With current “big issue” blows hitting our environment both north and south (dredging spoils in the Great Barrier Reef, winding back Tasmania’s World Heritage areas), talking about litter may appear trivial. Yet our planet suffers from the cumulative effect of discarded waste: items like plastic bags and balloons. And we can do something about it. Some of this waste can be avoided, but it will take awareness, effort, and probably legislation.
Late last year, a petition lodged in the Queensland Legislative Assembly called for a ban on the mass release of helium balloons. Talk about unlucky timing. The story suffocated underneath the silt-like slurry of the week’s big environment story, that Environment Minister Greg Hunt had approved the major expansion of a coal port at Abbot Point. In comparison, balloons seemed beyond trival. The issue didn’t even raise enough hot air to rustle up the usual chorus of “nanny state” calls.
But the balloon release campaign raises an important – if not so eco-dramatic – point about sustainability. Rubbish. Particularly, legitimising litter. What happens when balloons are released? Don’t they just go up, up, and away? Away? There is no “away”. A flock of balloons makes pretty litter. They rise. Some fall to land or sea whole. Others shatter at altitude, and smaller pieces return.
Industry asserts these fragments are benign. The phrase rolling around the Internet sounds like this: “Balloons decompose at the same rate as an oak leaf.” The balloon lobby has been enlightening local councils with this nugget since the late-1980s, when this “oak leaf” study was commissioned. (By Du Pont.) A researcher dried balloon pieces then left them outside, in earth and in water, for six weeks. The balloons did not decompose completely by the end of the study: they broke into smaller pieces.
Last year, at the University of Queensland Moreton Bay Research Station on Stradbroke Island, I observed Honours student Lauren Roman conduct necropsies on seabirds found dead along the coasts of Queensland and northern NSW. These birds showed signs of malnutrition. All had plastic fragments in their stomachs. Some contained pieces of balloon. One shearwater’s gut was so full of balloon fragments they had backed up its esophagus. I do not doubt that this bird starved to death because its stomach was stuffed with fragments of latex balloon, leaving no space for real nourishment.
Balloon debris is deadly litter.
But hang on. My kids have a right to fun and wonder. My loved ones have a right to celebrate my life by releasing latex helium-filled balloons at my funeral. Banning balloons? That’s demonising the universal symbol for “party”. What’s next for the fun police? Face painting?
Understandably, the Balloon Artists and Suppliers Association (BASA) rejects calls for a balloon release ban. BASA’s Queensland president Gunter Blum believes a ban would affect “a thousand (balloon) suppliers in Queensland.”
It’s not about the actual ban, he adds, rather a knock-on “perception that helium balloons are bad.” BASA wants to do the right thing. Their guidelines encourage responsible releases: no plastic ties, degradable string. They also want to sell balloons.
Addressing the petition, Environment Minister Andrew Powell acknowledged balloons “have potential to create an environmental impact… (particularly) in the marine environment where they may be eaten by turtles and other animals.” Powell’s position is that a ban is not the best way to address this, preferring to invest in “education and awareness, along with partnerships with industry sectors and peak bodies such as the Balloon Artists and Suppliers Association” as the most effective way to reduce balloon litter. However, Blum concedes that, at 26 members, BASA does not have the ears of the large majority of balloon suppliers. With such low industry representation, the government would not be dealing with the majority of balloon sellers.
Keep Queensland Beautiful CEO Rick Burnett believes this is a litter issue. “Helium balloons are litter about to happen,” he says. “Litter is an environmental problem that is growing with population growth and lack of awareness. Helium balloons are one of many forms of litter.” New South Wales banned releases of more than 20 balloons years ago. So has the Sunshine Coast Regional Council, due to concern about the impact of balloon debris in the marine environment.
Superfluous regulation is this government’s avowed bête noir. (Unless, of course, you’re a bikie.) The Environment Minister doesn’t want a ban. Yet legitimising the mass release of helium balloons by NOT banning them gives a covert message to the public that it’s ok to litter.
Balloons are not bad. Letting them go is.
I’d extend a ban to halt handing out free helium balloons for any public promotion. Did anyone who attended last year’s Ekka count the number of escaped LNP balloons rising skyward? I gave up at 50. Where did that litter all go? Even BASA concedes that balloons escape. Of 1500 balloons they handed out a recent tunnel launch, Blum counted 113 on the roof of the tunnel a couple of hours later. Lucky the tunnel had a roof.
Releasing helium balloons is littering. We prosecute other forms of littering. Why legitimise this shiny one? Caroline Gardam is a Queensland writer and ethical marketer. Last year, she worked with Queensland Conservation to launch the Plastic Bag Free Queensland campaign.
It’s happening. I may be turning into a semi-hipster.
It’s the craft thing, see.
It started with an innocent workshop at the local library.
Crochet your own granny square. I always wanted to do that. There was one space left. And so, braced as I was against an earth-shattering hangover one Saturday, I learned how to crochet (a granny square).
A year later, I have over 60 and I’m still crocheting.
Next, I caught myself planting succulent cuttings in shells.
For a while, there was also some baking happening in my life. But we won’t talk about that.
I got craftier.
I bound banksia pods in aged old bamboo steamers, then attached orchids.
I hung shell strands from trees. Sketched stuff. Contemplated pom pom pictures.
Then, I found myself googling “How to make a rag rug”.
I may need help.
If West End has the highest occurrence of native bee hives in the country, it’s probably due to Dr Tim Heard.
Tim’s an entomological original: one of the pioneer native bee-keepers who’s been dabbling since the 1980s. He wrote an early article about them in Nature magazine in the 1990s. He’s done time on Gardening Australia.
He’s also keeping an eye on the hives he installs around the neighbourhood. Every year or so, Tim’s “hive crawl” sees amateur bee-people* crowding each other’s verandahs and gardens while Tim demonstrates hive splitting and honey extraction.
Last weekend, we were fortunate to have Tim attend to our back deck hive, with a swathe of spectators in tow. (We’d amassed a dozen or so curious kids from around the neighbourhood, too.) Stingless bees don’t sting, but they do give you a little nip if they’re really testy. As soon as the hive was disturbed, the little blighters started swarming. You could tell the blokes who’d done this before. They were the ones wearing hats.
The kids hanging around soon dispersed. Many took souvenir bee pets away in their hair. My youngest found a creative way to stay bee-free, while indulging his Star Wars thing.
*I’m trying to avoid the terms “apiary” and “apiarist”. These terms are derived from “Apis”, which is the scientific term for the honeybee species. “Trigona” and “Austroplebiea” are the genera that Australian stingless bees fall under. In case you were wondering.
Robbing the hive
We started with the honey. Tim prised the top layer off the three-tiered hive. This is where the bees have constructed their honeycomb: it’s food storage for the hive.
In our case, sadly, the bees had also added a bit too much pollen, so our honey was deemed “not ideal”.
The honeycomb — the wax pots holding the honey — was pricked with a sinister-looking device: it’s like a scrubbing brush whose bristles have been replaced by nails. The whole layer was then inverted over a wide container so that the honey could drain out, while we focussed on splitting the hive.
Pollen tastes ok when it’s first been smashed, but too much doesn’t make lovely honey. It’s chewy. The honey resting around the edges of the hive is nicer. You lick that stuff up on your fingers for hours.
When the honey had drained from this first honeycomb pressing, Tim strained it again into a container. (When he’d left, I passed it through butter muslin, twice.) It’s not too sweet, tasting a little smoky, a little fruity. I’ve left it a couple more days, and have noticed pollen has risen to the top. I’ll separate it again, to get really pure honey, but this is probably overkill.
We ended up with about half a kilo of honey, which Tim said was not much.
Our hive was nearly 2 years old, and heavy, man. It was ready to split.
First, the middle layer was carefully removed. Usually, the advancing front (the top layer of the brood’s spiralling structure) would have filled up into this section, and the hive could be split across these two sections. However, our brood was still mainly in the bottom section, surrounded by pollen and honey structures. Tim had to slice a section out, and physically rest it into the new hive box. This box was then placed upside down (so the brood didn’t collapse) in the old hive’s position. We’ll turn it over in about three months, when the bees have created enough structure to support it.
The other hive sat on a chair for a day while we figured out where to put it. (We probably should have planned ahead.) The next night, we put it in the front garden. We did this after sunset, when the bees were inside.
Since the split, we’ve had what the kids call bee wars around the hive on the back deck. This is when another swarm comes and fights your swarm. I’m not sure why; I’ll email the bee man and ask.
If you’ve been following this blog for a few years (and hello to both of you!) you may remember I finished a novella draft over a year ago. And promptly hid the bugger in a drawer, sick of the sound of my own headspace.
Well, I just gave it another edit, and still don’t like it much. Should I chuck it? Start on something more grown-up? Or send this one out to the wolves… that is, call for some kind/unkind/constructive reader feedback?
Memoir. It really should be avoided by all but those with the most interesting, important, timely, or unique stories.
Oh well, tough. I just pulled another old writing exercise out of its box. It’s none of the above. This one’s being set free today because it’s my Superbowl story. It’s also an Ekka story. Does that send you running, screaming in the other direction?
Ros had encouraged me to play with flash pieces: it’s her fault. At least flash memoir is brief.
A visit to the local secondhand bookstore over the holidays wasn’t enough (bagging Malouf, Lessing, Armanno, Lewycka, Modjeska, Murakami, Astley); we fell into the Lifeline Bookfest on the weekend.
I think we came home with about 100 books. The joy was in stumbling into titles that have always been on the “to-read” list: Silent Spring. Cry, The Beloved Country. Slaughterhouse 5. Rabbit, Run. Tender is the Night. My Brother Jack. Gathering some more of latest lit-obsession, Doris Lessing. And Atwood, Steinbeck, Proulx, Scott Fitzgerald, Frame, Waugh, Somerset Maugham, Irving. Replacing my lost copy of Bonjour Tristesse.
Now, for some time to read, perhaps?
It will be the year of structure.
I will make time to write, corral little chunks of hours. Things will be produced*. (*I will find an alternative to the passive voice to avoid that overexposed personal pronoun.)
I have been guilty of calling myself a writer with little to back it up. Let’s be honest.
The latest edition of Island contains an essay, Public Writers, Private Lives, that resonates. Island editor, Matthew Lamb, sniffs “there are a lot of talkers out there”. Lamb will not call himself a writer until he has three books published. Good for him. Guess I am a talker. Also, a mother, event producer, communication consultant, freelancer, critic, gardener, publicist, social media gnat, school volunteer, environmental campaigner, friend, and corporate writer/editor. But writer? Underpublished, unpaid. Fraud. How dare I use this undeserved label, “writer”?
Recently, for the sake of conversational amusement over the party season, I heard myself describing my being a writer as “going through my rejection phase”. Ha ha, snort. 2013 was a year of occasional literary rejection. Good for the spirit.
Must a writer be published to a predetermined level before earning her name? For me, a writer is one who simply must write. Hell, it’s not for the dosh. (According to this report, the average income for Australian writers is $11,000.) Writing is surrendering to the compulsion to deliver these chains of words somewhere. This screen, that notebook, that toilet wall. Even if (like this blog!!!) very few people even read it. Does the audience even count?
Does the audience count? With this in mind, I release below a piece I’ve sent off as a writing sample to two of last years rejecters. Perhaps it’s rubbish. Perhaps I come across as quite a wanker. It’s part of a series of flash writing that my mentor, Ros Petelin, suggested I play around with: stuff that I use as a writing exercise.
The night they freed Nelson MandelaThe night they freed Nelson Mandela we threw a party. The strange thing about this party was that it didn’t take place at our house on Honour Avenue in Chelmer, because that was the house of impromptu parties. Living with someone in a band meant you ended up living with most of the band. Initially JC, Jacinta, and I moved into the Honour Ave house. Jamie moved in later, after a sojourn in Aspen. (He was preppy to our grunge.) Jacinta’s boyfriend Bish lived with us on weekends, when he was down from studying in Gatton. Ian may as well have lived there. Missy, too. It was awesome. Most of us decamped to my friend Mez’s place the night they freed Nelson Mandela, because her parents were away, of course. We played drinking games and danced and skinnydipped. After all, we were 19. We woke in the morning to find JC asleep in a baby’s travel cot. Can’t remember who put him in there. …want more? Here’s the full piece.
Laura Street Festival is one of the greatest. As usual, I’m not great at sticking a phone camera up and digitising the best bits of life:
The lovely little stages on verandas, in back gardens, in garages, under houses
The awesomeness of bands like Lawrence and Clare, playing to a couple handfuls of lucky us sprawled on beanbags and tarps
Sunset from the top of the hill
Gardens full of banana trees and hippies
My son’s arm-dancing
But here are a couple of pics taken self-consciously.
Last night, I met a charming young Scot, a relative of my partner.
Flying back today, he mentioned disappointment in not being able to find more old Go Betweens albums on vinyl in the record stores he visited in Aus. He runs a monthly indie night back home and is a fan of these, as well as some NZ Flying Nun stuff, etc. Which, of course, got us talking about indie 80s music, and had me promising to send a list of some bands from waaaaay back then that he should check out.
My musical nous has atrophied. But to remember the bands I used to see, underage, the gigs we snuck into… What fun.
So instead of any productive work that should be happening on this computer right now*, here we go.
It’s timely; I’ve just watched the poignant “The Sunnyboy”, which may be still available on iView, so there’s a good start. (No, it’s not, and it’s geoblocked; that’s no help. Here’s a link to the promo for the doco: not the same…) So we’ll start there.
A list, youtube links, for Stephen.
So, you’re across the Go Betweens. Which would lead to The Triffids next, perhaps?
Surely you know The Saints? But if not…
If we’re dancing, it would be remiss to not play Lime Spiders’ Slave Girl.
The rest of this iceberg you can google, yourself: Scientists. The Stems. Died Pretty. Cosmic Psychos. Laughing Clowns. Nick Cave. Celibate Rifles. TISM. The Johnnys. Regurgitator. Ups and Downs. Beasts of Bourbon.
…and that’s a quick half hour playing with the mid- to late- 80s. Imagine adding the 90s. This post would never get finished.
One more. In youth’s memory.
As an aside: Why are there no women here? Because my teenage musical taste was a manifest form of latent self-loathing? Nope. There were chicks on my record player, just not Australian chicks. Those ladies arrived in the 90s.
*Besides, it’s day 7 of Mac-ownership, and I may already be agreeing with Franzen. I don’t know if these cool machines are meant for serious writing. The keys seem too glib.