Learn Australian English in this episode of The Goss where we talk about how Australia is handling the Covid-19 pandemic.
AE 664 – The Goss: How is Australia Handling the Covid-19 Pandemic? transcript powered by Sonix—easily convert your audio to text with Sonix.
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G'day you mob and welcome to this episode of The Goss. Today, I sit down with my dad and we talk all about the coronavirus. We've tried to sort of lay off the coronavirus a bit lately, but I thought it would be an important episode to sort of cover that topic and talk about some of the interesting stories that have come up recently with the coronavirus. Talk about the state of the outbreak in Australia and also the pandemic's effect on our economy more broadly. So dad and I have a big chat about that. We also talk about the first pandemic in Australia back in the year 1789, when smallpox tore through the continent and killed untold thousands of indigenous Australians.
And lastly, we talk about a tragic dog attack that occurred on a beach in New South Wales and why you don't see many pet dogs or pet cats just roaming around the streets in Australia. They tend to be locked up. So we talk all about that. Guys, don't forget, if you want access to the full episode today, as well as the transcripts and the downloads, make sure to sign up for either the premium podcast, where you'll get access to that content, or to the academy, where you'll have access to everything in the academy as well as all of the podcast content. You can do that at www.aussieenglish.com.au. With that aside guys, kick the kookaburra and let's get into it.
G'day, guys. Welcome to this episode of the Goss. Dad made a joke last week saying, "Oh, we might be doing this by Skype. Look where we are."
We're not on Skype, but we're about as close as you can get.
So yeah, we're on Zoom. But what happened, dad? What happened?
Well, Victoria, the state of Victoria, put us on the next level of lockdown. And the advice from the prime minister's sort of special panel that he has, the medical penal that he has, is that anybody who's now at risk should be completely self-isolated. So because I've got an ongoing heart problem and I'm an asthmatic, I fall into, even if it's the bottom end, but I fall into that over 60s risk factor collection. So I'm now at home, unable to leave.
So you're allowed to go outside?
Oh, yeah. I can go outside and fiddle around, but no contact with people, basically.
I know. Mum came round the other day... Or at least she came round, she was outside the gate and wasn't too keen to come in. She was handing us things through the gate and was like, "I miss everyone. I'm sorry."
Yes. We caught up with your sister and niece today via Skype.
Right. Now's our catch up, huh. So shall we smash out the coronavirus stuff? We should give, probably, people a bit of an update. How's it going in Australia?
Yeah, look, according to today's statistics, 4,800 confirmed cases, another death in Queensland. So we're now up to 20 deaths. But the increase is slowing, if that's not an oxymoron.
How come we've maintained so few deaths when comparatively other places seem to be having a much higher percentage? So we've got, you know, well, even if we had, I know it's more than 2000 cases, but if we had 2000 cases and we've had 20 deaths, that's a percent mortality, right.
It's actually half a percent at the moment. We've had 20 deaths out of 4,800 cases.
Yeah. Yeah. So that's much lower than elsewhere.
Look, I think... Thankfully we panicked early, but so... And because of our geographic isolation, we were aware of the problem before there were any cases in Australia. And so we started to shut borders and take those sort of things a bit more seriously. Obviously, there've been a couple of hiccups in that with the Ruby Princess cruise ship being allowed to let a couple of thousand passengers off without them being checked when it turns out now, I think there's 130 plus cases that have come directly from that ship, not just people associating with people who have come off the ship.
Clearly a huge percentage.
Yeah, but I think we've done pretty well from that point of view of closing the borders and putting some of the restrictions on, and the state of Victoria in particular. And thankfully we've got a premier who's taken this seriously and he's... He and the premier of New South Wales have basically been leading the country on it and they've been pushing harder than the federal government has for social isolation, rather than just social distancing for isolating people. And they've been sort of one ramp up ahead of the federal government most of the time, which has been good.
And Victoria has comparatively few cases in comparison with our population. And I think that's probably due to that as well, although there are certainly a lot of selfish idiots out there who, you know... Bondi Beach had thousands of people on it after they were told not to congregate in public. The beach was closed the next day. This is more than a week ago now, and there's still hundreds of people on the beach sort of basically jumping the barriers to get to the beach.
Yeah, that surprised me. I saw that there were loads of people there and I was like, "Okay, well, if there's no barriers, you know, that's one thing," but then I saw that they put up the barriers and there was footage of people literally climbing them to get over to get into the water, and I'm kind of like, "Guys, like, respect." You know, it's one of those things where it's like, you know, "I know you want to go for a swim, but it's bigger than that now. It's about actions that you take that may not necessarily cause your death, but may put other people in danger unnecessarily." The tricky part is obviously how unforeseen it is. You don't know that... You know, if you keep going outside of your house, you might get the virus. You might not even get sick from it, but you might spread it to a place where someone else picks it up and they die from it.
Yeah, exactly. And that's the risk, is this is about the not just herd immunity, but this is pre-herd immunity of saying that your behaviour is actually risking other people. So if you choose to take that risk for yourself, that's one thing. But when you're risking other people that's... You don't have that right to choose. And I know I've been on... Obviously I'm on a fair number of social media groups for landscape photography and landscape photographers, of course, are self isolating. But a lot of them are self isolating by going to places that everybody else is not allowed to go to. And then there's these rants on Facebook and Instagram and things of people saying, "Well, I've got people yelling at me because I shouldn't be out here and there's nobody on the beach. Why I can't go out photographing?" And the reason there's nobody on the bloody beach is because everybody else is doing the right thing. Self-entitled pricks shouldn't have the opportunity to go and say, "Well, this is my exercise. I'm going out with a camera and a tripod and a camera bag."
What's the limit on that, though? Because there are people surfing. And I keep thinking, "Is this exercise? Is this leisure?"
Yeah. We're going to get to the point, and I think Victoria will probably jump in early on, of just saying, "Here are the conditions. The government has put four conditions on it. The federal government has put four conditions." The exercise one is the one that people are stretching. The other three and sort of quite obvious. And if people are going to do that, they just got to put the message out saying, "You'll be arrested."
Because the hard for me is I like to leave the house to work from the car and so for the last week or so, I've been like more and more thinking, "Am I allowed to do this?" And this is the hardest part that it's sort of murky, right. You don't know what the rules are in some of these grey... You can leave the house to get something if it's essential from the shops. So when I go shopping after that, I tend to go to the beach and then sit in the car with my book or with my computer. And I'm like, "Am I allowed to sit in the car park here, not leaving the car? Is this okay? Is this not okay?" So it is difficult.
It is difficult. And that's where... The challenge is always... And particularly when things are rushed. This is not like legislation...
They've been changing every single day, right, with these findings coming down, there were people saying... On the weekend, I think we had fines passed in Victoria where you could be fined $1,600 for going to the beach or something like that. And the police were allowed to enforce that. I remember because I was down there at the time and I heard someone talking to someone who was going to go surfing and telling them that that was on the radio. And I'm like, how the hell am I meant to know that if I didn't... If I haven't turned the news on, if I'm not listening to the radio, and if the police just showed up and fined me, I'd be pissed because I'd be like, "Where is the warning?" Like...
But whose responsibility is that? Is that the government's responsibility to make sure everyone knows whether or not they're tuning into ABC News or whatever? Or is it our responsibility now in this situation to always be logged in and, you know, listening to it, tuned in, but at the same time, it's like, "I'm just fatigued with all this coronavirus talk. How much do I need to be kept up to date with all everything that changes on a daily basis?"
Yeah, well, you know, I suppose there's... The news is, and I've just been reading a couple of newspapers just before we go on to see if there was any non-coronavirus stories worth talking about, but all the headlines are just "Coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus pandemic coronavirus pandemic." Some of them are data driven. And they're the interesting ones. Some of them are about government statements about, you know, changing conditions and so on, which are necessary. A lot of it is just filling space because there's nothing else to report on.
Yeah, that's I'm surprised. I would imagine there'd be still murders and, you know, interesting science papers being published and all kinds of other things that, you know, newsworthy taking place around the world still but it's interesting that there's so few other stories that aren't coronavirus-related. Yeah.
And look, I think the clickbait journalism is going to get tired of this fairly quickly because people are just going to stop clicking on another story about what's happening to somebody or with regard to coronavirus. And look, you know, we keep talking about it because there's not much else to talk about.
Yeah, it's pretty frightening. I don't know. Seeing as well with what's going on in Italy where you think Italy and Spain are these two countries that are Western countries, but they're getting totally smashed with almost a thousand deaths a day at the moment. Spain had to open an ice rink as a temporary morgue to keep people, you know, dead bodies in there cold. It seems insane. And now the US, I think, has something like 160,000 cases. And they've got, you know, what is it, 4000 deaths or something? And it's climbing. And they're expecting to have over 100,000 by the end of the month. It seems frightening that it's going to really, really speed up in the next month or so. What do you foresee happening? Do you think that the curve is going to get flattened or do you think it is only going to get worse for now?
Well, the curve is certainly flattening in the sense of... And I'm just sort of switching through here that The Guardian has an interesting page that just gets updated with daily data on the cumulative totals and then the daily count. And in Australia, we're... Today... Well, yesterday, because we don't have today's data. But yesterday we had less than half, probably less than a third of the number of new cases in the peak, which was a week ago. So we've flattened that curve out a lot. Obviously, we're still getting new cases every day and we have people dying every day, unfortunately. But it's... We've certainly flatten that curve out.
It's an artificial flattening, in a sense, because most people are doing the right thing and isolating. And so it's not like the virus has changed its behaviour. The people changed their behaviour and so we're not going to get... As likely to have a contagions transferring as quickly as we had previously. But the real thing about this is, firstly, we don't want more people sick because of the personal reasons for those people. But mostly we don't want people sick because we don't want the health system to overload. And that's the problem they've had in Spain and Italy, is that they've had a rapid increase in the number of cases, but their health system is completely overloaded. So most people who get symptoms and severe symptoms can't even attend hospital. So they die at home.
I saw that dozens of doctors have started dying in Italy as well.
Yeah. Exactly. Of course you're going to if you're constantly being exposed to it.
On a daily basis. It's weird because you don't realise that the medical staff now are effectively at war, right. But they can't really see the enemy. They keep seeing the victims, but they can't see the enemy. And they're the ones on the frontline who are literally, you know, going to potentially die. So it is pretty scary and pretty shocking at what's happening. Do you want to talk about how Australia's government works and how it may or may not be a positive thing for dealing with the coronavirus? Because we obviously have the federal government, which is country wide, and then we have state or territory governments, which are obviously for the individual states and territories of Australia. Do you think that having that separation is going to help deal with the coronavirus? Is it going to hinder dealing with the virus?
Look, I think at the moment it's probably helping. We're in the fortunate situation where two states, the two most populous states that make up nearly half the population of the country, that's Victoria and New South Wales, they've been leading the charge. So they've been ahead of the federal government. As long as the states are more severe in their restrictions, then I think that's fine because people will go, "Oh, well, the federal government has said this, oh but my premier, my government in my state is saying do something more." If it was the reverse, it would be a problem. If states were there effectively undercutting the federal government's conditions, then it would be a lot worse. So it's working for us at the moment.
I think the interesting component is that there's a third tier of government and that's local government. For instance, we live in the city of Greater Geelong, which has got a population of just over 200,000 people. And local governments so far have not stepped into this discussion or argument because they're basically taking the state government regulations as the filter from the federal government and saying, "That will do." I think it'll be interesting to see what happens in the Easter break, because even those people who are at the moment working from home, which seems to be most people other than the people who are absolutely required, yeah, me, your mum.
I'm working from home full time at the moment. And so lots of people are working from home. But over Easter, when people are not working, how many people are going to start travelling and going on holidays, not necessarily booking motel rooms and things, but going to holiday houses? And yeah, we live in a town of about 15,000 people, but typically over Easter that would swell to between 40 and 50,000. And most of those people have got holiday houses and I know the campgrounds and the, other than permanent residents in caravan parks, they're closed. So there won't be those. But we'll have 10,000 people potentially come down here to live in their own homes and they'll be saying, "Well, we're self isolating at home."
But what they're doing is that they're bringing down, potentially bringing the virus to the Bellarine Peninsula, where we live, where there have been no cases so far. And so that local government, I think, may end up reacting and they'll have to react afterwards, I'd suspect, because it's going to be too soon now for them to start arguing the point with state government. But there have been some stories, certainly on social media of some people in small rural towns, not like we are. We're quite a suburban environment, really, but small rural towns, who are threatening to turn into vigilantes.
And this was in Queensland, right?
"Anybody that doesn't live here, we will shoot them."
So there was a thing yesterday where there's been restrictions on purchasing of guns even beyond the norm, you know, even in Australia. And that's because people are scared. Clearly, they're scared. If you live in a small rural town and you don't have the medical facilities, a lot of these people don't even have a doctor in their town, let alone a hospital. They would have to be flown to a hospital. And the Royal Flying Doctor Service has a limited number of doctors and planes. So it's understandable that local areas are having these things. So I think people have just got to cool up... Cool down and just say, look, you know, "Going on a holiday for five days and hiding away in my holiday house is probably a bit selfish."
Yet that seems like such a dilemma, though, right?
Because you would think, "I'm helping in that I'm isolating myself from my current location, but I'm isolating myself by going somewhere else where there are other people who are already in isolation." And you're effectively putting them in jeopardy, right, by going in there.
It comes back to this... We're not making decisions on our own now, we're making decisions on behalf of other people. And you have to be really conservative about that.
I got kind of pierced the other day. I was at the beach and I saw a bunch... Like working from the car, and I saw a bunch of cars with foreign state number plates coming through and just like camper vans. And, you know, I just like... It was weird because I had that instant reaction in me like, "What the hell are you guys doing here? Like you're still on holiday? Yeah. What are you doing?" Like, it was pretty obvious that these guys are just travelling around Australia and I was just thinking like, "Ugh." So it's so frustrating that people just don't give a shit at times about that sort of stuff.
That's been the advice from the federal government and our state government, it is, "If you are currently on holiday and you have the capability, in Australia, and you have the ability to do it, go home." You know, "Don't continue to travel around. Don't stay somewhere where you're adding..." Particularly, as people will typically go on holidays within Australia to smaller rural places, they're... Apart from affecting the or potentially affecting or infecting the population there, they're just increasing the load on the local health systems, which are really stretched at the best of times.
I know. It's frustrating. But what did you think about... I think Tasmania's premier just brought through rules saying that they can't go to their own beach shacks if they've got any during Easter. So he said, just full stop, "You're not allowed to go there unless you live there already."
Yeah, unless you already there, you're not allowed to go.
How would you police that? How do you police something like that, right? How do you know that someone doesn't live here permanently?
You can't police it and that's the problem. If people are going to be selfish, they're going to say, "Well, you know, it's my right. I don't care what the premier says. It's my right to do it. I own it. It's my home. I go there every Easter." But seriously, four or five days of holiday or four or five days of going off somewhere that... You're likely to change the way that this virus gets spread.
Well, you're not even going to really be able to enjoy the location, you would imagine, like normal. You can't leave. Yeah. It's hard, too, because at the moment I'm wanting to go out and support some of the local cafes that I've always gone to by just buying coffee there each day. But even that, I feel like, "Erm... Should I be doing this anymore?" There are so many of these difficult, unforeseen situations you end up in where, you know, you don't want to leave the house, but you want to support the locals.
You want to get exercise, everything like that. You have to try and balance it. Yeah. What was some of the other funny stories that we saw this week related to the coronavirus? There was a guy, a Greek-Australian Good Samaritan in... I don't know which city it was, probably Melbourne if he was Greek, handing out $100 bills to people at Centrelink and he handed out $10,000. And his thing was effectively, "This country has been good to me. I came here with nothing and now I'm a wealthy businessman. So, you know, I want to give out to all these people who need something."
Yeah. That was an interesting one. And it look, that pay it forward stuff is really good. And fortunately, there are some people who are in a position to be able to do that and they're doing it. One of the other funny stories I found was that the guy who ended up with magnets stuck up his nose... Did you see that one?
I did. Tell that story.
Trying to invent a detection system for social isolation, or social spacing... Why he had maggots up his nose in the first place is beyond me. Never trust a physicist, I think. So he's obviously... I didn't read the details of it, but I think from his age, he's probably a PhD student or a post-doc in physics. Great idea, but really?
Get out of the hospital. Yeah. Get back to work. I know. Woolworths and Coles I think have just hired a ton more people. So I think calls just hired 5,000 more workers and Woolworths trying to get another 20,000 hired. Do you want to talk a little bit about the situation with jobs, the economy, Centrelink, and what the future is going to look like?
Yeah. Well, the short term future is fairly dire for a lot of people. I think it's now something like a million people in Australia are out of work. That doesn't mean they've lost their jobs, because many of them are being stood down rather than sacked, but particularly casual workers who work in the tourism industry or the services industries, there is no work for them and so their employers can't keep paying them, although fortunately now the federal government have come up with a way of paying your staff and funding employers to pay their staff in the interim. But that casual employees have to have worked for that same employer for 12 months in order to be eligible. And there are a lot of casual casuals who just do the rounds of pick up jobs short term. So those people are effectively out of work.
There's a proportion of those people who have effectively been sacked, rather than just stood down. So we... I think at one stage we're having 10,000 new people a day registering for welfare from Centrelink, which is our social services department. And I noticed, ironically, that the federal government, at the same time, changed that... The particular thing that people were looking for from New Start, which was the old name, to Job Seek, and I can't imagine anybody is actually there seeking jobs at the moment, particularly in order to meet the criteria you had for meeting it... For looking for a job. You have to be in breach of the social isolation policies. So, yes, names aside, at least the government is now trying to help employers maintain employees.
But some of the very large companies have been standing down, tens of thousands of people. But some of the ones who are still operating, like the big supermarkets, as you've said, have employed tens of thousands of people, or at least they have tens of thousands of jobs open in the short to medium term, mostly for shelf stackers and home delivery services, because many more people are wanting to just shop from home. And so mostly that was a very small percentage of the supermarket business in Australia up until this crisis. So they simply didn't have the resources to be delivering food to people or to, you know, general goods to people at home. So I think obviously that's a new opportunity for people.
And I think that will... Yeah, once this crisis dies down, I think the shopping from home, which many of us do for most of the things that we purchase other than supermarket food and pharmacy goods and so on. So that'll probably increase now where people will go, "Well, yeah, I'm getting used to this. Why would I bother going to the supermarket if I could put an order in it? It'll be at my doorstep this afternoon?"
Well, that's one of the interesting things about this situation, right, is that you're going to have people adapting, and potentially thriving, in terms of businesses and then there's going to be a lot of others that end up going bust, right. I think there's estimated to be thousands of businesses in Australia that are going to go bankrupt or never recover from the coronavirus.
And look, it's a really hard one. I mean, my cousin, who's got two person partnership in a cafe and a boat hire place on the south coast of New South Wales, he shut down a couple of weeks ago. And their income is reliant on turnover. They don't have any business other than hiring boats out and feeding people, and neither which they're allowed to do now. So and he and his partner are just one example of tens of thousands of those small businesses. And we're not talking about small businesses, as in, you know, having less than 100 employees. We're talking about a couple of people in a partnership that employ a chef and some wait staff and a cleaner.
And those people will be out of work. And it's going to take a long time to get back. Even if those people go broke, somebody else is going to pick that business up at some stage. But the people who are being employed by them are sitting on the sidelines. And what happens with all of those people in their 50s and 60s who have potentially retired from other jobs and taken up these small businesses to keep them going, and they've just died? You know, people who are running little cafes and those sort of things, as you said earlier, that... They'll just close. There's no way they can afford to maintain the rent.
Yeah, they're not going to be evicted because the federal and state governments have now put a six month moratorium on evicting people from commercial locations. And the request has been to do the same for residential. And both of those are great ideas, but it doesn't matter whether you can, you don't get evicted. You still can't pay the rent. You're going to effectively be going into debt with no income.
Why are those great ideas? Because I heard them come through and I was thinking, you know, it's not fair for people whose businesses are renting out locations, right. You... To not be able to evict someone who can no longer pay for that thing, although at the same time you can see it, obviously, compassionately from the point of view of the person who is in that situation, too, that it's not fair that everyone's been thrown into this situation. And, you know for them to be thrown out because they don't win. But it seems like a Catch 22 kind of situation where you're either, in favour of the landlord or in favour of the tenant.
Yeah, look... And it is a touchy one because, loosely, and without any data behind it, I think there is an assumption that the landlords are going to be in a better financial position than the tenant. That may not be the case because many landlords will have one additional property. They might be working full time and they just own a building that's got a shop and an apartment above it, as an example. And they still having to pay the mortgage on that. They don't own it outright. So they are still going to have to pay the banks... Well, the banks are now saying they'll be much more lenient on that and so on. But I think the other argument to it as well, and I understand both sides of that personal argument, the other argument is if you evict them, nobody's going to come back in and start that business again at the moment, anyway, so why not just leave them?
Good luck finding someone to start renting that place.
So I think that's really the case. But it's, just in a general sense, we're looking at this and saying, "This is an emergency." This is not saying, "We're going to change the law and never allow commercial landlords to evict tenants in the future." We're simply saying that a six month moratorium, we hope we're over the hump where people can start operating again and we'll go back to business as usual. But if you make drastic changes by evicting tenants and things, then both sides are going to be adversely affected by that and take longer to recover.
Do you think this is going to be significantly worse than the GFC of 2008, the global financial crisis?
It already is.
And do you... Well, do you think it's on par to be worse than the Great Depression?
Well, the Depression went on for years, and that was really solved in the United States anyway by changing the banking laws, and I won't go into the details of that because it's not really Australian history or anything that I'm an expert on.
But what do you want to talk a little bit about what happened, why the Great Depression took place?
Well, it was... It's... Most economic crashes are always interesting from a philosophical point of view, because anybody who invests in the stock market is not actually investing in the profitability and the ongoing financial stability of the companies that they are buying. Now, that's how it's sold. And everybody talks about, "What's your return going to be? What's the likelihood of this company still being here in two years?" And all that. That's all superficial. What you're actually betting on is that everybody else in the world thinks the same way you do, because as soon as you get a few people panicking, like we had...
There's no reason to suspect that most of the companies in the stock exchanges around the world were going to be severely adversely affected in the long term by this crisis. But we had a bigger crash in the stock market than we had in the GFC, and the GFC was a genuine financial crash. The banks were simply having to foreclose on loans because people couldn't afford to pay them anymore. Banks were lending more money than people could afford to pay and just basically handing it out. And then when those people couldn't afford to pay, even the banks were losing money because they were taking back the, usually, houses or businesses from those people who couldn't afford to pay and the banks couldn't sell them for enough in order to do it. So the banking system crashed. In this case, people just panicked.
People said, "Oh, the price of these shares is going to go down, so I'm going to sell." And that's the problem we've had, is that the panic-selling in the share market was the same trigger as the panic-buying that we had in supermarkets. And so, I mean, I am of firm opinion that governments around the world, and the governments don't actually have the right to do it, at least not in Australia, governments around the world should have pushed their stock exchanges, the major stock exchanges, to simply close for a week and say, "Shut down," because this panic is unreasonable and will give us time to sort through the finances and then open up once people have had the panic but not had to react to the panic.
Now there'll be a smaller reaction once they're open again, but yeah... We had huge losses. We've lost 30% on the Australian Stock Exchange and it's not the business... The businesses... It makes no difference to a business as to whether or not their shares are worth $10 or $12 or $20. They're still going to operate. The people that are investing in them are the people that it's affecting. You know, if you've got money invested in the stocks... Stocks and shares, then all of a sudden they're worth less then your investment is worth less. And that's going to take time to recover.
How is that going to trickle down to the average person? If you want to talk about, whether you're in Australia or elsewhere in the world, whether domestic stock exchanges or the global ones, how is that going to change the life of the average person who's invested in the stock exchange?
Well, even... And there's probably a minority of people who are investing directly in the stock exchange, but almost every working person in Australia has a superannuation account, whether it is a self-funded account or it is they're investing in a commercial fund through their employer. All of those superannuation funds have the majority of their investments in the stock market. They are diversified into business and some are in cash and other commodities like gold and so on, but the majority of them are in the stock market. So the superannuation funds are going to be worth less, which means that it takes a lot longer... Like the GFC, your mother and I had a plan years ago that we would retire at 60.
And our finances would work out on that basis, that we had assumed that our superannuation was going to get to the point where we'd be financially able to do that, and that our other investments would allow us to top up on that. The GFC hit and the crash in the value of those superannuation things meant that we needed to work longer in order to maintain that. It basically took us five years from the GFC to get back to the status of our superannuation accounts then. So we're five years behind the eight ball.
So you basically worked five years for free?
Basically. Certainly in terms of the superannuation, obviously we're earning an income, but... So that's really the hit and a lot of people are not going to feel it immediately, unless you are a self-funded retiree. If you're a self-funded retiree, you're suddenly got 30% less investment that you're drawing on, which either means you have to draw less or it's going to run out faster.
Yeah, it's going to be really interesting to see this. As I said to you... I'm not sure if I mentioned this on the podcast, but it's going to be really interesting to say the documentaries that are made breaking everything down once the dust settles and it's all said and done and the results are there because we are effectively having this experiment play out in replicates that are countries and nations all over the world, right. And no one knows what the right path is to take, right. That's why we have such different approaches to dealing with this this virus. So it's going to be really, really interesting to see...
Would you say, like a post-mortem breakdown of our reactions?
Avoiding the unfortunate pun. But yeah, it will be. And it'll be interesting to look at how different countries and different jurisdictions within countries coped and whether, in hindsight, the things that they were doing and the decisions they were making actually helped.
There's been obviously a lot of mud being flung at China and from China to the rest of the world, and obviously it's a bit of a contentious topic to talk about. But whether China or not, what responsibility do you think the country where these sorts of outbreaks originate, what sort of responsibility do you think they bear, ultimately?
Well, they have to bear a significant amount, not necessarily all of, or the majority of, but a significant amount of the responsibility on two case... On two grounds. Firstly, that it was the behaviour of individual humans, in this case, that caused the virus to transfer from animals into people. And so that is a cultural thing. And this is not about being racist. This is just simply saying that's a cultural practice, in some countries, of eating wild animals without the appropriate butchering techniques and things that typically many other countries use. So there is more likelihood of those zoonotic diseases. That is, diseases transferring from animals to humans, of occurring in some cultures.
The second thing is, once you've identified it, how well you cope with it internally, and what communications you give, so that other countries can immediately react. And we will never know how well China handled this internally, because we don't understand and we're never going to hear... And China is never going to even announce it to their own people as to what they did and when they could have and so on. Everything that we hear about is us, now, is us really just hypothesising on what they did and what they could have done sooner.
So I think, you know, one of the things that we can do is... And we're fortunate in a sense of going back to things like SARS, which did come out of Asia, but it mostly it was happening in Hong Kong. And Hong Kong, even though they're technically part of China, they have a much more global communication strategy. And they announced it immediately, took really stringent decisions about how to deal with it, and advised everybody else in the world to do the same thing. And you look at SARS, which ironically is probably still 5 to 10 times more dangerous than the coronavirus in terms of the proportion of people who died from it. It may well be argued that it's less contagious, but it certainly didn't end up being... And remember back to our first conversation, we were talking about that, comparing coronavirus to SARS, and it didn't end up being a major problem because people took those actions much more quickly.
I think that was funny, right? We were talking about that before, coronavirus was bigger than SARS and it suddenly overlapped it and, you know, you were sitting there and you just sort of like, well, "Shit just got real."
And now we're talking about Spanish flu.
Yeah, well... Do we need to be worried about the virus mutating? Because doing a little bit of research about the Spanish flu, and that involves watching half a documentary before I get distracted and forgot to finish it, they were talking about how initially the Spanish flu, ironically called the Spanish flu, started in America and was passed around by the military there who... You know, this was the time of World War One and it came from hospitals or from somewhere in the military, I think. They started getting sick and then it was passed around the world and it mutated and then started killing like crazy. Before that, it wasn't necessarily very lethal. But it all all of a sudden it changed and it was lethal.
And as a quick side, it was called the Spanish flu, because I think they were the only ones that had like an open media, honest media at the time that was open and willing to report on this disease. And that is why it's called the Spanish flu. Not because it originated there.
And Spain were neutral during the war. So, yeah, I think that was the reason that they weren't... Their media and their communications wasn't dominated by propaganda. And they were the country, also, that got hit the worst initially with deaths. It became known as the Spanish flu because it was reported in Spain. It was reported in Spain because a lot of people were dying.
So are you worried about it mutating? And people... I haven't heard anyone talking about worrying about this virus suddenly changing.
Well, it's a worry, but there's nothing we can do about it. It will mutate or it won't mutate. You never know. There's a significant chance that it will mutate and be less virulent. Because realistically, a virus is going to survive, in its present state, much better by not killing people.
Well, that's the ironic thing, right? Because we think of diseases being deadly, being the ones that spread the fastest and being really dangerous. But we don't realise that it's kind of like a fire burning, right. If it burns really, really hot and fast, it tends to run out of fuel very quickly and the fire burns itself out. Whereas if it's a slow burn, it actually goes a lot longer. And so ultimately, the best strategy for a virus, evolutionary speaking, is not killing you and maintaining under the radar in your body by not causing too many symptoms that your body's going to react to for as long as possible so that it can be transferred to other hosts, right.
And the ultimate goal would be to insert itself into your DNA, which is why we have so many retroviruses in our intron DNA that are actually benign. But yes, things often become a lot less deadly in order to maintain themselves, right. Like I think we have with the calicivirus, which was the deadly rabbit virus that Australia released into the wild... We found this virus out of I don't know where. But it was shown to be something like 99% lethal to rabbits. To try and control the rabbits we released it and within 10 years, rabbit populations were effectively back to what they were and the calicivirus was no longer an issue. But it also had completely changed in the way that it was affecting rabbits. It was no longer killing them. It was, in order to maintain itself, it had to have actually mutated to be a lot less virulent, right.
Yeah. And at the same time, the surviving rabbits were more resistant to it. And so it was sort of that dual evolution. Parallel evolution, in the sense of rabbit populations changing on the basis that only the resistant ones survived and the virus is changing on the basis that you don't want to kill your host. And look, the most common virus in the world is the common cold. And it works really successfully because most people are not adversely affected by it, which means that they still carry on day to day activities and it spreads really quickly.
Well, how many times have you had a sore throat or a cough and it's never led to fever or being taken out of the...
A bit of a spiffle and a cough and maybe a headache for about half a day. And you go, all right "I'm a bit sick."
And strategically, that's the best thing.
It's not debilitating enough to stop you from going shopping or going to work or doing any of those things. So you spread it around really quickly, but nobody else is affected by it either, really.
Yeah, it's crazy. I was looking at the virulence of these viruses and I think, on average, coronavirus, like the common cold, will spread from one person to two and a half other people. And measles will spread to 16. To put that in context. Like, I had no idea that measles was so much more contagious. Why is that?
Well, I... I'm not a virologist, so apologies to our friends who are virologist and epidemiologists. But I suspect that the measles virus is much more resistant to environmental change. So a lot of the coronaviruses, like the flu and the cold and SARS and apparently this one, they will only survive outside a human body for a matter of hours, where I think things like measles will survive for days. And so if you've got somebody who is suffering from measles and they're sneezing on something or they're wiping their face and then rubbing their hand on a banister up a railway station, railway line or whatever... And I think those sort of things means that it's going to hang around longer in the wild, if you like.
That's the reason. It's much it's not necessarily how it's transmitted in terms of, you know, the person sneezes 16 times further or something because it's violent. It's more it just has staying power and it survives a lot longer on surfaces.
I think that... That's my hypothesis anyway.
It was always interesting because I remember growing up and always hearing about AIDS being a really weak virus, but simultaneously being an incredibly big problem in America, in the gay communities. In Africa, in different communities. Obviously, it was probably a problem everywhere in the world after it spread. But why was AIDS always referred to as such a weak virus when it seemed to be so successful in killing people and being such a big problem?
Well, the virus itself doesn't survive outside the body for much more than a few minutes, and simply washing with warm soapy water will be fine.
Like the common cold and so on. The case with AIDS, though, is that it was transmitted through body fluids. So people are not going to stop having sex, that they might say, "Oh, I'm going to socially isolate myself, I'm not going to go shaking hands, I'm not going to do this." But they're still going to be kissing and having sex. So I think those sort of viruses that are transmitted via intimate human contact, rather than just landing on surfaces and people picking them up, are much more challenging to spread on.
Here's a question to sort of set you off. What was so offensive about the pope saying that people shouldn't use contraception to try and stop AIDS in Africa? Because there was a movement when that was much more prevalent, and it is probably still happening now, where they were trying to get people to just at least use sexual contraception to stop the spread of AIDS. And I remember the pope coming out...
I know the Gates Foundation were donating hundreds of millions of condoms to to Africa to hand out to people for free.
And yes, pope came up with it. Well, what was so offensive about the pope saying that? He's a bloody idiot. That was what was offensive about it. What's more important, the Catholic tradition or saving tens of millions of lives?
Well, that would be their argument, right? It's like, well, "It doesn't really matter about your life in the here and now. We're trying to save souls and get them into heaven. And if they have sex, outside of marriage or, you know, wantonly, then they're potentially sinning and not going to be sent to heaven." Right. But yeah... That was... I remember that...
Because if you're a Catholic you can just say, "Oh, I'll plead for forgiveness on my deathbed," and then you'll be fine.
Yeah. But I remember that being a big issue where it was like, look, people are clearly doing it anyway. They don't care about... Religion or not, they're going to have sex, as you say. And so you might as well get them to use a condom and do it safely and hopefully stem the spread in something like HIV.
And again, this is one of those bizarre things, is that there was nobody saying, "Use a condom to stop getting pregnant."
There were people saying, "Use a condom to stop transmitting disease." And so this was not about contraception. This is about protecting yourself from disease. And so that was the offensive thing, I think. And that was why I said the pope was a bloody idiot for saying it, because it wasn't thought through.
This was not about, you know, tens of millions of people in Africa being encouraged to stop having children. This is, and people say, you know, "We know you were going to have sex. Do it safely like the rest of the world seems to accept." So...
What else was I going to get on? Oh, do you want to talk about the first pandemic in Australia? Did you see that news article come out about... I believe it was 1789. So to give a bit of a background, the first fleet arrives in Australia in 1788. 15 months later, they start seeing indigenous Australians dying of smallpox everywhere. And it was brutal. It had something like between 50 and 90% mortality. You had... I think some of the people writing diaries like Watkin Tench And, I think, William Bradley saying that they were finding caves full of just dead indigenous people, everywhere, dying from this disease, dropping like flies everywhere, that it was spreading through.
And that was one of the first, I guess, instances of a pandemic in Australia. But the weird thing was that when the first fleet came out to Australia, everyone on it was really healthy, relatively speaking. And even if they had had smallpox when the fleet left, by the time that it got there, after 252 days, whatever that is, you know, three quarters of a year, the people would have either died from it, the virus then would have died, and anyone who survived would have been immune to it. So the First Fleet didn't bring smallpox to Australia in that sense. But the story was saying the weird thing was that doctors brought scabs of smallpox in little vials, in little jars.
And what they would do is crush them up and get people to sniff them in order to get a milder version of smallpox that wouldn't kill them, that would then make them immune. And this was... To put that in context, this was 70 years before germ theory. So it was 70 years before anyone had a microscope or a bacterium, had any idea about how death and disease and all of that stuff spread, that you need to wash your hands, because... I mean, I think they had an idea about staying clean, but they didn't understand, you know, coughing in someone's face would give them a cold virus or whatever and spread it around. Do you want to just talk about that, and that situation? And yeah, I don;t know. I thought it was an interesting story worth discussing.
It is an interesting one. There's a couple of aspects for that. One is that smallpox was the first disease that I'm aware of, that there was vaccination practices for. From the 18th century, as you've already recognised, people were getting vaccinated against smallpox with live vaccine. They were basically being given, effectively, a very low dose of the disease. And most people recovered from it.
How did receiving the virus in that form not give them full-blown smallpox that then killed them, but only a milder dose? I mean, I'm sure there's an answer to it.
I don't know. I'm not a virologist. But I suspect it is because there were probably very few viruses in those samples.
And it wasn't just that. I think that was the strategy that was being used in that first fleet, but certainly in Europe at the time and in America, I understand, that people were being effectively scratched with a needle... They weren't injected with it because they simply didn't have the technology to build hypodermic syringe needles at the time, but they were being scratched with a needle that had been dipped in the blood of somebody who had had that disease. And so that, again, very small amounts of it. And so obviously, it worked. I think the other reason it worked in Europe is that smallpox had been around for thousands of years in Europe. So there was an inherent herd immunity to smallpox.
Everybody in Europe would have been at least partially immune. Some people would have been less immune than others and therefore got sick and died. But in the case of the Aboriginal Australians, they had never been exposed to a smallpox virus or any of those, that family of viruses before. So they had zero immunity to it.
So for context... In Britain, it would have been like the common cold where smallpox was just omnipresent in the population. It just goes around and comes in waves.
It's like a flu that, you know, the flu goes around. And even now in Australia, hundreds of people die every year from influenza. But most of us don't because influenza has been around for hundreds of years. And we have built up a sort of an immunity, general immunity to it. And it's only those people who are severely affected, or in mostly that are otherwise either immunocompromised or compromised from respiratory disease already, that suffer from it. So I think that was the case in Australia that, you know... Even though there may well have been people who had... Were carrying smallpox but were resistant to it, themselves, and it was just being transmitted from person to person that way.
Well the problem was, too, I think you had so many different explorers like Dampier, like Cook, like Flinders, all these explorers. Even the Dutch explorers coming and making landfall, interacting with the indigenous populations. You had the Indonesian Muslims from Makassar coming down and looking for trepang in the waters and trading within the indigenous Australians for the last 400 years, whilst also the Dutch East Indies company and the British East Indies company was there with smallpox. So it was in and around the place. But do you want to talk about the role of disease like this and colonisation? Because it seems like this experiment has been played out multiple times in both Australia... Both in Australia, South America and in the United States, Canada, Mexico, when they first get colonised...
And in Africa.
Africa as well. Yeah. They first get colonised, these diseases seem to be the cat that gets let out of the bag and it wipes out the population way before the majority of the population ever even sees a colonist, right, or even hears about it. It probably spreads faster than word of mouth.
Well it does, and because, as you say, when we're talking about 18th century and before, here. And even up until the middle of the 19th century, people just didn't understand germ theory. They had no idea of what was causing disease. And the most famous disease in Europe, the plague. People used to be horrified by... About going near somebody who had the plague because they thought they could catch it. And at that time, most people thought that there was this concept of this disease, miasma, of something in the air that was causing the disease. And that if you went anywhere near somebody with it, you would catch it. Now, ironically, that's true for many diseases. We have this known miasma, but it's just literally droplets being sneezed and coughed out of somebody or being spread by hand to surface or hand to hand contact that is actually creating those contagions.
But the plague was caused by something that was transmitted from fleas and the fleas were carried around by rats. So they got rid of the rats, you couldn't get the plague. It doesn't matter whether there was somebody else in the house that had it. As long as I didn't have fleas, you were fine.
And so... And that was the sort of level of misunderstanding of what was causing diseases at the time.
And so to pause you there, some of the interesting stuff with the First Fleet was that... I think Arthur Phillip knew that... I think he had an idea of bad humors, right. So the different decks below would get full of hot, humid air with people sick and he would think, "I need to clear out the bad humors that are in this area, clear the air out." And so it's ironic that... Although he was... He was doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, by getting people up on deck and allowing them to get fresh air, trying to keep them healthy, he was probably avoiding them getting diseases and dying, but his thought was just that putrid air contained the essence of disease in and of itself.
Social distancing basically. If you're helping ran on deck, rather than having people literally lying body to body in yet and lying in filth, then... And there's a lot of those things where those diseases, like typhoid and cholera and so on, are caused by just really bad hygiene. And so getting people out of those decks and keeping them clean was going to be useful.
So what was it like in in South America? I know that Columbus showed up there in the 1500s, right? Maybe late 1400s and...
Showed up in what we now call the West Indies in 1492.
And something like eventually 90% of the indigenous population in both South America and North America were wiped out by disease alone, right. Not just humans coming in there. So that happened and that was obviously... You know, there were people dropping dead before they'd even heard of Columbus getting there. But there is a myth, I think, I don't know. But there is this story that goes around that colonists like Columbus, or like the Americans that first went there - the British, and the British that came to Australia, were handing out blankets ridden with disease intentionally to kill the locals. Is there any evidence for that actually ever having taken place, especially before germ theory?
I haven't seen any evidence of that. I think it's... You're right, it's this sort of urban historical myth that, you know, once somebody says it, then it becomes fact. It's like the lemmings concept of plagues of lemmings, little small rodents, when their population increases too much, they all go and jump off cliffs. That never happened. Has never happened. The only time it was ever recorded was when there was a film crew filming this area and this plague of rodents were running away from them and had to fall off the cliff!
They scared them off the cliff themselves!
And so a Disney film crew recorded something and it's then became part of population biology. And when I was studying biology in the 1970s, it was talked about as being a population monitoring and population reduction strategy. So it became part of the scientific evidence with no evidence. So I think that's one of those things where you get these stories and they sound plausible and they suit both sides to argue.
So it tends to be Occam's Razor, though right, because that that seems to me like a very roundabout way of trying to kill the local population. When you had guns...
Just go and spit on them.
Well, not even that, but you had guns. You had swords. And they wantonly used those quite often in order to kill people. So it's like, "Why would you hedge your bets on this rug that you were going to hand over to them, wiping out the population?" I mean, it doesn't seem like a very solid strategy at the time. You know, hindsight's a beautiful thing. Yeah. Anyway... That was an interesting story. I was really, really interested in just those initial times because it seemed like no one knew what was going on with the interaction between indigenous people and then how they got these plagues and they were reacting to them and becoming, you know... They were very naive to those diseases and how they had such stark ramifications.
Exactly. If you don't if you don't understand the epidemiology of a disease, let alone the physiology of it, then you're just going to assume that, you know, "If I'm not sick, I'm going to assume that I can go anywhere, and no, I'm not going to pass the disease on. The fact that I'm carrying a disease and I'm resistant to it means I'm not sick." But nobody understood that was even possible, so...
Do you think that in terms of Australia, South America and North America and even Africa, that a big reason that colonisation could move forward was, in large part, due to diseases like that spreading, more so than just the clearing of the land or the pushing of people off the land?
Yeah, I don't know whether it's more or less. We can hypothesise on that. But it was certainly a significant contribution to it, along with a number of other factors, but if the people who are defending their land are dying from disease, then they're going to be less able to defend it. Then there's a whole lot of other reasons, more aggressive and intentional reasons, that are going to influence it as well. But I think disease and, as we've talked, about disease into indigenous populations has been a common theme amongst colonisation.
Yeah. It's a very tragic thing. Moving on to some sort of last stories, did you hear about the dog attack that happened on New South Wales beaches where a 91 year old woman was killed and 4 others were injured?
Yeah, I did. Why was somebody walking the dog on the beach in the first place?
Well, you can go down that road if you want.
Why is someone walking that dog on the beach is the next thing.
I think there were multiple dogs and I think they'd gotten out of a home there nearby. I guess this led me to want to ask you about why we don't see many street cats and dogs in Australia, because this was something that Kel asked me when we first got together. She was like, "In Brazil, there are dogs and cats everywhere. We have, whether or not they're owned by people with collars or they're just straight dogs and cats that have been born and bred on the streets." Australia seems to have zero. Why don't you see that?
In urban areas that's true.
Yeah. Why is that the case?
Because it was more the case, even when I was growing up in the 50s and the 60s. You didn't see a lot of... Yeah. Not like you go to... well, I've never been to Brazil, but you go to the Philippines or India as two examples and there are wild street animals everywhere. And India, there are cattle wandering around, but they're owned.
But they just left to wander. And but yeah, there are dogs and cats, in particular, everywhere. And I'll come back to that and make another point if I remember. But even in Australia, when pets were allowed to... And even now, it's very few people, certainly in the 50s and 60s, kept their cats indoors. A lot of people would keep their dogs in a yard, but often they'd leave gates open and... Not unintentionally, but the gates would just be open. We did when we were kids, our dog just roamed the street. He never went very far. He didn't sort of wander round the suburb all day. He just sort of sat out in the road and, you know, another dog would come past and they'd either have a lick or a fight or whatever, but...
So there were there were animals around. But we didn't have that base population, I think, of wild urban animals that are just breeding. So we've always had this idea in Australia of keeping pets as pets, rather than certainly in Europe and Asia, and in Asia it had been a very common thing for centuries where people kept domesticated animals undomesticated. So, you know, cats and dogs. And the thing I was going to come back to is, you know, this is a bit of a epidemiologist gag, but you know what caused the plague in Europe?
Lack of cats?
So everyone went and killed cats?
Yeah. People didn't keep cats as pets and they actively killed them because cats were associated with witches in the medieval and dark ages. Medieval times and the dark ages. And so when rats came from Asia and were carrying the fleas that were carrying the contagion for the plague, there were no cats to kill them. You know, rats weren't a problem in most Asian cities because there were enough cats around to keep the population low.
And so we ended up with a plague of rats bringing the plague?
Which caused the plague. And so I think that tradition in Australia has always been that, you know, domestic animals are for domestic purposes and we keep them as pets and we keep them either enclosed or under control, where many other places in the world don't do that. And even if they wanted to, now, that... To really stretch a pun; the cat is out of the bag. Like wild cats are in Australia out in the bush, not in cities. But we'll never get rid of feral cats in Australia. But there are very few of them around urban populations in comparison with the number of pet Maltese sitting on people's beds and couches.
Well, we've got, I think, at least three times as many wild cats in Australia as we do domestic ones, and they do untold damage, killing billions of animals a year. But they just seem to be the ultimate predator. They're all... They're not living in groups, they're incredibly hard to root out of, you know, nature. You have to track them individually. Yeah, it seems nuts. But what has it been like since you were growing up, in terms of cats and keeping them inside? Because it seems like, at least in my lifetime, we've moved heavily towards, "Cats are an inside pet," now.
Yeah, well, when I was a kid we had, you know, we had a dog when I was young. But then when he passed away, we had cats. And those cats were... Yes, they slept inside and whatever. But if they wanted to go out, we'd let them out. They wouldn't be out at night. But that was mostly because we, as kids, wanted them inside sleeping on our beds. And many people literally brought the dog in at night and put the cat out.
That reminds me of the introduction to The Flintstones, right, where they put the dinosaur on the front porch.
Dino being tossed out the door and climbing back in the window.
Yeah. So that the whole thing was that, you know, particularly cats, but dogs to some extent as well, were just let roam. But obviously now, many people are treating cats as feral animals if you let them out. And a dog you can control just with some sensible fencing. Most dogs are not going to climb fences or jump over a 1.5 to 2 metre fence that many of our urban residential places have built as a standard fence.
But cats are arboreal, so they're like, "Bring it on."
Cats just... A fence is just a minor...
"That was slightly annoying. That was slightly inconvenient."
"Oh, that was actually good fun, climbing over that."
Unless you're my old cat, Merlin, that would climb up trees when we let him outside and wouldn't be able to get down, right.
No. Well, he panicked.
But that would tend to be the issue, right. People, I think, became a lot more aware of cats and the amount of damage they were doing to wildlife because I can remember when we were growing up, you let our cats out and they would quite often bring dead rats, dead birds and just drop them on the porch as a gift, right. Dead lizards. And I think that by and large, we just started appreciating that, "Holy crap. They're killing a lot of wildlife."
Cats are indoor animals.
On top of that, people became a lot more worried about vet bills, right.
And if you let cats out quite often they were territorial and they would get into fights or they would get knocked up. And so now we have keeping the cats inside...
Or killed on roads.
Yes. So that they don't get run over. They don't get knocked up or they don't knock up other pets, you know, make them pregnant. So they get spayed as well, spayed and neutered. And yeah, they don't kill the wildlife, right.
Yeah. Cats are indoor... Like, we've got two cats. They're indoors, but we have a little outdoor enclosure that they have a, you know, a cat door, a small version of a doggie door, that they can go in and out to. So they get the experience of being outside, but it's effectively a big cage.
Yeah. All right. Well, that's all I sort of really had for this week.
We've done the cats but I've got a puppies and kittens story for us.
Yeah. Go for it.
The Darling River is flowing.
Good. Yeah, I think...
The Lower Darling River has water in it. So there'd been water in the Darling River for the last couple of weeks. So two of the main tributaries upstream in northern New South Wales, southern Queensland, have had significant rain in their catchment areas. And so the Darling River, which has been dry at Menindee and lower, in central New South Wales for the last three years; they've had no water at all. And remember, about a year ago, some of even the little ponds, they had no flow of water. Some of the deeper pond areas were starting to dry up to the point where they were becoming saline and toxic and we had huge fish kills at that time. And now those same places have got water flowing and the Darling River, like the Murray River in Australia, has... Obviously we don't have a huge drop in elevation. So there's long distances and they build fairly low, weirs, not dams as such to hold back the water, but weirs to hold back a little bit of it. And Weir 32, which is just outside Menindee, is overflowing. So there's enough water to go downstream now and they're expecting it to fill the Darling River within the next month. How long it lasts is a different story.
What's the difference between a weir and a dam?
Well, the weir is meant to control water flow. A dam is meant to stop water flow.
So the weir is like a small wall over...
It's a dam which... They're effectively the same thing. But the... A dam wall, in a sense of capturing water, is effectively trying to create a lake behind the wall to capture the water for domestic, commercial and industrial and farming use. But we're, in this case, we're talking about... This is really just meant to stop the flow of water, to enable water to settle for a while in shallow areas. So it's, you know, I think that weir is probably a metre high and it's in no way filling up the banks of the river. But it's this water flowing over it. So there's this sort of footage of water flowing over the Weir 32, which has had no water over it for three years.
They tend to be some of the sort of contentious issues. I think down in Tasmania they were wanting to build dams on some of the rivers there, right, but they ended up getting cancelled. Why can't we build dams on on rivers? What's the downside?
Well, you know, obviously, the upside... In the case of Tasmania, it's not water storage for using water, for drinking or other purposes.
Because they've got plenty of it.
They've got plenty of it. Yeah. Water is literally falling out of the sky in Tasmania. But it's for hydroelectricity. Tasmania's electricity is almost entirely hydro. In fact, they don't have any non hydro power stations there. Any known hydro they get by... They tap into the Victorian power system if they are in a peak where they hydro can't operate it. So there was that, in a sense, of saying, "Do we need more electricity in Tasmania?" And this was happening in the 70s and the 80s.
And there were two really big pushes, one in the 70s for lake Pedder, which was already a lake, but the plan was to dam the river that was running into it. And then effectively fill the lake beyond its normal capacity. And they basically killed the lake. Lake Pedder still exists, but it's now like an artificial dam where it doesn't have banks and water flow going through it and those sort of things that you've seen for hundreds of years.
What effect does that have on the wildlife? Why is it so negative for the local ecosystem?
Well, obviously, you can still retain some species of fish and plenty of invertebrates and things in a large lake, which is effectively a large still like. But we've got a lake that is evaporating and filling and water is flowing through it when it's flooding and so on. You have a much greater diversity of wildlife that can survive in there. And so many fish species rely on those areas to breed in. And then other fish species require that water to be flowing downstream and so on.
So that tends to be one of those...
It's just the body of water. It's different.
So that tends to be one of those issues with humans, where we want stability and the environment, quite often, wants to be dynamic and have those changes occur in order to stay healthy, which sort of has echoed through Australia in terms of, say, burning with... Indigenous burning of land and having that common turn over, which has ripple effects out into the ecosystem, as soon as we just say, "Actually, fire's bad. Don't burn things anymore." We end up with, you know, a very homogeneous environment full of flammable stuff that damages the ecosystem.
So the irony is that there was very limited defence of lake Pedder in the 70s. And then in the early 80s, the Franklin and Gordon Rivers was another one where they were, you know, the Tasmanian government wanted to dam them. And the arguments there were not so much around broad environmental issues around wildlife and those sort of things, most of them were aesthetic. They were simply saying, "We do not want to destroy a place that is so beautiful." And in the case of like Pedder, it failed. In the case of the Franklin-Gordon system, it succeeded. And the irony of that is that you can drive to like Pedder. You can go and see it.
Again, if you got to build a dam somewhere, you have to build a road to get to it. So you can go on drive to like Pedder and go and see it. But the most beautiful parts of the Franklin and Gordon Rivers, you have to hike for days through wilderness to get to these places. And a lot of sort of non-conservationist, non-environmental argument was around, "Well, who cares? This place might be beautiful, but nobody's ever going to see it."
If a tree falls in the woods does anyone here it?
And the... Those two cases in the 70s and the 80s were really brought to light by two Tasmanian photographers, both of whom happen to be European immigrants to Australia. Olegas Truchanas was the one who was fighting and... Not leading the political fight, but he was in photographing Lake Pedder and taking these beautiful photographs. And a lot of them were being published in newspapers and magazines and things saying, "We don't want to destroy this beautiful place." He failed, but his protege, Peter Dombrovskis, in the 80s... He was walking in, and he was a wild photographer. He used to do adventure wilderness photography. He was walking into the Franklin and Gordon and taking photographs.
And he took a photograph, possibly the most famous conservation photograph in Australia, of a beautiful location in the Franklin River. And it became public... So widely publicised at the time that the whole 'No Dams' thing came up and said, "Look, we can't destroy this." And Bob Hawke got elected partially on the basis of saying that if he got into federal parliament, if the Labour Party got elected, they would block the damming of the Franklin and Gordon Rivers. And it happened and it worked. Sadly, both of those photographers died photographing in the wild. Olegas Truchanas allegedly died next to one of the wild rivers.
His tripod fell into the river and he leaned in to get it and got washed away. And Peter Donbrovskis died of a heart attack when he was out walking in the wilderness and was found a few days later. He was walking by himself and was found a few days later. So, yeah, just it's one of those sort of sad stories, but ironic stories around... These were people who were trying to save the wilderness and the wilderness took them both in the end.
Far out. Well, Dad, thanks so much for coming on.
It's a pleasure, Pete. Hopefully, sometime soon, we can do this in the same location, but we'll see if this technology worked.
I know. Thanks. I'll chat to you soon.
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