas Mount Bullaway – Oxley’s real Mount Exmouth – was narrowly outside the park boundary. Others, he believed, were simply reluctant to contradict Dunphy, the great founding father of the park.

In March 1979, the NSW Geographical Names Board reversed its decision and reinstated the Mount Exmouth name, a concession being that a trig station on its summit was to be known as ‘Wambelong Trig’. The reason given by Board was that the peak was already too commonly known by the local community and park visitors as Mount Exmouth. This was an unlikely claim, but was accepted by officialdom.

The problem is, history is now being unwittingly misrepresented. It is not hard to find scores of examples of media outlets and websites incorrectly claiming that it was today’s incorrectly-named Mount Exmouth that was climbed by John Oxley.

I’d just didn't want you to feel bad about your inability to match Oxley's fitness, Peter.... time yourself up Mount Bullaway instead :) 

Cheers, Jeff McGill


Sunday, 15 October 2017

A bouquet of scammers

This is an excerpt from (and promo for) my recent Kindle e-book, Not Your Usual Clever Ideas  (https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B072BCKBVQ

People were prepared to try almost anything. From the 1840s, “crude oil” could be obtained, but it didn't come from wells: it was distilled from coal, and most of the techniques that would be used in the 1860s to separate the fractions in “rock oil” began with research on getting liquid fuels from either coal or Trinidad asphalt (bitumen).

By 1858, the asphalt was being exported as a raw material, but The Times (Monday, July 19, 1858; p. 10) reported that asphalt oil was expected soon to replace coconut oil for lighting in the islands. By October 1863, The Times was discussing a basin filled with asphalt with springs of asphaltic oil nearby and large pitch banks off the shore. The paper estimated that the lake could produce “three hundred million gallons of oil, and forty or fifty gallons are considered equal to a tun of coal”. 

Already, a Mr. Stollmeyer, of Port of Spain had suggested that this oil might be used as liquid fuel for oceanic steam navigation.

The hunt was on, because by then, everybody knew that loading coal was a long, slow and onerous business. In foreign ports, British ships would be tied up for days while 'coolies' carried loads of coal on board and stowed them below decks. It was this need that started Europeans becoming tourists, because the passengers needed something to do while the ship was “coaling”. The report continued:
To oil a ship would not take above a tenth of the time it takes to coal her, if pipes were employed, and the oil would not take above a fourth of the space occupied by coals. He recommends that it be applied at once as auxiliary to coal, by throwing jets over the burning mass, but contemplates, eventually, upright tubular boilers, the liquid fuel to be supplied as fast as it can be converted into flame. Of course, the North American oil springs are another source of supply.
— The Times, Tuesday, October 6, 1863; p. 4. 
The beauty of steam engines was that you could burn almost anything in there, so long as a stoker could safely feed it into the furnace. Even fish weren't safe, if they had stopped wriggling.
The Cleveland (Ohio) Herald says :— The other day, at the Islands, we noticed a novel kind of steamboat fuel. When the Philo Parsons was wooding at North Bass Island, she took on board a large number of sturgeon which had been, landed from the fish ponds in that vicinity. As these fish had been lying a day or more in the sun they were, like the exploded dog, not good for much as fish. Curiosity as to the design of such freight was soon satisfied on seeing a huge sixty-pound sturgeon go head foremost into the furnace. Inquiring into this novel species of steamboat fuel, we were told that the oil from the fish assists the combustion of the wood very much, and that the boatmen are glad to clear the docks of sturgeon, which would otherwise be deemed worthless, unless to enrich the soil. “It is said twenty sturgeon make as much steam as a cord of wood, though we do not know that the. wood-measure tables have been 'reconstructed' so as to read, 'a score of sturgeons make one cord.'
— Scientific American 
30 June 1866, 4. 
The problem now was that there were so many wonders about that nobody was quite sure what to believe. If coal gas could be improved by the addition of water (it made water gas), why shouldn't trams run on compressed air? (That particular scam—one can hardly put it higher than that—is still alive and well today.)

Perpetual motion was another. Every small boy must have dreamed of using capillary action to draw water up in order to have it fall and turn a water wheel, or to have a generator producing the energy to electrolyse water so the hydrogen can be burned to drive the generator, or some such. Most of them learn, one way or another that you can't get something for nothing—though this scheme might have worked:
Improvement in Light Houses. A gentleman in Oxford, Mass., (whose name we withold for the present) has submitted a drawing and description of a mode of furnishing light houses with the Drummond light, to be supported by gasses produced by magneto-electrical machines, which are to be kept in operation by the power of water descending from an elevated reservoir, which reservoir is to be occasionally replenished by pumps operated by a wind mill mounted above the lantern. That such an arrangement is practicable there is no reason to doubt, though it might be attended with considerable expense in the first instance. We may present a more full description with an engraving in a future number.
— Scientific American 27 March 1847, 212. 
Reading from the context in a couple of partial records, Harris Ransom, of Colchester was a prisoner in jail in the 1770s, probably in Connecticut. What is quite certain is that this gentleman, on the principle that one can't be hanged for trying, petitioned for a patent of 100 years, for making water rise thirty feet high from any pond, or spring, to convey it to towns or cities.

The height specified is a give-away that was merely the common siphon, though Ransom called the effect “a perpetual water motion.” The records are clear on one thing: his petition was not acted upon. Still, people tried, and it seems that 1863 was a very good year for perpetual motion devices:
Messrs Editors: —I have understood that you had a standing offer of some amount to any man that would bring a machine to your office that would run of itself, or, in other words, a machine that would run until it was worn out, or a perpetual motion. have you ever had any machine brought to you for that purpose? If you have any, please inform me by letter all about how much the premium is and what the terms of the offer are. If the machine works according to expectation it will be brought to your office before taken to any other place, or applying for a patent. The man that is at work on it is very certain that it will run, and will have it ready in three or four weeks.
— Scientific American 28 March 1863, 198. 
Just as modern scientists know that when they see a letter or an email promising that a proof is almost ready to show that <Darwin, Einstein, Maxwell or whoever> is wrong, the proof will never appear. Equally, promised miraculous machines never eventuate. The editors of the journal knew that and commented as follows:
We print the above communication as there seems to be, from the innumerable letters we receive on the subject, a popular impression that we are desirous of obtaining a perpetual-motion machine, and that a premium has been offered by us for a satisfactory one. We are not particularly anxious to procure a machine for private use, but we will guarantee to find a purchaser for a machine that is what it purports to be — a perpetual mover. When that is found we shall immediately start on a journey to the moon with it. — Eds
In August of that year, the journal reported on a display of perpetual motion in Vermont, and suggesting that hidden bellows were involved. “Several contrivances on the same plan were subsequently exhibited at Barnum's Museum. This Vermont show is probably one of them.” (Scientific American 29 August 1863, 138.)

In November, the journal dismissed out-of-hand the scheme of one Carruthers, saying that he had “… lost ten years of his life in prosecuting a useless idea.”

Another scam that is still around today is the wonderful fuel additive that makes engines go further, or turns worthless material into fuel. That one has a long history as well.
ASHES FOR FUEL FURORE: The daily papers have gone wild during a lull in the ordinary supply of news and are filling columns with the wonderful discovery (!) of a poor Pennsylvania shoemaker who “burns ashes”. One teaspoonful of his secret “dope” in two gallons of water, when poured on ordinary ashes and lighted, is declared to keep a stove red hot for an hour. We recall that the Keeley motor was raised in the same state.
— Popular Mechanics, May 1907, 522.
The art of ingeniously putting one over one's fellows will be addressed in the last chapter, but it is worth noting that novelties were always misunderstood, and became the subject of superstition with no real intent to deceive. It just came from ingenious enthusiasm. In the 1950s, people truly believed that gamma radiation would be a good way to sterilise the dirty laundry.
Within a few years isotopes will turn up in many more expected or unexpected places — perhaps the slogan 'Gamma Washes Whiter', will become quite familiar to us when our ultra-sonic washing machines are equipped with some gamma source to sterilize shirts and socks and napkins.
— Egon Larsen, Atomic Energy, Pan Books, 1958, p. 136-7.
No thanks, Mr. Larsen!  In such a case, a little well-placed ingenuity could go a long way. Not long before he died in 1603, a physician named William Gilbert wrote De Magnete (All About Magnets). In it, he set out to debunk some of the wild beliefs sailors held about the lodestone or magnet. He wrote in Latin, but here is what he said, translated into (period) English:
But when I tried all these things, I found them to be false: for not onely breathing and belching upon the Loadstone after eating of Garlick, did not stop its vertues: but when it was all anoynted over with the juice of the Garlick, it did perform its office as well as if it had never been touched with it.
— William Gilbert (1540 - 1603),
Like new machines, new ideas and new discoveries, new materials brought new problems. Some of these came from a lack of standards, some from a lack of understanding, and some by the machinations of unscrupulous and clever rogues, because dangerous mixtures being sold as safe oil, all over the world. There were warnings in Scientific American, but it was also a problem in Australia.
Several varieties of paraffine oil were shown. These are now much used for lamps, and some are too volatile to be safe. The following simple rule is given for testing the volatility of such oils :— Place a few drops in a teaspoon, float the spoon on a cup of boiling water, and hold a lighted match an inch above it. If the vapour ignites, the liquid is not safe. 
John Smith, 'The International Exhibition of 1862', Sydney Morning Herald, 1 August 1862, 2.
Here, the problem might have been careless producers, failing to remove all of the lighter fractions that we would now call petrol, when they fractionated “rock oil”. It was an old problem: adulteration in bread was known in ancient Rome, and bad ale was a problem in the time of Edward the Confessor. Tobias Smollett knew about it:
What passes for wine among us, is not the juice of the grape. It is an adulterous mixture, brewed up of nauseous ingredients, by dunces, who are bunglers in the art of poison-making …
— Tobias Smollett, The Expedition Of Humphry Clinker, 1771. 
I will come back to this in my next entry. I have been away hunting rocks and dingoes (with a camera), so I haven't been posting here, but I have been drafting, so there will be a few, close together.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Sandstone facts

Hawkesbury sandstone, Fairlight Sydney, showing bedding,
cross-bedding and vertical joints.
The city of Sydney is the child of its geology.  That is the first lesson you must learn if you are to understand our scenery.  Nearly all of the rock you see exposed around Sydney will be sandstone.

The sand that would become this sandstone was laid down in a time when plants were ferns, reptiles were becoming dinosaurs, and mammals were only just being thought about.  True, there are some remnants of more recent volcanoes around, but almost everything that you can see is good old-fashioned sedimentary rock, lying in almost horizontal layers.

The sandstone has also influenced local architecture, since it was readily available as a building material, but the beauty of the stone carries a high price.  Many local buildings of carved sandstone are now beginning to deteriorate as the stone frets and falls apart, returning to sand again.  I don't think I have once seen the 19th century buildings of the University of Sydney free of stonemasons' scaffolding in over thirty years, and the Anglican St Andrew's Cathedral, near Town Hall, is also suffering the ravages of time.

At the Heads, in the cliffs at the harbour's mouth, there is sandstone from sea level and below, all the way up to the top of the cliffs.  If you visit North Head, you can look back along the near coast-line to the north.  If you look down, you will see a few lenses of shale scattered through the cliff face, almost lost among huge layers of sandstone.

The heat of the lava 'baked' the sandstone, changing it to
quartzite. This is called contact metamorphism.
There are a few remnants of more recent volcanoes which have pushed up through the older sedimentary rocks, including one volcanic neck right on the coast north of Bondi
, but the shale lenses and volcanic rocks are very much the exception, and Sydney is Sandstone City.

North and south, the bottom of the basin starts to curve up.  This curving brings the buried shale beds up to show at sea level near Narrabeen in the north and at the Royal National Park to the south.  To the west, the surface of the land rises as the rocks curve up, so right up into the Blue Mountains, a kilometre in the air, the surface rocks are still Triassic sandstone of the Narrabeen series that lies under the Hawkesbury sandstone on the coast.  Beneath that again, there are beds of Permian coal which are nominally about twenty five million years older, but these lie hidden under a ponderous overburden of sandstone.

These lurking coal beds bob up above sea level when you go further away, at Wollongong in the south, and Newcastle in the north, and they break the surface at Lithgow in the west, once you drop down off the mountain tops.  Around 1900, coal was actually mined in Balmain, a Sydney suburb, thousands of feet below sea level, with the coal starting at about 3000 feet (900 metres) from sea-level, with the bottom of the coal lying between there and some 4500 feet (1250 metres).

A cap of younger Wianamatta shale tops off some of the higher sandstone ridges, giving patches of rich soil.  The early development of Sydney was partly determined by people moving out along these ridges, either for farming, or for brick-making clay.  The roads, the farms, and the railways all followed the ridges.

But almost the whole of Sydney's vegetation and the topography of the harbour and the north has been determined by the Hawkesbury sandstone, and it is there that we must concentrate our attention.  The plants of the Sydney region have to thrive in soil miserably poor in essential minerals, sandy soil that quickly drains away most of the moisture.  As a result, many of the plants that are native to the area have evolved special survival tricks.  Our plants either live on the smell of an oily rag, or they use guile and cunning to gather what they need.

Sundew, Drosera spatulata.
Some of them have allies, fungi and bacteria, living in their roots, able to make nitrates for them out of the nitrogen in the air.  Sundews in the swamps trap passing insects on sticky leaves, and carefully digest them with enzymes, extracting valuable phosphorus and nitrogen.  Grow these plants in good soil, and they will stop making the sticky traps.  When they die, these plants put their hoard of minerals back into the common pool for all the other plants to share.

Usually, cliffs wear away fastest at the top, forming gentler and gentler slopes.  But when a cliff of jointed rock is undercut by waves or running water, the rock above the cut falls down, breaking off along the joint-plane.  This keeps the cliff-line vertical, like the cliffs of Sydney's headlands, and some of the inland cliffs of the Blue Mountains.

The whole of the Sydney area was once a flat coastal plain that was lifted up to a height of some hundreds of metres — either that, or the sea level fell, but the effect was much the same.  Small streams on the new plateau ran along the rectangular joint-lines, and cut down almost to the new sea level, making a fern-leaf pattern of valleys at right angles to each other.  Then the sea rose, drowning the deeper river valleys and giving us the rich structures of Sydney Harbour, Broken Bay, and Port Hacking.  Botany Bay has a shape that depends more on the placement of recent sediment, though the Georges River, which runs into the bay, shows the same basic pattern.

By controlling the road and railway routes, the Hawkesbury sandstone determined where people would live and build their homes.  The deep sandstone valleys were left largely alone, for roads were too hard to build, and the ground too precipitous for easy building.  Now, when bushfires come in the summer, they spread through the bush in the valleys and rush up the hills to sear the houses above.

The sandstone has also had a strong influence on public works.  Steep-sided drowned river valleys demand bridges for road transport.  Worse, the sandstone is very hard to carve or tunnel through.  The chalk of Paris and the London clay, make underground railways much more feasible in those cities, but only the very centre of the city sees our trains going beneath the surface.  Sydney is a city of bridges, with just the occasional tunnel, all ruled by the sandstone that lies beneath our feet.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Human intelligence

Whoops: long silence!  Look, I'm busy on Not Your Usual Science, so here's an excerpt from that.

We would all agree that humans are intelligent, but what is it, and how is it defined? One description says that intelligence is what is measured by intelligence tests — which is not really very helpful.
Intelligence is more usefully defined as the ability to respond adaptively to novel situations, but the standard IQ test is designed to measure the likelihood of success in learning and examinations, which has only a small overlap with responding adaptively. The IQ measure is useful in counselling and placement, but only when used in skilled hands. IQ is of little use in assessing true worth.

Most tests are based on an assumption that the mean score will be set at 100, with people’s scores distributed on a bell-shaped curve, allowing psychologists to assert that 2/3 of all people have a score between 84 and 116, and 95% of people will have scores between 68 and 132.

The original IQ tests were designed mainly to identify students who were of below average intelligence, to select students for placement in remedial education. While teachers could be asked to perform this selection, their judgements might be shaded by conscious and unconscious biases, so objective tests seemed like a good idea.

By giving these tests to large numbers of students at various ages, averages for each age group (“norms”) could be determined. The tests, even when the questions were simplistic, served (and still serve) a useful function. If a child is having difficulties in class, but at the same time, the tests indicate an above-average IQ, this normally indicates a problem which needs to be dealt with, mainly by counselling.

At their best, the various IQ tests have never shown themselves to be really effective predictors. A correlation of 0.5 between scholastic success and IQ is the normal expectation, indicating an overlap between what the two measures cover of no more than 25%.

The scores on alternative forms of the test (“parallel forms”) are controlled as tightly as possible, but the tests will always be unreliable to some extent. In particular, high and low scorers, when retested will, on average, score closer to the mean on the second attempt at the test, due to an effect called “regression to the mean”.

IQ test scores have been more abused than used wisely, and now their use is restricted. The tests have not failed, in their original purpose: rather, too many of the users of the test scores, especially untrained teachers, have failed to use the scores properly.


Much of the opposition to using IQ tests has come from teachers who have seen only the damage that the misuse of test scores can lead to. To this criticism, they add the valid complaint that there is more to intelligence than the ability to score well on IQ tests, that intelligence also includes creative thinking and divergent thinking. How, they ask, can an objective (multiple-choice) test allow for the child who suggests that the plural of “leaf” is “tree”?

Multiple intelligences

Teachers today are far more at home with a notion, first proposed by Howard Gardner, which breaks away from the usual narrow definition of intelligence, either as IQ, or as Spearman’s g (look it up!). At best, the old tests cover verbal and non-verbal IQs, but the school of thought founded by Gardner, and widely accepted by teachers around the world, expands into a wide range of other evidences of intelligence.

Gardner’s intelligences are not well-suited to measurement, but they are eminently useful as a way of planning instruction which allows all students to shine in their strong areas, and to develop their weak areas.

Musical intelligence is shown best in child musical prodigies. Gardner also cites examples such as autistic children who can play an instrument beautifully, but who cannot speak. (This also raises an interesting way of looking at one solution offered to people who stammer, who are often advised to sing the statement they wish to make.)

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is found in the natural sports player, or the talented dancer.

Logical-mathematical intelligence is largely the attribute measured by traditional IQ tests of non-verbal IQs, a skill which is clearly distinguished from verbal intelligence. The “idiot savant” who calculates brilliantly is an extreme case, a person who seems to have only this intelligence, and no other, although there are also remarkably “ordinary” people who have similar powers of calculation and reasoning.

Others, like Sir Isaac Newton, who are able to consider a falling apple, wonder why the Moon did not fall in the same way, and leap intuitively to the idea that gravity obeys an inverse square law.

Linguistic intelligence even has its own area of the brain, Broca’s area, which is responsible for assembling grammatical sentences. But while we all have the gift of language, some have it in much greater degree than others. Gardner points out that, at the age of ten, T. S. Eliot created eight issues of a magazine called ‘Fireside’ in three days, each featuring a wide variety of linguistic styles.

Spatial intelligence is important to the navigators of Polynesia and Micronesia, who have a feel for the oceans they travel. It can also be seen in the work of visual artists, and is probably important in sports such as tennis and squash. It may well be just as important to the better chess player, who “chunks” the relationships on a chess board at a glance, instantly perceiving the spatial relationships between the different pieces.

Interpersonal intelligence is all about being able to work with other people. As we will see later, Sir Isaac Newton clearly had a number of intelligences in vast supply, but he seems to have been limited when it came to interacting successfully with other people. A good politician, sales representative or teacher needs to have a good supply of this intelligence.

Intrapersonal intelligence involves the skill of knowing oneself. This is the most hidden intelligence, since it can only be demonstrated by the use of the language, music, or other more expressive forms of intelligence.

My own definition? I think intelligence is a construct, most useful as a weapon which can be used to skewer and damn those on the other political wing. 

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Darwin's error

This is a small excerpt from a new book, probably to be called Background to Science. Drawing on a lifetime of writing essays, articles and talks about matters of science, I am repurposing a lot of old prose, 405,000 words at the last count.  It should be released on Kindle, later this year. I am rewriting most of it, and all so filling in some of the gaps.

It is that work which has led to the lack of posts here. Sorry!

While I always say Darwin’s work has never been shown to be false, there were a few minor errors in some of his examples, mistakes which don’t affect his overall correctness. There was also one major error in his thinking, which also made no difference in the long run, but it has to do with one of my favourite animals, the ant lion, so it gets a quick run here.

In Australia, ant lions are the carnivorous larval stage of lacewings. They make little pit traps in sandy soil and catch ants and other insects (I have seen one catch a small weevil). Their prey fall into the pits the ant lions make, and they are sucked dry.
Ant lions are small. I move them with a small paint brush.

Because there is some rather marvellous physics involved in the way they make their pits, I have often used these animals in teaching and in books, so I know quite a bit about keeping and feeding them.

In the early days of 1836, a young man called Charles Darwin slipped into Sydney on HMS Beagle. Nobody really noticed him, as he rode out to Lithgow, stayed for a while, saw a few animals, returned to Sydney, slipped aboard his ship, and departed.

Temporary guest ant lions.
He left, though, with the key idea that started him thinking about evolution, because he had seen ant lion pits of two sizes, and started musing on variation. Two species, two sizes of pit, he thought, and that was, legend tells us, the start of the whole evolution-by-natural-selection saga.

Jump forward now to the 21st century, when a film maker was planning a doco on the Darwin story. The producer came across the ant lion story, and thought it would be neat to recreate this, but where does one find an ant lion wrangler at short notice?

Because I had written a book on the Darwin story (Mr Darwin’s Incredible Shrinking World, still available as a e-book), a researcher contacted me to see if I had any idea of where a wrangler might be found, able to take ant lions to a suitable site, and get them making their pits.

I said modestly that I was probably just about the best bet they could find, and then explained a few of the realities. The researcher said that all they wanted was the two sizes of pit, and I said that was easy: the photograph at the head of this section shows that much.

But, I said, it was my firm opinion that the two sizes of pit were made by the same species, and would be the result of two lots of eggs being laid in the sand: the older and larger ant lions make larger pits, and the younger and smaller ant lions made the lesser pits.

In short, Darwin had been inspired to think about variation after a false inference. It made no difference to the validity of his later thinking, but it would be difficult to get this across in a short documentary. I offered to help with the wording.

The result was that the producer had a melt-down, followed by a hissy fit, and the whole sequence ended up on the cutting-room floor, even before it was shot.

In this way, I missed out on the chance to feature “ant lion wrangler” on my CV, but at least we side-stepped the risk of giving cherry-picking idiots the chance to shout “Look! Darwin got it wrong, so logically, evolution is wrong!”, all the while ignoring the many other valid examples of variation within a species that might have got him started.

The secret behind evolution is genetic variability that can be passed on to offspring. Fair-haired people mostly have fair-haired children, dark-haired people mostly have dark-haired children, but they are all humans, all part of the same species.

That was the part that Darwin got right, and that was the part that mattered.

Now here's a tip if you are keeping them: ants added as food have an annoying habit of escaping. The outer tub here has water in it, so the ants can't escape.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Wattle Day

Traditionally, Wattle Day in New South Wales has always been August 1.  A few years ago, the Canberra bureaucracy changed it to September 1, but the true believers, here in New South Wales, will stay with August 1.  By September, most of Sydney's best wattle flowers have died away, and most of the wattles are dropping their seed on the day that some people call the first day of our southern spring.  No matter, there are almost always one or two species in flower.

Wildflowers are normal, the whole Sydney year around.  We have no home-grown deciduous trees in Australia, but we do have flowers all the year around, because our ‘climates’ are less extreme.  In early August, there are easily 40 species in bloom in the Sydney bush, with many more in bud.  At the lowest point in our ‘autumn’ — April and May, there are always between fifteen and twenty species flowering on any given hillside, but if the truth be known, we do not have real seasons, except in south-western Western Australia.

Our local ecosystems have evolved to cope with this lack of true annual seasons.  It gets warmer around Christmas and cooler around June to August, but that is about it.  Tim Flannery, says in his excellent book book The Future Eaters, that Australian farmers should not be made to pay their bills annually to the banks.  Rather, they and their accounts should be tied to the El NiƱo Southern Oscillation, for our plants and animals, like our present and future economy, are driven by forces far greater than mere seasons.

Because our plants can flower right through the mild year, they do.

This makes evolutionary sense, because the combined plants can then support a rich variety of pollinating insects and birds.  They take it in turn to use the resident pollinators' services, the pollinators stay around all year, and everything gains.  July and August are the time for the wattles to dominate the Australian bushland.  These are similar to the better-known mimosas of the northern hemisphere, though some of the French ‘mimosas’, grown for the perfume industry, are really our Australian wattles.

The name comes from the early colonists' building practices.  Putting up a timber frame, they filled in the gaps with ‘wattle and daub’, interwoven sticks and twigs, smeared with mud and whitewashed to make the whole water-proof.

If you wonder how this would look, think of the ‘Tudor’ style of house so favoured in Hollywood reconstructions, for Tudor architecture was also wattle and daub, usually with willow twigs under the whitewash.  Other trees provided the timbers in Australia, but the abundant wattle shrubs provided the twigs.

Nowadays we value our wattles for their flowers, golden or cream puffballs with leaves that can be a rich dark green or a bright silvery blue-green, leaves which may take the shape of delicate feathers, neat coin-sized circles, or broad straps.  Australia's national sporting colors are green and gold, representing the classic wattle, as you can see if you watch out for the Australians at the Olympics.

The wattle has long been a national symbol: here is part of a poem by Henry Lawson in 1891.  This was a time of social upheaval in Australia, as the trade unions and the Australian Labor Party came into being, and Lawson was looking back to the Eureka Stockade, some forty years earlier, when gold miners at Ballarat took up arms against an unjust government.
So we must fly a rebel flag
As others did before us,
And we must sing a rebel song
And join in rebel chorus.
We'll make the tyrants feel the sting
O' those that they would throttle;
They needn't say the fault is ours
If blood should stain the wattle.

There is more to Freedom on the Wallaby, but that will give you a feel for it.  Cruder Australians have a different chant that they offer up in adoration of the wattle.  It requires a group to stand in a circle, facing in, and holding aloft sprigs of wattle as we chant:
This here is the wattle,
The symbol of our land,
Yer can stick it in a bottle,
Yer can hold it in yer hand.

Well, nobody ever said that Australians had to be easy to understand . . . or couth.

But even if you ignore the cultural significance, the nationalistic symbolism of the Australian wattle, the bush is a delight to look on in August.  Many of the other flowers are small, delicate, and insignificant, but the wattles stand out as golden masses on the hillsides, crowding the roadside edges in country that barely a year and a half ago was a fire-blackened and ash-covered ruin. 

The wattle is an Acacia, a relative of the peas.  This means the fluffy golden flower produces a pod which later splits open, flinging seeds in all directions.  By October, when we start to see the first small bushfires that herald the approaching high summer, the wattle seeds will already be deep in the leaf litter, or blown under fallen logs, waiting for fire to trigger their germination.  Maybe that is why they flower so early.  Everything here is fire-adapted, for our landscape is shaped by fire, and many wattle seeds will not shoot until a fire has passed over them.

Around the world, there are some 900 species of wattle, with 75 in the Sydney region, and more than 700 across Australia.  All of them have roots which make a home for nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and a delicate perfume that many people miss altogether.  Some produce edible seeds, and some of our most delicious biscuits are made with wattle seeds.  Some people even make fritters from the flowers!

Botanically, the wattles are remarkable for the number of leafless species.  While we have no deciduous trees, we have a number of trees which have done away with true leaves altogether, relying on phyllodes, leaf-like stems, to carry out the same task that leaves usually perform, the wattles being among them.

Dry climates make plants do funny things sometimes, and it seems that phyllodes are more efficient in dry areas than the traditional leaf.  The trees with large dark-green strap-like ‘leaves’ are really equipped with phyllodes instead.

Many Australian gardens, and almost all bush areas feature a wattle tree or five.  As often as not, this will be the Cootamundra wattle, but in 1991, I was told that the people who came to Sydney for the Olympics would look in vain for that one around the Olympics site.

The consulting botanist there told me that the Cootamundra wattle is proving to be a nasty weed, away from its home territory, and so it has been banned.

It seems that even a national symbol, a cultural icon, even one that is a botanical oddity, must mind its manners or face banishment.

Soon, though, it will be time for the waratahs.


Thursday, 3 August 2017

A fishy tale

Frank Buckland (Wikimedia Commons)
   Get me down my filling knife,
   Get me down my stock
   Get me down my filling knife,
   We've a big job in the lock,
   — Dominic Behan, Get me down my filling knife.

I'm working on a big job myself, at the moment, so I shall draw on its pages for a bit of amusement (without saying what the job is).   Today's case for treatment is Francis (Frank) Trevelyan Buckland (1826 - 1880).

Science in the 19th century was the play space of the gifted and curious amateur – and “curious” sometimes took on more than one meaning. Frank Buckland is a prime example.

The son of a clergyman, he was ordained as a priest, but became an academic and practical geologist, the first Reader in Geology at Oxford, where his father, William Buckland, had presented a close argument for the way geology demonstrated Biblical truths in 1820.

William was one of those who regarded all fossils as relics of Noah’s flood. Later, the father was swayed by Agassiz’ theories on Ice Ages and modified his stance, but he remained opposed to the idea of evolution, up to his death in 1856.

Frank was memorable, among other things, for eating all sorts of animals: zebra, snake, earwig, puppy, sea slug and even a bluebottle, though he declared mole the most disgusting thing he had ever consumed.

Frank may (or may not, but legend says he did) have eaten the dried heart of King Louis XIV, but on his honeymoon, he identified some bones said to be those of St Rosalia as goat bones, and he investigated the alleged blood of a saint, which appeared fresh on a cathedral floor each morning. He lay on the floor, tasted it, and declared it to be bat urine (with which we assume he was familiar).

They don’t make scientists like that any more, but if he were alive today, Frank Buckland would surely be a leading television raconteur of science, with his own Youtube channel. Gilbert White would today be an environmental blogger, but White is another story for another day.

Here, before I start rabbiting on about  bestiaries and herbals, is the tale of the sturgeon, in his own words:

On Tuesday evening, at 5pm, Messrs Grove, of Bond Street, sent word that they had a very fine sturgeon on their slab. Of course, I went down at once to see it. The fish weighed, I was informed, 212 lbs [95 kilograms]; it measured 9 feet in length [nearly three metres]. I was anxious to make a cast of this fine fellow, but I confess the size and weight rather frightened me; however, they offered me the fish for the night; he must be back in the shop the next morning by 10 am.

Determined not to lose the chance, I called a cab, and we tried to get the sturgeon on the top of it, but he was “too much” for us, and we were obliged to give up all idea of this mode of conveyance of our huge friend from Bond Street to Albany Street.

Messrs. Grove then kindly sent him up in a cart, and we got him out of the cart easily enough on his arrival at my door, but it was with the greatest difficulty we hauled him up the doorsteps. We then thought of pitching him headlong over the railings into the area below, and thus getting him into the little front kitchen, which, though terribly small, I use as a casting-room; but his back was so slippery and his scales so sharp to the hands, that Master Sturgeon beat us again. However, I was determined to get him down into the kitchen somehow; so, tying a rope to his tail, I let him slide down the stone stairs by his own weight.

He started all right, but, “getting way” on him, I could hold the rope no more, and away he went sliding headlong down the stairs, like an avalanche from Mont Blanc. At the bottom of the stairs is the kitchen door; the sturgeon came against it “nose on” like an iron battering ram; he smashed the door open in a moment with his snout and slid right into the kitchen, gliding easily along the oil-cloth till at last he brought himself to an anchor under the kitchen table.


This sudden and unexpected appearance of the armour-clad sea-monster, bursting open the door — shut purposely to keep out the sight of “the master’s horrid great fish “ — instantly created a sensation scene, and great and dire was the commotion.

The cook screamed, the housemaid nearly fainted; the cat jumped on the dresser, upsetting the best crockery; the little dog Danny, with tail between his legs, made a precipitate retreat under the copper and barked furiously; the monkeys went mad with fright, and screamed “Murder” in monkey language; the sedate parrot’s nerves were terribly shaken, and it has never spoken a word since; and all this bother, because a poor harmless dead sturgeon burst open the kitchen door, and took up his position under the kitchen table.

— George Cox Bompas, The Life of Frank Buckland, London: Smith Elder and Co., 1886, p. 200.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Introducing my 'Not Your Usual' series.

I have been a life-long scribbler, and I have been publishing books since 1971, at a rate of better than one a year. During that time, publishers have weathered many storms, imagined or real, and changed their attitudes many times.

Along the way, I have kept on writing about what interested me, and gathering material for future books that I might or might not write, but several years ago, I realised I was approaching advanced middle age, and I set out to get the rest of my back-burner material out there.

Originally, it was all going to appear as e-books, and I gave them all titles that began with Not Your Usual... 

Two of them struck me as being better offered in print, and Five Mile Press took them up. They were duly published, and Not Your Usual Bushrangers emerged on its own, and also in a slip case with Not Your Usual Gold Stories.  That volume, in my estimation, the more important of the two for the fresh look it took an a rather hackneyed Australian history, seems never to have emerged from the publishers' warehouse.

Perhaps if a few people bothered them, they might do something about it: as far as I can work out, the hold-up relates to some sort of internecine political scrabble within the publisher.

My main points in Gold Stories: a lot of people knew there was gold in Australia, and Hargraves never "discovered gold" as he claimed. Rather, he engaged in a conspiracy to force the NSW government to let the gold rush begin. By that time, there had been an aborted gold rush in Victoria, and there had been a gold mine in South Australia for five years: neither of those is mentioned in the school books!

When I get around to it, I shall arrange for an e-book version of the printed book, but I am still (a) finishing off a number of print books and (b) sorting out the Kindle book series which is partly listed below (I'm still working on a number of them).


Freebie for Australian schools!!!

Note that if you are an Australian school library, I have prepared a set of totally free PDF versions, which schools can have on request, containing all of the necessary permissions you will need. You will have to find my email address (which isn't hard), and request the titles below. That doesn't apply to #1 or #2 (Gold and Bushrangers, above) at this stage, but that may change one day.

Now here are the e-books:


Not Your Usual Villains

This is number 3 in the series. It covers Australian rule breakers and represents different Australian history, and there is a sample here. It is available on Kindle, and you can get full details and even a sample look here.

Some of the villains were hardly villainous as we would see it, like the shocking ladies who wore trousers, but there is also a cannibal, and there are a few failed assassins. Few if any of them will be widely known.

Regrettably, it appears that this book has been pirated. By villains!

Not Your Usual Treatments

This is number 4 in the series. It is a history of eccentric and peculiar medicine, strange surgery, weird theories, and out and out quackery.


Here is a pre-taste, and here is Robert Boyle's recipe for convulsions in children:
"Take Earth-Worms, wash them well in White-wine to cleanse them, but so as they may not die in the Wine. Then upon hollow Tiles, or between them, dry the Worms with a moderate heat, and no further than that they may be conveniently reduc'd to Powder; to one Ounce of which add a pretty number of Grains of Ambergrise, both to perfume the Powder (whose scent of itself is rank) and to make the Medicine more efficacious."

Not Your Usual Australian Tales

This is number 5 in the series. It is an Australian social history, covering the period from the white invasion in 1788 and federation in 1901, in 48 essays of around 5000 words each.

In the age of Fake News and Alternative Facts, this book gives you the original sources, mostly as hot-links, so you can ask the important questions:
* what happened before that?
* do you really expect us to believe that? and

* what happened next?


Not Your Usual Sources

This is number 6 in the series, an epigraph mine/dictionary of quotations/verse collection. It is a massive collection of quotations: more than 1800 poems in full, the equivalent of a large paperback of science quotations, and some salient Australian historical comments,

The collection was assembled for my own use as a writer, and these include many of the epigraphs that I have used over the years: now they can be yours. The next three volumes are the three separate sections of this omnibus volume.


Not Your Usual Anthology of Verse

This is number 7 in the series. It is the first portion of #6, and when you look at the pricing, you will see that there is a considerable discount for buying an all-in-one. If you want any TWO, buying #6 will be cheaper!

There are around 1800 poems from the past six centuries, covering 270+ poets, with brief notes.


Not Your Usual Science Quotations

This is number 8 in the series. It is the second portion of #6, and when you look at the pricing, you will see that there is a considerable discount for buying an all-in-one. If you want any TWO, buying #6 will be cheaper! 

This one contains around 1700 pithy and amusing science quotations adding up to about 115,000 words, across all of the sciences and mathematics. In my time, I have mainly written about science, mathematics or Australia, and the intersections of those topics.

Not Your Usual Australian Vignettes

This is number 9 in the series. It is the third portion of #6, and when you look at the pricing, you will see that there is a considerable discount for buying an all-in-one. If you want any TWO, buying #6 will be cheaper! 

This is all good source material, although there is a considerable overlap with #11: anything which is here is probably there in #11 in a more complete form. It contains about 530 short excerpts from Australian historical sources.


Not Your Usual Clever Ideas

This is number 10 in the series. It covers eccentric schemes and began as a look at crazy inventions, but over the years that I was researching it, in between writing other books, I realised that many weird inventions must have seemed like a good idea at the time.



Not Your Usual Australian Voices

This is number 11 in the series. It is a truly massive collection of selected, edited and curated original source material.

This should be in every school, which is why it is available for free.

If you like to make a token donation to the compiler, buy the Kindle version, but you don't have to.