October’s Reader’s Digest has Gordon Ramsay on the cover, but I’m talking about other devils in its detail – my story about Tasmanian devils thriving in an innovative wild sanctuary high in the hills of Barrington Tops, New South Wales.

It’s a great scheme to help save this deeply endangered Aussie species, and in the article Tim Faulkner – TV wildlife show guy and president of the devil-saving Aussie Ark – reveals how it all works.

William Was A Werewolf – some full-moonlighting doggerel of mine – just published in Touchdown (Sept 2020 issue) – and they’ve done this marvellous two-minute Youtube clip for it, very well read and illustrated!

Pluggedy plug: two features I’ve got coming up in Reader’s Digest in the next few issues:

Tasmanian-devil-1TASMANIAN DEVILS: New South Wales’ Barrington Tops hosts the mainland’s biggest Tasmanian devil breeding program, mainly by letting them run wild in Aussie Ark, a massive feral-free bush sanctuary. Aussie Ark president and TV wildlife personality Tim Faulkner tells me all about it.

ANTI-POACHING DOGS: Soldiers For Wildlife recruits dogs to help protect endangered African animals in Zambia’s most-poached region. Soldiers For Wildlife founder John Garcia discusses the special value of trained dogs in the ongoing desperate struggle to save Africa’s rapidly dwindling wildlife.

3093ac_7a2e5a4e80b542e19042e456026bd32a_mv2_d_4000_3000_s_4_2

August 1st is the horses’ birthday, but it also belongs to the whales, because Herman Melville was born this day in 1819.

437_Herman_Melville_photographIn January 1841, aged 21, Melville left America on the whaler Acushnet to spend four wild years roving about the Pacific, soaking up many an experience that led to his best writing. As he said, ‘A whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard’. In July 1842 he jumped ship in the Marquesas Islands and took up with a Polynesian tribe, the Typee. Although much feared as warlike cannibals, they treated him kindly.

Melville stayed a month with the Typee before setting off on another whaler, the chaotic Lucy Ann from Sydney, a ship so badly run the sailors mutinied and were jailed in Tahiti. This actually turned out well; soon freed, Melville enjoyed a stint of beachcombing and island hopping until joining a third whale ship, the Charles & Henry from Nantucket, on which he worked as a harpooner.

469_Whaling_scene_by_Currier_Ives

This six-month cruise ended in Hawaii, where he worked three months ashore, carefully avoiding the Acushnet when it showed up (the captain still wanted his head on a stick for deserting). Eventually he got himself home by joining the U.S. Navy. In October 1844 Melville was discharged in Boston after a year or so with the frigate United States, and soon began writing, his muse aflame with all those maritime adventures.

His first novel, the best-selling Typee (1846), fictionalises his Marquesas sojourn. Its sequel Omoo (1847) covers the Lucy Ann mutiny and his beachcombing (Omoo is a Typee word for wanderer). His third, the highly strange Mardi (1848), is a first tilt at something deeper, a rambling oceanic odyssey awash with allegory and symbolism.

Mardi sold poorly, alas, prompting his return to semi-autobiography. Redburn (1849) was inspired by his first voyage, as a cabin boy in 1839, to Liverpool; this one is Melville at his most Dickensian. White-Jacket (1850) follows his naval career and was highly influential in ending flogging in the U.S. Navy.

Next came his second, and artistically triumphant, dive into mystical rhapsody – his masterpiece, Moby Dick (1851), a book broiled in ‘hell-fire’, he once said. Of his subsequent works, all are worth exploring but I particularly recommend Bartleby (1853), one of the greatest, most subtly shattering short stories ever written and, unusually for Melville, set firmly on very dry land indeed – a lawyer’s office.

IMG_E3584

Mass coral spawning isn’t just an incredible sight (and tourist attraction). It also provides a way for scientists to help corals cope with a warming future. Turbocharging coral larvae with heat-resistant algae may significantly boost their chances of resisting mass bleaching events.

Here’s a link to my coral spawning story in the current Rex Airlines in-flight magazine True Blue (July/Aug 2020), featuring an interview with coral scientist Professor Peter Harrison, who’s been busy ‘turbocharging’ coral larvae on the Great Barrier Reef.

IMG_2553

Last November I was fortunate enough to dive the Great Barrier Reef off Cairns during the natural wonder’s marvellous annual coral spawning.

IMG_2549

While at Moore Reef pontoon I spoke to marine biologists engaged in the first attempt at a new, highly innovative reef rescue technique.

Called larval restoration, it gives hope that some corals will soon be better able to resist mass bleaching. And it relies on the amazing outburst of new life provided by the synchronous mass spawning event.

READER’S DIGEST (June 2020) has my eight-page feature about this exciting new development in the ongoing struggle to save our coral reefs from the worst effects of climate change.

The issue is out now. Look for the charismatic little white dog on the cover!

IMG_2521

 

 

Inspired by the Books Are Essential movement, I shall sporadically post Interesting & Inspirational Books Of Any Era.

Here’s an excellent novel set in Australia’s early convict past:

THE PLAYMAKER by Thomas Keneally

The first play staged in Australia was a sitcom, The Recruiting Officer, in 1789, with an all-convict cast and a First Fleet marine, Ralph Clark, directing. Keneally brings this bizarre colonial footnote to life in a bewitching blend of fact and plausible imaginings. Clark is sensitively handled, and his relationship with convict-actress Mary Brenham proves quite touching. IMG_E3067

Satisfying splashes of myth and magic often involve the kidnapped Eora man Arabanoo and Cornish ‘witch’ Mary Bryant (later a famous runaway).

Keneally is naturally fond of the colony’s writers such as David Collins and Watkin Tench, to whom we owe much of what we know about those times.

But his synthesis of the play’s content and progress with contemporary colonial doings – such as Arabanoo’s bond with Governor Phillip, marines hanged for theft and a London underworld transplanted intact – is The Playmaker‘s greatest triumph.

 

 

On the Road Magazine online has published my travel piece (‘A Real-Life Jurassic Park’) on wondrous Wallaroo Outback Retreat on Wallaroo Station. This Carnarvon Ranges (Queensland) cattle station is twice the size of Sydney and features a flourishing bush ecosystem, cycad ‘dinosaur plants’ aplenty and a truly astonishing array of Aboriginal rock art, including many evocative hand stencils. Boobook Ecotours are the folk to contact for tours and stays.

IMG_8944

They’re still flogging copies (not convicts!) at the University of Queensland Press website. TOUR TO HELL tells the true tale of colonial Australia’s convict ‘escape mythology’.

Tour-To-Hell

Escape mythology is my umbrella term for the bizarre beliefs that had runaway convicts convinced they could walk to China, find sanctuary with a mystery white society in the outback, or find the west coast of Australia (together with a port and a ship back home) just a short distance through the bush from Sydney.

Resurrected from contemporary sources (court records, colonial diaries and newspapers, etc) this strange corner of Australian history has never before been told in full. As well as documenting the most significant outbreak of the convict imagination in early colonial New South Wales, Tour To Hell casts valuable light on a fascinating but little-known aspect of first contact between European and Aboriginal people.

 

It’s World Poetry Day… so for everyone for whom the tiger’s yell comes articulate – or not as the case may be! – here’s my good friend John Keats on the essence of the business…

KeatsWhere’s the Poet? show him! show him,
Muses nine! that I may know him!
’Tis the man who with a man
Is an equal, be he King
Or poorest of the beggar-clan,
Or any other wondrous thing
A man may be ’twixt ape and Plato;
’Tis the man who with a bird,
Wren or eagle, finds his way to
All its instincts; he hath heard
The lion’s roaring, and can tell
What his horny throat expresseth,
And to him the tiger’s yell
Comes articulate and presseth
On his ear like mother-tongue.…