How flat is Australia?

We recently drove down the coast to Mackay, then inland and South to Carnarvon Gorge before returning home via Clermont and Charters Towers. I will write about Cape Hillsborough and the Gorge in due course but first I will share my overwhelming impression from the 1800 km, twenty hour, trip: it’s flat!

Really, really, flat!

We have known for a long time that Australia is flat – old, worn down, eroded, etc – but there’s a difference between book-knowledge and body-knowledge.

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Where did we come from?

Where Did We Come From? is the title of a book written by Carl Zimmer in the wake of the discovery of the “hobbits” of Flores fifteen years ago. It was a very good popular introduction to human evolution.

According to Zimmer, our African ancestors parted company with the ancestors of chimpanzees and bonobos six or seven million years ago to begin developing an upright posture, tool use and, perhaps most importantly, language. Our own species, Homo sapiens, evolved about 200,000 years ago and began spreading out of Africa 130,000 years ago, through Europe, Asia, Australia and, eventually, America. We lived alongside closely related species until comparatively recent times. Neanderthals reached Europe before we did and coexisted with us there until 28,000 years ago, if not later. The ‘hobbits’ of Flores, by far the most spectacular recent discovery in the field, survived as recently as 18,000 years ago, well after Homo sapiens had migrated through South Asia and the islands to Australia.

Given the pace of discovery in the field, Zimmer’s book is now somewhat outdated. This collection of recent articles introduces research which adds depth and complexity to Zimmer’s account without changing its broad outlines. I have assembled them here in evolutionary order. Continue reading “Where did we come from?”

Winter Solstice

Midwinter, the winter solstice, doesn’t mean as much here in the tropics as it does further from the Equator but it’s still a significant turning point.

The winter solstice is always close to June 21 – 22, and this year’s was yesterday, June 21, according to this lovely site. (I chose it partly in memory of a warung (restaurant/cafe/bar) owner’s patient explanation of an amazingly detailed Hindu astrological calendar to me in Bali a year ago.)

According to this site, the solstice was not just generally “June 21” but specifically at 20:06:39. Sunrise was at 06:45:29 and Sunset at 17:43:38, for a Day Duration of 10 Hours 58 Mins 09 Secs. The previous day was 1 second longer and today was the same length as the solstice day.

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Winter is here

wattle in flower
Winter arrived yesterday, with its usual suddenness.

As in most years, a big weather pattern somewhere down South pushed cold, dry air from Central Australia out over the ranges to Townsville. Overnight temperatures dropped, and the humidity crashed. Last year I reckoned the Dry arrived at the end of April, as it did in 2014 and 2015 so we’re running a couple of weeks late this year.

In numbers, the changes are from overnight minimums of 18 – 21 C for the beginning of May down to 13.4 and 10.6 on the nights of the 12th and 13th, and humidity from 55 – 90% down to 16 – 19%.

In daily life that means the cat becomes a permanent lap-rug, if he can get away with it, but we’re not permitted to stroke him because sparks leap painfully from the tips of his ears and tail. Meanwhile, we search for windcheaters we haven’t worn for six months and seek out patches of sunshine in the morning instead of drifting automatically into shade.

Let me be clear, however: I am not complaining. I love this weather, and after a good Wet season I really look forward to it.

Athens

dry hills
The view from Athens airport

Flying into Athens for the first time felt a bit weird because the landscape was so much like that of Townsville: the bright sky, the nearly-bare hills and the parched vegetation we could see from the plane created a near-deja-vu experience: “We flew all this way and nothing has changed?” (The airport itself didn’t do much to alleviate that, either, since it was much more like ours than Dubai’s or Singapore’s.)

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