Getting to root of salt problem

It’s not easy being green, but at a salinity site near Western Plains Zoo the high survival rate of about 2000 trees has surprised project co-ordinators.
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More than 95 per cent of the striplings planted last September have weathered the first critical months.

With little more than good ground preparation and some conscientious weed control the six species are thriving.

The two-hectare site is one of 50 trials west of the Blue Mountains and part of the State Salinity Management Strategy.

Locally the project is under the control of State Forests, Western Plains Zoo and Dubbo City Council.

“By choosing different sites, soil types and species the trial will determine which trees are the most suitable for production in terms of combating salinity and commercial viability,” council’s landcare director Ken Rogers said.

“We put the trees in and then basically left them to their own devices. In about 12 months we should be able to judge how that’s worked.”

Early days or not the zoo, which hopes one day to run animals on the site, believes there is an important message for landholders.

“We are much the same as a working farm except we have weird-looking animals instead of cows,” environment co-ordinator Phil Cameron said.

“It shows you can strategically plant trees, improve your productivity and still have a farm.”

State Forests western regional manager Paul Wells described the trial as “critical” in the fight against salinity. Planting trees, he said, sucked up carbon and lowered the water table.

“Once we give commercial value to those it will become profitable.”

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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Discovery sheds light on Burke and Wills

IN APRIL 1861, the explorers Robert Burke and William Wills – sick, starving and desperate to survive – abandoned their surveying instruments and other non-essential items in outback Queensland and continued south on their ill-fated journey.
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Almost 150 years later, in a discovery being proclaimed as the holy grail for Burke and Wills enthusiasts, a Melbourne academic says he has found some of the equipment buried in a creekbed hundreds of kilometres inland from Brisbane.

The discovery could rehabilitate the tarnished image of Wills, whose credentials as a surveyor have been maligned.

The site, known as the Plant Camp, is integral to the Burke and Wills story because it tells of the increasingly desperate state of mind of the explorers, who were unwell, low on supplies and had to abandon everything but their food after a camel died.

At that stage a party of four, the men struggled on from the Plant Camp to Coopers Creek in South Australia, only to find their support party had given up on them and left just a few hours earlier. All but one of the explorers, John King, died on the journey.

The Melbourne academic Frank Leahy discovered the buried instruments last year after a painstaking search that began 20 years earlier.

Dr Leahy said Wills used a combination of dead reckoning, a compass and astronomical observation to keep exhaustive records that ultimately showed a high degree of accuracy.

"Wills was a great surveyor, there is no doubt about that," he said. "His reputation suffered very unfairly."

Dr Leahy and the Royal Society of Victoria have asked the Queensland Government to protect the site and declare it a heritage area to prevent fortune hunters descending on it. Items recovered from the site include rifle and revolver bullets, a spirit bubble used for surveying, buckles from belts and strapping, a canvas and leather sewing kit containing pliers and needles, hinges and latches and a paperweight.

If authenticated, the surveying instruments used by Wills on the trip would be not only of enormous scientific and historical significance, but also of financial value, after the development of a lucrative market in Burke and Wills artefacts.

Two years ago a Burke and Wills water bottle sold at auction for $286,000 and a breastplate connected to the expedition sold at auction in Sydney last month for $180,000.

The hunt for Plant Camp began in earnest in the mid-1980s, when Dr Leahy, principal fellow in the Department of Geomatics at the University of Melbourne, took Wills’s own co-ordinates and surveying records and overlaid them with sophisticated spatial analysis, corrected them for error (which he calculated by comparing Wills’ records with the co-ordinates of identified sites) and worked out where the camp should be.

In 1986, during one of many trips to the area, he discovered a blazed tree – a tree with its bark cut back, which the explorers used to mark each camp – surrounded by terrain described by King to a commission of inquiry into the expedition.

"By using the astronomical records made by Wills and descriptions in his journals of camps along the route, I decided this had to be the place," Dr Leahy told the Herald . "It is the Plant Camp, there is no doubt about it, and finding the equipment there proves it."

The Burke and Wills Society is aware of the claimed discovery of the Plant Camp, which Dr Leahy reported in the December issue of the Journal Of Spatial Science , but has so far not endorsed it as authentic.

The society’s president, David Corke, said yesterday that the recovered items could belong to Burke and Wills, but until a sextant or astronomical survey instrument was found, the society would not accept the site as authentic. "It is still up in the air as far as most of us are concerned," Mr Corke said.

The location of the discovered items made sense, he said, but it was a large area that was difficult to search. The material had also been scattered, although this could have been caused by flooding in the creek or because it was moved by Aborigines.

The hunt for the camp has sparked intense rivalry among Burke and Wills historians and items so far have been recovered by Dr Leahy, as well as by the former Victorian surveyor- general Ray Holmes, who Dr Leahy took to the site in 2005.

"To his credit and persistence, Ray Holmes returned several more times with his family and he uncovered the spirit bubble that was part of Wills’s astronomical equipment," Dr Leahy said.

He has attempted to verify the items through various means, but says the most convincing evidence was from cross-checking the discoveries against the list of stores taken by Burke and Wills when they left Melbourne on their expedition.

"The material we have found was scattered at a distance of up to two kilometres from the blazed tree, most probably because the bag eventually split and its contents dispersed."

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Zoos go back to nature for diets

The secret to healthy and happy zoo animals is a balanced diet and Dubbo’s Western Plains Zoo shapes up pretty well, according to zoo nutritionist Debra McDonald.
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The veterinary nutritionist, from the Bronx Zoo in New York, is visiting Western Plains Zoo as part of the annual Australasian Regional Association of Zoo Parks and Aquaria conference to give a series of lectures on healthy eating for animals in zoos.

Born and raised in Victoria, Ms McDonald has spent the past 12 months working in the US.

“There are no zoo nutritionists in Australia so to get the experience I needed I went to America to work with the best in the world,” she said. “Basically I’m here to give an insight into what needs to be considered in the way of diet for zoo animals.”

Ms McDonald said the Bronx Zoo was vastly different from Western Plains Zoo.

“The Bronx Zoo is absolutely huge – bigger than Dubbo’s zoo,” she said.

“Because of the winter snows over there they have a lot of indoor exhibitions which are managed quite intensively and there are also a number of open-range areas.

“They’ve just spent $40 million on a new Congo exhibit for their gorillas – we could almost build a whole zoo here in Australia for half that.”

As the nature of zoos had changed in the past 20 years so too had the nutritional needs of the animals, Ms McDonald said.

“In the past there wasn’t a big focus on breeding animals in zoos – the zoo could just go out and catch another one from the wild if they wanted,” she said.

“But now zoos are trying to encourage animals to breed in captivity and release endangered species back into the wild, so the diets of zoo animals need to be less processed and more natural.”

Ms McDonald will return to the US next week to work for a few months before returning home to set up Australia’s first zoo nutrition centre.

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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Drag strip truce takes a battering

The shaky truce between Dubbo City Council and developers of a multi-million- dollar drag strip took another battering this week.
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Dubbo City Car Club members emerged with a less-than-rosy prognosis for the future of the project after a meeting with senior council staff.

“It’s finished for Dubbo,” one member said later and only moments before the start of a full council meeting.

“They said it could take another 18 months – that’s the end of it as far as we’re concerned.”

Lengthy delays to the development process have seen the $4 million project enter its fourth year.

But council’s environmental services director Doug Herd, quizzed by several councillors on the night, had a very different take on the latest negotiations.

Describing the meeting as “happy” and “positive” he agreed the timing to rezone land for the development was in the “lap of the gods”.

Nonetheless, he was hopeful of getting all the information back to council about mid-year, with the rezoning gazetted before Christmas.

He also assured councillors that staff would work with the club’s consultants who were already familiar with the project.

Project co-ordinator Alan Walker said that in light of Mr Herd’s comments to council the club would take a “wait and see” approach.

“I was sitting up the back of the council chamber thinking ‘were we at the same meeting’,” Mr Walker said later, claiming the club had already made wide-ranging compromises.

“We’ve dropped all of it but the drag strip. We’re tired of doing studies on the impact of everything from driver training to walking a dachshund.”

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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Biggest Loser, eat your heart out

MONTERREY, Mexico – Manuel Uribe, who once weighed a half ton but has slimmed down to about 317.5kg, celebrates his 43rd birthday on Wednesday with a simple wish for the coming year: to be able to stand on his own two feet to get married.
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Interviewed at his home in northern Mexico, where he can still do little more than sit up on a bed, Uribe said more than two years of steady dieting have helped him drop about 249.4kg from his Guinness record weight of 560.1kg.

He hopes Guinness representatives will confirm in July that he holds a second title: The world’s greatest loser of weight.

But Uribe is still unable to walk his fiancee, Claudia Solis, down the aisle.

"It frustrates me a little, because it is not easy to get out," said Uribe, who has not been able to leave bed for the last six years.

His most recent attempt to escape the house—to attend Solis’ 38th birthday party in March—fell through when a flatbed tow truck brought to transport his reinforced bed got caught beneath an underpass.

But Uribe vowed not to be deterred: "We are in love, and this year my birthday wish is to be able to stand when we get married," he said.

Uribe said he met Solis, a 38-year-old hairdresser, four years ago. They have been together for the last two.

"We are a couple," Uribe said. "We have sex, and in the eyes of God we are already married."

Proudly showing off her sparkling engagement ring, Solis said life with a heavyweight is not always easy.

"I bathe him every day, and we get along very well," she said. "At times, yes, people say things … that it’s a fake relationship, but what we have is real."

Solis said her family initially opposed the match with Uribe, because her first husband, who was also obese, died of respiratory failure.

"They were worried about me being involved with another fat man, because they thought another husband would die on me," she said.

Uribe, a former auto parts dealer, said his birthday party Wednesday will be a low-key dinner with the family.

"We were going to go out, but the last time out scared me so much," he said. "When we crashed into the lighting conduits on the underpass, I thought we were going to get an electric shock."

Uribe said his weight problem spiraled out of control after he moved to the United States for a few years in 1988 and indulged in a nonstop diet of junk food and soft drinks.

A botched liposuction that damaged his lymph nodes left him with giant tumors on both legs weighing a total of 99.8kg. The tumors are the main reason he is unable to walk.

"It is all because of the junk food," he said.

About two years ago, a team of doctors stepped in to help Uribe change his eating habits and tackle his extreme obesity.

Today he says he eats small portions of food five times a day, including chicken, ham, egg-white omelets, fruit and vegetables. Sitting in bed, Uribe exercises his arms with pull-ups and by pedaling with his hands.

Hoping his struggle will inspire others, he plans to launch the Manuel Uribe Foundation this year to educate people about nutrition and to combat obesity—a growing problem in Mexico.

Solis is focused more on the present.

"It is a miracle he is still alive," she said. "He’s going to turn 43, and that is something we have to celebrate."

AP

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Jim and family to bid city farewell

Chiropractor Jim Karagiannis loves living in Dubbo where “you can walk down the street and know everyone”.
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He loves the city’s geographical expanse, not to mention the ease of commuting from home to work and vice versa.

But most of all the young professional, who has called Dubbo home for six years, just can’t speak highly enough about what he sees as the city’s greatest asset – its people.

“I’m absolutely captivated by the openness of people here in terms of kindness and generosity,” he said yesterday during a break from attending to patients at his practice in Bultje Street.

But there’s something else this Dubbo fan loves and misses – his family back in Melbourne.

Yesterday Mr Karagiannis confirmed that with his wife Bettina, also a chiropractor, he had made the decision to pack up and move back to the Victorian capital.

Since the birth of their sons, Sebastian, 4, and Xavier, 14 months, the couple has come to realise that living near relatives is in the best interests of their little ones.

Mr Karagiannis said yesterday that he and his wife were “family-orientated”.

“I’ve got a Greek background – I’m sure I’m related to half of Melbourne,” he joked.

In fact what brought the couple to Dubbo in the first place was a desire to be closer to Victoria and loved ones.

They had been working in Darwin and did plenty of research before choosing “the fastest-growing area in country NSW”, Dubbo, to buy an existing chiropractic clinic and start a family.

The couple was immediately welcomed into the community and responded by working their way into the fabric of the city.

Early on Mr Karagiannis served as president of the Newtown Cricket Club before joining South Dubbo Rotary Club and throwing himself into such projects as Operation CINOAH which saw “children in need of a holiday” hosted in Dubbo earlier this year.

Yesterday Mr Karagiannis said he and his wife would “never forget” their children’s place of birth.

“It’ll always be a big part of us,” he said.

“Really we’re not leaving Dubbo – we’re just moving on to something else.”

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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Probe into regional radio comes to end

The capacity of country radio stations to broadcast emergency weather, fire and flood warnings has emerged as a key concern at a parliamentary inquiry into regional broadcasting.
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House communications committee chairman Paul Neville said a gradual increase in networking had led to some stations being unstaffed overnight, at weekends or after midday.

Programs were broadcast from a hub sometimes hundreds of kilometres away, and emergency calls and faxes to the local station could go unnoticed, Mr Neville said.

“It’s a problem we didn’t expect to find and it’s confirmed wherever we go,” he said, as the committee wound up a gruelling program of public hearings in remote communities and regional centres.

“I don’t think it’s deliberately cavalier … it’s happened more insidiously. It’s quietly occurred over time as each program has dropped off … no protocols have been put in place.”

The committee heard evidence from the NSW State Emergency Service, the Country Fire Authority and the Bureau of Meteorology that it was harder to get emergency warnings broadcast since the advent of networking.

But Mr Neville said some stations had excellent emergency systems, with a staff contact list circulated to local authorities and the station remaining an integral part of the community disaster management plan.

While he could not pre-empt the committee’s recommendations, due in June, he said the main concerns lay with commercial stations, as the ABC had a policy of broadcasting live in cyclone regions.

“But the ABC listenership fluctuates between about 20 and 25 per cent … I suspect more come on during cyclone emergencies, but you’ve got to ask yourself, what are the other 75 per cent of people doing for information?” he said.

The committee has also been asked to recommend minimum local content hurdles, a return to enshrining service obligations in licence conditions and a freeze on new licences. Networked stations account for 86 per cent of the 251 commercial radio licences.

Operators have complained of shrinking revenues during a 65 per cent increase in licences issued during the 1990s.

Mr Neville said it was possible to have viable, locally-based radio stations and said many regional listeners were being short-changed.

“If you listen to a lot of the talkback, even on the ABC, you get the capital city problems, and why should you have to listen to the shock jocks when a local presenter talking about local issues would be equally relevant,” he said.

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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$1.2 billion to fix traffic woes

Lord Mayor Campbell Newman will throw an unprecedented $1.2 billion at the city’s worst traffic congestion hot spots, including intersection and level crossing overhauls.
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Kingsford Smith Drive, Wynnum Road at Wynnum West, Progress Road in Wacol and Blunder Road in Doolandella are among the bottlenecks and black spots to be targeted as part of Cr Newman’s $2.66 billion Brisbane City Council budget announced today.

The four-year "Road Action" spending plan does not include an estimated $137.7 million council will fork out for the Trans Apex suite of tunnel and bridge projects.

Cr Newman said the suburban-focused roads budget would fund $100 million-plus upgrades to level rail crossings at Geebung, Bald Hills and Wynnum West.

And $44 million would be spent on road intersection upgrades.

"By targeting these congestion hot spots I hope to see improvements to Brisbane’s overall roads network," Cr Newman said.

Record dollars will also be ploughed into public transport.

Cr Newman will spend $60 million each year on buses for the next four years as part of his promise to put 125 new vehicles on the road each year.

Two new City Cats will be built in the new financial year at a cost of $3.7 million, while $5.4 million will go towards upgrading the Bulimba, Hawthorne and St Lucia City Cat terminals.

Willawong bus depot will be completed with a $39 million injection and design work will kick off on two more depots on the city’s north and south.

And to begin work on the council’s planned $100 million bikeway network, Cr Newman has allocated $25 million in this coming financial year alone.

"To put this in context, council spent $25.9 million on bikeways over the past four years, so we’re effectively spending in one year what we just did in four," he said.

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Austin rewarded for 40 years of dedication

The public service is not a “cushy” job according to Dubbo resident Austin Jupp, who has just been rewarded for more than 40 years work in the public sector.
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Mr Jupp was presented with the State Government’s long-service medallion at a ceremony in Sydney recently and said the perception of the public service as a laid-back career was mistaken.

“The public service is very accountable for its time, cost and performance and if you don’t measure up you’ll be shown the door,” he said.

Mr Jupp started work in Sydney on February 17 1959 with the Valuer-General’s Department and retired in Dubbo in December 1999.

He was recommended by the department for the medallion, given out for meritorious service.

“Not everyone who works for 40 years gets one so I was very honoured – I didn’t expect it,” Mr Jupp said.

“It is a satisfying reward for years of commitment and dedication.”

Despite starting his career in Sydney Mr Jupp soon moved to country areas and said he loved every minute of it.

“I’ve worked in the north-west and central coast of NSW as well as the central west,” he said.

“I’ve always worked with rural people and those people, plus the places I have been, are the real highlights of my career. I was promoted and came to Dubbo in 1987 and I only decided to come here because I could still work with country people.”

Mr Jupp agreed these days it was unusual for people to stay in the one job for such a long period.

“Managers now would probably look for someone who had changed jobs and tried different things,” he said.

“But when I started out I certainly expected to be working for 40 years and I had no intention of going anywhere else – I was extremely happy where I was.”

Since his retirement Mr Jupp said he had been enjoying life to the full.

“I’m still doing a bit of contract valuing work for private companies but mostly I have been enjoying time with my grandchildren and growing orchids,” he said.

“My wife and I are also involved with Holy Trinity Church which is great.

“I loved my work but after 40 years I was definitely ready to retire.”

This article first appeared in Hangzhou Night Net.

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