Monday, March 25, 2013

How the environment centres came to be

How the environment centres came to be
My own education about all things ecological really began when my mother became a schoolteacher and took out a subscription to the monthly UNESCO Courier. I enjoyed the magazine very much. My mother usually cut it up for use in the classroom and I took out my own subscription to it at about the time that I began to go to High School. I am grateful to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation for the education that I had from the UNESCO Courier 1956 to 1960. The UNESCO Courier covered a wide range of ecological subjects including the human population explosion.
Prior to the creation of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in 1973 it was UNESCO that dealt with ecological matters for the United Nations Organization. Two of the institutions that it created to perform that work were The International Biological Program (IBP), a world wide ecosystem stocktaking exercise, and the Scientific Committee for the study of problems of the Environment (SCOPE) which continues in operation to the present day. The operation that formed the bridge to the creation of UNEP was the UNESCO ‘Man and the Biosphere’ program (MAB).
People need to know that the UNESCO web site is a major resource on ecological topics and that it is not searched by Google. UNESCO is still active on ecological matters. The recent Symposium on ecologically sustainable agriculture in Beijing is an example. Serious conservationists should be paying attention to what UNESCO is up to.
In 1972 the United Nations Organisation hosted an international conference in Stockholm. It was called ‘Only one Earth’ and the topic up for discussion at the conference was the need for international cooperation on ecological issues.
The conference identified a need for a specialist United Nations agency to support international action on ecological issues. The new agency was called the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). It set up its head office in Nairobi and held its first meeting in 1973.
Prior to 1972 there was an ‘ecology movement’ in Australia. In 1973 there were ‘conservationists’ and ‘environmentalists’. Since 1973 less and less has been heard of the word ‘ecology’.
I was amazed by that linguistic take over in 1973 and bewildered as to where the word ‘environmentalist’ came from. It certainly did not come from within the ecology movement or the pre-existing nature conservation movement. On reflection I have come to the conclusion that the adoption of the word ‘environment’ was due to the use of the word environment at the Stockholm conference and in the title of the United Nations Environment Program.
There was an important event in Australian politics in 1972 that also had a bearing on the name changes. It was the ‘Its Time’ election when the ALP under Goff Whitlam won government after a generation or so of government by the Liberal/Country Party Coalition.
This program advanced by the ALP at the 1972 election owed a great deal, in an intellectual sense, to the leadership provided by the international students rebellion in the northern hemisphere summer of 1968, and the next few following years. It was the first political program in Australia to take the ecological dimension of reality seriously. It also dealt in a serious way with quality of life as an issue. There was something in the spirit of the times in 1972 that brought the ecological crisis to the attention of the community as a whole.
People like myself who were active in the ecology movement suddenly realised that we also had to think about the social and political dimensions of human life. It was not a welcome discovery.
The people and institutions involved with the social and political dimensions of human life suddenly realised that they also had to think about the ecological (or as they would say the ‘environmental’ dimensions) of human life. It was not a welcome discovery.
A strange sort of a shotgun marriage resulted as the ecologists looked for some social and political talent to help with the task, and the socialists and so on looked for some ecologists to help them with the task as they perceived it. The perceptions of the task were very different, depending on where people set out from. Different enough for the 1973 verbal formula ‘conservationists and environmentalists’ to be a useful description that identified a real social conflict. A conflict that was not widely identified or understood at the time.
The most obvious feature of this merging of political forces was the fact that the social-activist forces outnumbered the ecological-activist forces by ten to one, or even a hundred to one in some places. With the zeal of the convert, social activist types dominated committees and took control of printing presses. The developed ‘ecological understanding’ of affairs was submerged and diluted in the new ‘environment movement’. There was no provision made for ‘in service training’. People from the ecological side of the merger were aware of the conflict, most of the people from the social and political side were not aware of the conflict.
Somebody described it as a conflict between the ‘deep’ ecologist and the ‘shallow’ reform - environmentalist.
This was the situation in August of 1973 when the United Nations Environment Program sat down to its first meeting in Nairobi.
At this meeting the governments of the world agreed to establish a world wide non-government communications system to support citizen action on ecological issues. The system was to consist of an ‘environment centre’ in every capital city and ‘the Environment Liaison Centre’ in Nairobi over the road from the UNEP headquarters.
In the Northern Territory in 1973 there was an organization called The Environment Council of the Northern Territory. It was a forum for discussion among organisations with an interest in ecology and nature conservation matters. Member bodies included the Chamber of Commerce and the National Trust as well as the Darwin Conservation Society. Membership was not open to individuals. Secretariat services were provided to the Council by the Keep Australia Beautiful Council, which had a paid Executive Officer and an office in the Town Hall. Meetings of the
Environment Council took place in the Town Hall. Meetings took place every week and there were in effect two classes of members, those who attended almost every meeting and those that almost never attended a meeting.
Somewhat similar ‘peak body’ organizations existed in other Australian States and Territories but there was no national peak body. The only national conservation forum and information clearing house operation was provided, in a somewhat indirect fashion, by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF). It was the Council meetings of the ACF that provided the main national forum.
One of the problems faced by the brand new Department of the Environment in the Commonwealth Government was the fact that several of the existing state and territory peak environment groups were not incorporated associations, and public money could not be given to un-incorporated associations.
The Department asked ACF to help it. The deal that was offered to the peak bodies was some public funding in return for the peak body establishing an ‘Environment Centre’ in the capital city and the peak body becoming an incorporated association. During the start up period the Department paid the seed money to ACF and ACF distributed it to the unincorporated peak bodies. I have a vague memory of flying to Darwin with the cheque in my pocket, to attend the meeting of the Environment Council (NT) at which the formal motions were passed that set process of incorporation in train. I was a member of the ACF Council at the time.
The general idea of the environment centres that were set up in 1974 was that they would provide support services to local activists and cooperate with other environment centres and the Environment Liaison Centre (ELC) in Nairobi to create a worldwide information clearinghouse operation. The environment centres were to be open to the public and house a common filing system as a sort of collective memory for the community.
Barbara James was employed to coordinate the operations of the new environment centre in Darwin; and her personal filing system on all things ecological was donated to the centre to kick-start its filing system. Before the centre had completed its first year of operations Cyclone Tracy destroyed the city and completely disrupted all of the normal capital city functions in Darwin.
The impact of Cyclone Tracy on the environment movement in the Northern Territory was grievous. There was a very big population turnover after the event. Before the cyclone the residents of Darwin were very well informed about such matters as the city sewerage system and the ecology of Port Darwin. That knowledge was lost.
Before the cyclone there were extensive social networks and quite a few very active small action groups. All of this was blown away by the cyclone. After the cyclone we lived in ‘The New Darwin’. It was a dis-organised place.
Barbara James at the Environment Centre became the only conservationist in town, by default. In organisational terms the periphery blew away leaving a centre with no one to serve. This was a disaster in its own right.
One consistent aspect of the emerging green consciousness was a faith in small scale and de-centralised operations. It did make logical sense to have a global network of Environment Centres to conduct the main information clearing house function for such a small scale and decentralised network. The radical centralisation found in The New Darwin was something else again, and it proved to be very difficult to reverse it.
There were some other aspects of the situation that didn’t please me. Most of the centre to centre communications from the Darwin Environment Centre were with other centres in Australia. There was very little communication with environment centres elsewhere in the monsoon tropics. This always seemed perverse to me.
From 1975 to 1979 yet another emergency occupied the Board of Management of the Environment Centre in Darwin. It was the campaign to oppose : the use of atomic power to generate electricity and the mining of uranium at Jabiru. The Darwin Environment Centre did play an important Australian national coordinating role in that campaign. The steam went out of the campaign after the Commonwealth Government (under Malcolm Fraser) decided to permit mining at Ranger in 1978.
The Fraser Government was hostile to the Environment Centres. It attacked them by changing the funding formula. The original deal was a subsidy of $1 of public money for every $1 raised by the environment centres. The Fraser Government made it $1 for every $2 raised by the environment centres. This action forced the closure of the Environment Centre in Darwin, 18 April 1982.


STRIDERS ALMANAC – the Express edition
Volume 1, Part 4, 25 March 2013. Page 1
Part 4 Very hot with many storms but very little rain
21 November to 10 December 2012, a period of 20 days.
Wednesday 21 November
I began to prepare for my return to Solar Village. I took water and fertiliser to the trees that we had planted over the previous few days.
The emphasis in the previous few days had been on finding, digging up and relocating, some young Australian Nutmeg trees ( Myristica insipida ).In the first instance it was our intention to gather them into places that are relatively well protected from fire. You could call that the genetic salvage aspect of the operation.
Nutmeg trees are a very important element in the habitat of the Nutmeg Pigeon ( Ducula spilorrhoa )as both a food source and a tree to roost in overnight. As we understand it the pigeons provide a vital ecosystem service to the local forests as a seed distributing agent. Our actions are intended to help support the pigeon population. We expect that the pigeons will deliver the seeds of many plants to the soil under these trees that we are planting. This new seedling source will enable us to transplant some of the seedlings to other parts of the forest. Our intention is increase the biodiversity in this very badly damaged plant community. Many tree and shrub species have been lost from most places in the community in the last 140 years because of poor fire management. This has seriously reduced the amount of fruit available to Emus and many other animals.
We imagine that we are cooperating with the pigeons to go some way towards restoring the original biodiversity of these very denuded and impoverished ecosystems. We are attempting to make ecosystem repairs in this way. It is an emergency repair project in a very sick landscape. I think of it as a sort of an ecosystem first aid and nursing project.
Thursday 22 November
I noticed the very first flowers for the season on the big flood plain lily ( Crinum asiaticum ), the one that has many flowers held aloft on a single stem. I think that this is an important indicator of conditions in the flood plain, and a sign of the times in every sense of that expression. This is another species that follows different flowering timetables at Wrigley Creek and Solar Village.
Friday 23 November
There was very big storm at (and before) dawn. It was a morning terminator storm. This one had red lightning. Electrical discharges in air are white, but electrical discharges in Nitrogen are red. Storms with red lightning are very tall storms, and I call them ‘red dragon storms’. I don’t think that I noticed even one red dragon storm in the 2010 – 2011 wet season. Very little rain fell from this storm at Wrigley Creek but more rain fell a bit later on in the morning.
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A cool and overcast day followed. I travelled home to the Solar Village and found 66 mm of rain in the gauge there. I do not know when it fell. It fell somewhere between 30 September and 23 November. The Bureau of Meteorology rainfall record for Middle Point (Humpty Doo) does not show any significant fall of rain at all in this period. A friend at Lakewood tells me that he recorded 50 mm or rain on Thursday 8 November. He strongly suggested that the whole 66 mm at Solar Village fell from the thunderstorm on that day. That would be only one rain day in a period of 23 days. And that would be very dry indeed for this time of the year, in this part of the world. I would suggest that the growing season was suspended at Solar Village for lack of follow up rain, from about 15 November.
Saturday 24 November
It was 23 degrees C in the room at 0600 hrs. Mid-day cloudiness developed and it was very humid. The afternoon was very dim and there were many thunderstorms about. It was so dark that it seemed as if the Sun was about to set, all afternoon. We called afternoons like this “long afternoons” when I lived at Camp Concern. According to my notes this was the first long afternoon for the season.
I noticed the beautiful little Ixora tree ( Ixora tomentosa ) in flower on this day. The white Ixora flowers in a long dark afternoon is a vivid seasonal image. It was a memorable sight. It did rain during this long afternoon.
Sunday 25 November
There was 32 mm of rain in the gauge at 0900 hrs. It was rain from the previous day. There was no rain at this place on the 25th. A fairly light mid-day cloudiness did develop. I went to Darwin to do some visiting. This was probably the first substantial rain since the 55 mm on Thursday 8 November. I presume that the growing season resumed after this rain after being out of action for maybe a week or so.
Monday 26 November
Whilst I was in Darwin I saw a possum and lots of birds feeding in a particularly fruitful White Berry Bush tree ( Flueggea virosa ). Yes this one was big enough to call it a tree. It is amazing what protection from fire , a bit of water and a bit of fertiliser can do. This tree really did have a very heavy crop of fruit.
I was very surprised to find that there were no mozzies at all (when I slept on the floor at ground level with the door open) overnight 25-26 November in Rapid Creek, and really quite close to the Mangrove forest. We had a most phenomenal holiday from the mozzies in the late dry season and Spring of 2012.
Tuesday 27 November
It was a hot and sunny day with some clouds. I heard thunder in the distance. There were a few scattered thunderstorms in sight to the South of Solar Village. There were no cooling downdrafts here on that day and we had a warm to hot night.
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Wednesday 28 November
The day was overcast and warm. There was a thunderstorm very nearby to the North at 1400 hrs. It eventually moved away to the S.W. There was very little rain here and a warm night followed. That isolated thunderstorm was all that we got by way of a Full Moon Rain. I don’t think that it was very significant in that way.
Thursday 29 November
The Full Moon occurred at 0016 hrs CST. Two plants came into full flower at the time of this Full Moon. They were the Grey Bloodwood ( Corymbia porrecta ) and the Vitex Bush ( Vitex trifolia ). It was also the first day of flowering for the season for these species at Solar Village.
There was a storm nearby to the North at 0530 hrs, a morning terminator storm. A sunny day, but also a very cloudy day, followed. The mozzies returned, and that was the end of our long holiday from them. I spent most of the day at the annual Natural Resource Management Board Conference in Darwin.
Friday 30 November
It was a much less cloudy day with afternoon showers and a bit of point drizzle at times. The storms missed the Solar Village and there was no cooling downdraft there on this day. I noticed some beetles hard at work demolishing the leaves on a few little Breynia trees ( Breynia cernua ) near Starshine on this day. They did completely defoliate them.
The night began very hot. When I went to bed it was to lie naked on a towel on top of the bed. I went to bed quite early. I felt hot, on top of the bed. The sky was clear and the night did cool down eventually.
Saturday 1 December
At 0500 hrs the temperature in the room was 24 degrees C. Around dawn, geese were flying around in small groups and calling as they flew. The mozzies were, noticeable. One well resonated Green Tree Frog had called at 0420 hrs and there was a froggy dawn chorus at 0457 hrs with the bird song. At dawn there was a cloud bank low down on the E. horizon. As time went by it moved over us and the sky became very cloudy. At 0834 hrs it was overcast. The sky was full of tightly packed cumulus clouds that were just a bit too high up to suggest rain. By 0855 hrs the cloud had evaporated and the Sun was shining in a very hazy sky.
The soil surface was quite dry on this day. The only visible moisture was that in the worm castings. It really is pretty unusual for the soil surface to be dry at the start of December. The days would not be getting as hot as they are, if the soil surface was moist or wet.
New cumulus cloud began to form at 1013 hrs and a light E. breeze began to blow. By 1040 hrs there was 6/8 cloud cover with cumulus cloud blowing over slowly from the E.S.E., and a cooling E. breeze on the ground.
At 1109 hrs the clouds were much bigger and they were blowing over from the N.E.. A light breeze from the N.W. (i.e. up the creek and very probably the start of the sea breeze ) arrived here at 1109
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Hrs. By 1215 hrs there were brief light showers of rain about, and there were lots of little cumulus castellatus clouds. The storms in the mid-afternoon were blowing over from the E.. There were isolated thunderstorms in the late afternoon. I went to bed at 1940 hrs when the temperature in the room was 26 degrees C. Evidently there had been some cooling downdrafts with the afternoon storms. There was a little rain. Maybe 1 mm.
Sunday 2 December
At 0220 hrs the temperature in the room was 24.5 degrees C, the sky was overcast and thunder could be heard. At 0300 hrs on the verandah the temperature was 23.5 degrees C and at 0600 hrs that was the temperature in the room too. A very cool night indeed, with cooling downdrafts from a storm. Another 1 mm or so of rain fell. At 0900 hrs there was 2 mm of rain in the gauge. A very hot and sunny day followed. I drove through rain on my way to Darwin that night.
Monday 3 December
It was another very hot day with isolated thunderstorms in the late afternoon. I arrived home at 2230 hrs to find that it had just stopped raining. A truly beautiful night followed.
Tuesday 4 December
There was 11 mm of rain in the gauge at 0700 hrs. At 0900 hrs a light N. Breeze arrived and a little later the wind went around to the W.. There was mid-day cloudiness and it was a hot day. At 2230 hrs the temperature in the room was 26.5 degrees C.
Wednesday 5 December
At 0440 hrs the temperature was 25.5 degrees C. It was overcast and very hot and humid after dawn. At 0936 hrs the first faint breeze arrived from the E. and at 1230 hrs a sea breeze arrived from the N.. Mid-day cloudiness did not develop. In the early afternoon the temperature reached 36.5 degrees C..
Two storms went up very quickly at 1550 hrs. One from the ‘Thor’ location and one to the E.N.E. of Solar Village. ‘ Simultaneous paired storms’. Are these the two storms that are mentioned in the folklore ? I think that they may indeed have been those storms. Rain began to fall at Starshine at 1713 hrs and the temperature was down to 26.5 degrees by 1747 hrs. There was a lot of lightning and thunder with this storm. We only got 9 mm of rain from the very edge of the storm from the Thor locality.
A very squally thunderstorm with some very strong winds arrived at Sunset time. This storm brought down a lot of firewood, and blew a few trees over. It was a proper kindling wood harvesting storm. After the rain ended the wind was from the N..
Thursday 6 December
In the morning the wind was from the South. From the inland and the continental air mass. There was 17 mm of rain in the gauge at 0900 hrs. It was a humid day, and another very hot day. There was only a very little small cloud. In Darwin they experienced the hottest December day for 36 years. This was attributed to the wind coming from central Australia. The temperature reached 36.5 degrees C at Solar Village.
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I went out of my way to sleep under a ceiling fan overnight 6-7 December. It was a very hot night. In Darwin it was the hottest December night for 36 years.
Friday 7 December
In Darwin they recorded 29 degrees C with 80% relative humidity at 0500 hrs on this day.
It was a very hot and sweaty day here. The temperature reached 36 degrees C at Starshine. A big storm developed to the North in the afternoon and moved away towards Darwin.
I departed from Noonamah at 1744 hrs and drove South to Wrigley Creek. I drove over 4 wet rain storm tracks to get there. There had been 14 mm of rain there and the dam was almost full. There were isolated thunderstorms about and 2 of them brought cooling downdrafts and a little more rain at Wrigley Creek. One of the storms was a very big one from the S.S.E. and it delivered some very strong wind gusts.
Excellent sleeping weather followed with a breeze. A breeze from the North. It was a most unusual night. The breeze was quite strong at times.
Saturday 8 December
At Wrigley Creek it was 26 degrees C and overcast at 0600 hrs. The sky soon cleared to give us another hot and sunny day. The day was devoted to planting native fruit trees at the Eclipse Party Yam Garden. I also sowed some Red Apple tree seeds ( Szyzigium suborbicfulare ) on Bloodwood Ridge, high up in the Bird Tree Creek catchment area. It was very hot and we had a lovely picnic in the shade at the Yam Garden in the early afternoon.
Shortly after dark there was a violent thunder squall that brought big tree limbs, and some whole trees , down as well as a rain of smaller firewood and kindling twigs. Another firewood harvest storm. A second thunderstorm arrived soon after the first one. About 20 mm of rain fell and the dam overflowed. Another cool night followed.
Sunday 9 December
It was a bit chilly before dawn but it reached 34 degrees C later on in the day. The tree planting continued and I sowed more Red Apple tree seeds along Banyan Creek.
Monday 10 December
At 0600 hrs the temperature (inside the room) at Wrigley Creek was 24.5 degrees C. I got away early and drove to Raki via the Rum Jungle Creek South Uranium Mine. I finally got home to Starshine in the afternoon. I arrived as it began to rain there. 13 mm of rain fell, and it was the first rain to fall there since I emptied the gauge at 0900 hrs on Thursday 6 December. This was another very hot day followed by a very warm night. I spent it under a ceiling fan in Darwin.
It was a very dry period. It seems that the only significant falls of rain at Solar village were ; 66 mm on 8 November (before the period under review began) and then ; 32 mm on the long dark afternoon of the 24th of November, the 17 mm on 6 December and the 13 mm on the 10th. This
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Really isn’t very much rain at all for a period of 20 days at this time of the year.
Everybody agreed that it really was very hot. Most geography books say that the maximum heating of the Earth’s surface by the Sun lags 4 to 6 weeks behind the transit of the Sub Solar Point. The very hot night that I recorded on 30 November was near enough 5 weeks after the transit, and the hottest night for 36 years in Darwin on 6 December was near enough 6 weeks after the transit. I suspect that the 2 firewood harvesting storms ( on the 5th and the 8thof December ) were also related to the transit of the actual heat equator over our Latitude.
I am very curious about the matched pair of storms that went up so very suddenly on the afternoon of Wednesday 5 December. There was ‘something’ about them. A sign of the times ?
Mid-day cloudiness was noted on 4 days. One day in 5 on average. Cooling downdrafts were noted on 8 days. Shall we call that 4 days out of every 10 ? That was a real blessing. There were hot nights, but it could have been worse. The soil was dry, and the growing season stalled. Many seedlings and young trees died at this time.
These are a few of the things that I overlooked.
28 November. The Geebungs ( Persoonia falcata ) were in heavy fruit.
2 December. The Black Currant trees ( Antidesma ghaesembilla ) were in heavy fruit.
8 December. I saw new Ironwood tree seedlings ( Erythrophleum chlorostachys ) in very sandy soil on Banyan Creek.
10 December. The Bush Potato ( Eriosema chinense )was in full flower at Lakewood.
And that my friends will just have to do for today, for the Express edition.
Copyright Strider, Humpty Doo, 2013. (first draft 26 March 2013)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Volume 1 Part 3

STRIDERS ALMANAC – The ExpressEdition
Volume 1, Part 3, 18 March 2013. Page 1
Part 3 Very hot with some cooling downdrafts
1 to 20 November . A period of 20 days.
I was an inpatient at Royal Darwin Hospital from 31 October to 8 November. There were 2 thunderstorms there in the period 1 – 8 November.
Thursday 8 November
I was discharged from hospital and a friend drove me to Wrigley Creek for a period of convalescence. Wrigley Creek is about 70 Kms South of my home at Solar Village, as the crow flys. It is right up at the top of the Adelaide River catchment area and it is not in the same bioregion as Solar Village. It is in the bioregion next door. I visit Wrigley Creek fairly often and these visits help me keep events at Solar Village in a wider regional context. Quite familiar plants (such as the Fern Leaved Grevillia Grevillia pteridifolia ) follow different flowering and fruiting timetables at Wrigley Creek and Solar Village. Because I was not at home at Solar Village 8-22 November 2012 I intend to report some of the events that I noted at Wrigley Creek during that time span. Hopefully this will convey some idea of what was probably going on at Solar Village at this time.
We arrived at Wrigley Creek late in the afternoon of the 8th. We arrived to a cool green world just minutes after 28 mm of rain had fallen. The rain filled the dam on Bird Tree Creek but it stopped just short of overflowing it. This rain caused the germination of a number of Canarium tree ( Canarium australianum ) seedlings. The first such germination for the season. I noticed the first of the seedlings to emerge from the very sandy soil (and in shady places) on the morning of 12 November.
Wednesday 14 November
There was a total eclipse of the Sun just a little distance away to the East of us on this day. We only saw a partial eclipse at Wrigley Creek. On the hilltop from which we watched the eclipse there is a young Milkwood tree ( Alstonia actinophylla) .
This tree had been leafless for some time, and we were afraid that it might have died. It re-leafed on the morning of the 14th.
Friday 16 November
There was a thunderstorm with cooling downdrafts (but very little rain) in the very late afternoon. As we hurried to shelter from the rain we noticed the first ripe fruit on the young female Australian Nutmeg tree (Myristica insipida) that was planted on the Nutmeg Terrace about 5 years ago. This discovery caused great excitement in the camp.
Enough cold air came down from that storm to give us the gift of a cool night and beautiful sleeping weather. The previous cool night had been the night 8-9 November. So at this stage of the game we
STRIDERS ALMANAC – The Express Edition, Volume 1, Part 3. Page 2
were getting one cool night a week.
At Solar Village in October 2012 I had noticed that the cloudy day of the week was Thursday. And if it rained at all, it rained on Sunday. A regular and quite distinct weekly pattern in the weather can be detected here at some times. That is why I am putting the day of the week into the sub-headings in this account of the weather.
Saturday 17 November 2012
A thunderstorm delivered 28 mm of rain in the very late afternoon. Bird Tree Creek ran and the dam overflowed. Wrigley Creek itself rose and it roared in the night. The storm cooled everything down and another beautiful night followed.
Sunday 18 November
It was a cool and overcast day, and that in itself was something of a new seasonal development. We spent the day planting, transplanting and potting up young trees.
During the 20 day long period (1-20 November) I recorded the passing of 2 storms in Darwin (in the first week) and storms at Wrigley Creek on the 8th, 16th and 17th. So in my travels rain fell on 5 out of the 20 days in this period.
The Starting Point
I have over the years played and experimented with many different ideas about when to start the description of the cycle of the seasons. For quite a long time I experimented with using the middle of August (Australian Valentines Day) when the song birds begin to call before dawn to proclaim their territories and their sexual needs. There is something to be said for using 14, 15, 19 or 20 August as a starting point. The beginning of Spring is an obvious starting point.
My current thinking on this topic is that 18, 19, or 20 November is a better starting point for we human beings. For some reason (which escapes me) many people who live in and near Darwin experience a sense of ‘newness’ or ‘arrival’ at this time of year, in every year.
I had already decided to gather my observations together into approximately 10 day periods as a matter of convenience. Early-month 1-10, Mid-month 11-20, and Late-month 21 to 28, 29, 30 or 31, as the case may be. This scheme gives me 36 observation periods in each year.
So on my current thinking I am adopting 21 November as the nominal starting date for the cycle of the seasons and the human cultural year here. I expect that I will experience the sense of ‘arrival’ when I wake up on the morning of the 18th or the 19th, but when all is said and done that is a private experience. I think that it would be appropriate to defer any collective social celebration of these private events for a few days. It is in that spirit that I want to identify 20 November as a sort of a New Years Eve here, and a sort of an end to year that has just passed, if you will.
STRIDERS ALMANAC – The Express Edition, Volume 1, Part 3. Page 3
The Cooling Downdrafts
This is the hottest time of the year. The maximum Sun Temperature (the temperature of a thermometer exposed to direct Sunshine) ever recorded at Darwin was 77 degrees C. , and it was recorded on the 17 November. The Sun Temperature is pretty much the same thing as the soil surface temperature in the Sun where there is no leaf litter on the ground. It is a wonder that any seedlings (or small plants )at all survive the scorching heat that is radiated upwards from the soil surface at this time of year. Good shade, and preferably the solid shade cast by a tree trunk, is pretty much a pre-condition for survival for young trees at this time of the year. It is hotter in burned landscapes than in unburned landscapes, and it is much hotter when the surface soil is dry than when it is moist or wet. The heat radiated upwards from the soil makes life difficult for human beings too at this time of year.
The cooling downdrafts from the thunderstorms are very welcome, and a really cool night is the ultimate luxury. It is hard to get enough sleep, and quality sleep, at this time of the year. On most days it is too hot to have a siesta or sleep in for very long in the morning. It takes special gardening or architectural measures to create an effective well ventilated and shady siesta place. A bough shed, some living creepers, a shady tree or a grass roof; has to be a mile in front of anything with a tin roof.
Lack of sleep is closely associated with insanity and the social tensions of the build-up season. It is hard to get enough sleep when you perk up after the Sun sets, and you want to go hard at night to compensate for the inactivity that is forced on you by the heat in the daylight hours.
The occasional cool and overcast day that allows you to be more active is also a blessing. It can be very hard to do even the minimum of things that really do need to be done, at this time of the year. When it comes to heat and humidity discomfort, we really do live in an extreme place. It is one of the hottest inhabited places on the planet. The hotter ones are deserted. Over the past 100 years the temperature in Darwin has increased by 2 degrees C..The build-up season this year did seem to be a particularly hot one.
And so my friends I am pleased to report that I survived the surgery and the build up, in November of 2012.
Copyright, Strider, Humpty Doo, 18 March 2013. Second draft.

Volume 1 Part 2

STRIDERS ALMANAC – The Express Edition. Volume 1, part 2, 11 March 2013.
page 1
This is the second part of the record contained in my notebook number 200. It covers the period from 11 to 30 October 2012. This is a period of 20 days.
11 October. There was cloudiness from Noon onwards and I heard thunder at 1340 hrs. It seemed as if there were scattered storms about. At night I saw lightning from a storm over the radio-active hills at Mount Bundey on the Arnhem Highway. There was a very little rain here. Just enough to put a trace of rain in the gauge .
12 October. The night 11-12 October was the warmest night for the season so far. There was a cooling wind at 0100 hours (both here and in Katherine it seems) but by 0651 hrs it was 24.5 degrees C here in the room at Starshine. It was overcast at dawn. By 0846 hrs it was breezy with E. Breezes. Nocturnal wind is unusual at this time of year. It seems as if the South East Trade Wind returned in the night, and as if there was an element of compression warming in the very high air temperature at dawn on the morning of the 12th.
The 13th was also a breezy day, with a S.E. wind. There was a clear return of the S.E. Trade Wind and drier conditions. It was a hot day followed by a cooler night. The night 13-14 was very cool.
15 October. The Dark Moon was at 2135 hrs on this day. There was an obvious change in the weather on the morning of this day when cloud arrived from the N.E. soon after dawn. I noticed that the Billy Goat Plum Trees (Terminalia ferdinandiana) were re-leafing in many places on this day.
16 October. At 0510 hrs a Chop Chop Nightjar called to the E.. It was a much warmer morning with the air in the room at 24.5 degrees C again. At 0540 hrs there was lightning in the E. sky and cooler air was falling down out of the E. sky. It bent the candle flame over and the air temperature fell to 23.5 degrees C.. At 0547 hrs the Kookaburras began to call in several directions. At 0554 hrs I could hear Magpie Geese talking in the far distance. I was in between being asleep and being awake and for a moment or two I thought that I was listening to a far distant frog chorus. When I woke fully I realised that I was listening to the geese muttering in the mango orchards. I woke up again at 0854 hrs. The temperature then was 28 degrees C.
At 0931 hrs there was a lovely cooling breeze as the wind got out of bed for the day. There were some small cumulus clouds at that time. At 1014 hrs there was a seabreeze (?) up the creek, from the W.. The temperature then was 30.5 degrees C.
Midday cloudiness developed and calms alternated with light E. breezes. A stronger breeze came up the creek at 1123 hrs when the air was at 31.5 degrees C. There were some brief periods of cloud shadow.
There were storms about in the afternoon and a few drops of rain fell at Solar Village. (4 mm of rain fell at Lakewood.) A very warm night followed. Very warm indeed. It was too warm for me to wear sox to bed.
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According to the Television News the next day, it was a very hot night all over the Australian continent, on the night 16-17 October 2012.
17 October. Was very similar to the previous day but there was less cloud. The Terminalia ferdinandiana trees looked splendid in their new leaves, on this day.
18 October. At Lakewood there was a brief shower of rain at 0420 hrs and a more substantial fall (accompanied by thunder) at 0530 hrs. All told 4 mm of rain fell there. There was no rain at Solar Village.
On the afternoon of the 22nd there were isolated thunderstorms about and I heard thunder. There were some cooling downdrafts from a storm at Solar Village.
23 October. Thunder at dawn. There were also isolated afternoon and evening thunderstorms, and in the evening and at night lightning flickered in the sky over Mount Bundey (as it had on the previous night too). At 0013 hrs on the morning of the 24th there was a wind squall with a thunderstorm at Starshine, but very little rain fell from it. In the early afternoon of the 25th I found 2.5 mm of rain in the gauge at Solar Village.
There was a dramatic change in the weather shortly before sunset on 23 October when low and fat cumulus cloud began to blow in from the N.E.. This cloud obscured my view of the storm cloud going up over Mount Bundey. The cloud from the N.E. was still blowing over on the morning of the 24 th.
On the morning of the 25th I was in Darwin and quite big cumulus clouds were blowing over from the N.E. shortly after dawn. It remained very cloudy until about Noon when the sky cleared to reveal scattered thunderstorms. On this day the Sun was directly overhead at Noon in Darwin. It was hot.
26 October. On this day the Sub Solar Point was at the Solar Village, and I was at the Noonamah Tavern to observe the Sun at the Zenith at Noon there with some friends. The Sun did shine on us at Noon but it was a very cloudy day overall.
Rain fell from a thunderstorm at Solar Village from 1745 to 1845 hrs. There were some very welcome cooling downdrafts from that storm and 28 mm of rain fell from it. This was only the second “real rain” for the season. The previous one was 17 mm of rain at the Full Moon on 30 September. That was a Full Moon Rain, and this one was a Sub Solar Point Rain.
There was some run-off from this rain on tracks and along drains, and in the bed of the creek. There were some pools of water in the creek when it was over. In other places there was no run-off at all and the rain was absorbed by the soil.
28 October. At 0650 hrs there was thunder and rain began to fall. There was no wind with the rain. It eased to drizzle at 0730 hrs, and then resumed again. All told 44 mm of rain fell. Once again run-off was confined to tracks, drains and the creek bed. A few puddles were created in the creek with a big one under the road bridge. A cloudy day followed and there was thunder at night.
On the 29th there was a lot of re-leafing going on. White Berry Bush, Antidesma ghaesembilla,
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Vitex trifolia, and Snakeweed. I also noticed a lot of freshly germinated seedlings on this day.
30 October. It was a cloudy day. I spent it getting organised and packing up to go into hospital for an operation. For the next three weeks or so I did not make any notes in my notebook.
The Trade Wind Burst
The pattern of events from the night of 12-13 October through to just after dawn on the 15th is an interesting one. There was a return to ’dry season’ (or ‘continental’) conditions with drier air and a greater daily temperature range. It often happens that the first night of such a trade wind burst is very warm or hot. The heat is due to compression warming. The air is both heated and very dry. This air will sustain very vigorous fires. Such a night is often followed by a few very hot and breezy days.
On this occasion the wind was from the E. on the morning of the 13th but it had moved around to the S.E. by the 14th. This wind shift is a common feature of these trade wind bursts.
The initial hot night that marks the start of this sequence of events should serve as a warning to the fire managers of what is about to unfold. These conditions that are so favourable to fire can be used to get a burn in some ‘difficult’ places that you want to burn such as floodplains with some green grass or areas where the soil is still moist.
It is a bit paradoxical that the start of a run of cooler nights should start with, and be signalled by, a hot night. The drop in relative humidity that is associated with the compression warming should make it possible to pick out the start of these events in the record of past meteorological observations. It should be possible to detect the signal in the 0900 hrs relative humidity records.
The Bonus Rains
It is not uncommon for there to be very little or no rain in the time-span between the Spring Equinox and the transit of the Sub Solar Point over Darwin in late October. When the Sub Solar Point passes over Darwin it also crosses the North coast of the Top End, and then the Sun is over the Australian Continent rather than over the sea to the North of it. This is a major seasonal shift in the forcing mechanisms that lie behind our day to day weather. The season of Australian Summer Cloudiness begins when the Sub Solar Point moves onto the land in the Top End. Rain is much more likely to fall after the Sun has moved inland from the coastline.
The actual day of the transit of the Sub Solar Point near Darwin tends to be cloudy. A band of cloudiness travels with the Sub Solar Point as a consequence of the massive in-pouring of energy when the Sun is directly overhead. It often rains at the time of the transit. In many years the first thunderstorm, and the first substantial rain, happens on the day of the transit, or a day or two later. In these cases the rain usually falls from a big and intense late afternoon thunderstorm.
I am inclined to think of any rain that we falls between the Spring Equinox and the day of the transit of the Sub Solar Point over Darwin as a bit of a bonus. A gift from the Gods as it were. On that basis we didn’t do too badly in 2012
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Depending upon the thickness of the leaf litter layer, and the rate at which the rain falls, anything between the first 3 to 12 mm of a rainfall will be completely absorbed by the leaf litter and hardly a drop will find its way through to the soil beneath it. For this reason we can discount all of the cases or drops of rain and traces in the gauge as fairly irrelevant to what is going on in the soil.
The fall of 17 mm on 30 September would have put at least 5 mm (and possibly as much as 14 mm) of rain into the soil. The falls of 1 mm (4 October) and 4.5 mm (8 October) were probably retained in the leaf litter. The same can be said for the 2.5 mm fall on the morning of the 24th. These falls must have been important to the soil in bare places and drains, and on the edge of the bitumen along the sealed roads, but in other places their chief significance would be for the life within the leaf litter layer.
I think that we were a bit unlucky here this year. There were storms about on 7 days (in the 15 day period 11 to 25 October ) but we only got one light rainfall. Sure the amount of rainfall at any one place is a fairly random event at this time of the year, in most years, but, I think that we were bit unlucky this time. Most other places in the district probably did better than us.
The Sub Solar Point Rains
We did have a substantial fall of rain (28 mm) from a late afternoon rain with (very welcome cooling downdrafts) on the 26th of October ; the day of the transit of the Sub Solar Point over Solar Village. It was the classic archetypal event. And it was right on time. It was a bit light on in my opinion. 40 or 60 mm of rain would have been better, but the 28 mm was very welcome for all that.
The strong downdrafts that are commonly associated with the late afternoon Sub Solar Point transit thunderstorm can be used to burn some of those ‘difficult’ places like floodplains. The storm and the downdrafts may fail to materialise in any particular year but it may still be worth making a contingency plan to take advantage of the downdrafts just in case they do happen. In my opinion this is a case where informed opportunism is in order, and as the boy scouts say, it pays to be prepared. This storm can provide a valuable opportunity to put the finishing touches to firebreaks that are intended to stop the spread of fires started by lightning in November and December. It is often the case that the weak link in a firebreak is a creek crossing, a floodplain, or a swamp. The very strong downdrafts ahead of the storm can make it possible to burn these places, and with any sort of luck, the rain from the storm will put the fire out a few minutes later.
As it happened we did not have to wait very long for a bigger fall of rain. A thunderstorm on the morning terminator (the line between night and day) on the 28th of October delivered 44 mm of rain here at Solar Village. It put a big puddle, or pool of water, into Horns Creek under the road bridge due to the run-off from the roadside drains. These two Sub Solar Point rains gave us a total of 72 mm of rain on 2 rain-days over a 3 day period. This was enough rain to start the growing season in earnest, and a dramatic burst of growth and re-leafing was observed on 29 October, just one day after the 44 mm of rain fell on the morning of the 28th.
And that my friends, is how the growing season began in late 2012.
C Strider, Solar Village, 2013. (2nd draft 11 March 2013.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Vol 1 Part 1 And so it begins

STRIDERS ALMANAC – The Express Edition. Volume 1, part 1, 11 March 2013 page 1
My notebook number 200 covers the period from the Spring Equinox (23 September) to the end of the Calendar Year (31 December) in 2012. This is the first part of the record from 23 September to 10 October. This is a period that is 18 days long.
The Spring Equinox happened at 0020 hrs CST 23 September 2012, here at Humpty Doo. The night was distinctly warmer than the previous ones. Not a lot warmer, but a bit warmer. It was misty at dawn, and that is unusual at this time of year.
It was even warmer overnight 23-24 September, and in the morning of the 25th I noticed the very first new leaves on just one little Canarium australianum tree at Starshine.
25 September . The night 24-25 Sept, was warmer still and at 0612 hrs the air temperature in the room at Starshine was 20.5 degrees C. This was the first minimum above 20 degrees (in the room)for quite a long time. The outside air temperature (measured on top of a plastic garbage bin in the yard) at 0657 hrs was 18.5 degrees C. At 1100 hrs there was an early sea-breeze up the creek.
Warm nights were also recorded 25-26 and 26-27 September. The afternoon temperature on the 27th reached 38.5 degrees C. I experienced it as very hot. The air temperature (in the room) at 0651 hrs on the 27 th was 22.5 degrees C. Rain fell at Wadeye on this day, and on the 28th.
30 September. The very first rain for the season, a fall of 17 mm, fell between 0600 and 0700 hrs on this day. There was a thunderstorm near dawn. The official rainfall year in this part of the world begins on the first day of October. This rainfall was, in a manner of speaking, one day early. The Full Moon occurred at 1250 hrs on the 30th of September 2012. This was a Full Moon Rain.
The night 1-2 October was a warm one. The air temperature in the room was 21 degrees C at 0610 hrs on the morning of the 2nd. The sky was very hazy at that time. The same warm and hazy conditions were also recorded at the same time on the morning of the 3rd.
4 October. The night-time temperature rose yet again and at 0610 hrs the temperature in the room was 23 degrees C. The sky was cloudy, and a few drops of rain fell at 0600 hrs.
The roadsides turned green overnight 2-3 October. The invasive exotic grass Urochcloa humidicola was largely responsible for that very dramatic sudden greening.
A small and isolated cloud blew over at 1500 hrs on the 4th, and 1mm of rain fell from it. At 2038 hrs I noticed a White Tailed Spider on the verandah at Starshine. There were also two big Huntsman Spiders prowling about. These were seasonal firsts. The very first spiders for the season. Their appearance coincided with the greening of the roadsides which must have been a consequence of the 17mm of rain that fell around dawn on the day of the full Moon, 30 September 2012.
There was a distinct sea-breeze cloud front inland from Darwin on the afternoon of the 3rd of October, and this too coincided with the emergence of the spiders from hibernation.
Page 2 5 October. At 0638 hrs the air temperature in the room was 22.5 degrees C, and the sky was cloudy. At 0800 hrs a Channel Billed Cuckoo called. There were just a few drops of rain in the late afternoon. I noticed fresh leaf buds, new buds, on the Miliusa brahei tree on this day.
6 October. Once again a very warm night. Perhaps 23 degrees C. In the morning I could see that the new leaf buds had opened on Strychnos lucida and Brachychiton diversifolia. There was also a germination of Mission Grass and several legumes (that are probably weeds too).
In the late afternoon I saw the first very distinct Cumulus congestus cloud mass for the season, a thunderstorm, form near Crocodile Creek and move towards Darwin. A classic isolated late afternoon thunderstorm.
7 October. A cooler night. Only 22 degrees C. The sky was very hazy in the morning. It was quite spectacularly more humid in the morning and I took my shirt off at 1000 hrs.
On this day I observed the new leaf buds bursting open on Antidesma ghaesembilla and both new leaf and stem elongation on Smilax australasica. I noticed that the wild grape vines (Ampelocissus Spp.) had emerged from the ground. I also noticed very rapid elongation of the stems of the Fountain Vine (opilia amentacea) during the three days 5-7 October.
8 October. The night 7-8 October felt much warmer but the thermometer only recorded 23.5 degrees C at dawn. Evidently the much higher humidity made the night seem warmer than it was.
4.5 mm of rain fell between 2147 and 2218 hrs on this day. There was no thunder or wind associated with that rain.
9 October. On this day I noticed new leaf on the Red Bead Tree (Adenanthera pavonina) and on a young Green Plum Tree (Buchanania obovata). I also noticed that the re-leafing of the Canarium Trees had become widespread and general.
10 October. There were complex cloud patterns in the sky in the morning but it became clear later in the day. There was another White Tailed Spider on the verandah at might.
So let me review the main events of this time span. The 17mm of rain that fell on 30 September was followed by 1mm on 4 October and then 4.5mm on the 8th for a total of 22.5mm of rain over three rain-days.
The rain that fell on the day of the Full Moon (the 17mm on 30 September) was a germination rain. The Mission Grass seeds germinated overnight 5-6 October, or about a week after that first rain for the season. The roadsides turned green ,as old dry leaves revived, and some spiders emerged from hibernation in that same week.
The night-time air temperatures began to rise noticeably from the night of the Equinox, and the days also became hotter. The minimum temperature reached 23 degrees C. In the room on the morning of 4 October. The same day that the roadsides turned green and the spiders emerged.
There was a spectacular increase in humidity on 7 October. The re-leafing of the deciduous trees also began in earnest on that day. By 9 October the re-leafing of the Canarium Trees had become
Page 3 widespread and general. And that my friends is how the rainy season began in 2012.
C Strider, Solar Village, 2013.
(second draft 11 March 2013)


I have been making notes on the weather, and other phenomena, for 12 years now, on and off.  I have begun to convert these notes into a narrative.  I will post the first draft material on this blog.  This is 'The Express Edition' to keep you going until I finalise the ALMANAC.. Please think of it as an advance notification of a work in progress.  I am trying to work on it 3 days a week, and on current indications I may have the job done in 2 years time. I am protecting it with Copyright because it is (as yet) experimental and unfinished. I hope that you enjoy the posts.