Posts by Ciaran O'Mahony

Ciaran is a freelance writer with a background in Criminology. He has written extensively on social issues such as family violence (Honours thesis, University of Melbourne) and the criminalisation of immigration and border control (Master’s thesis, University of Oxford). His academic writing experience includes writing, proofreading and editing comprehensive reports and analyses for major government bodies and academic journals. His work has been published on a number of popular sites and publications, including The Citizen, Energy Consumers Australia, World Boxing News, Boxing Insider, Last Word on Tennis, MMASucka and Last Word on Football. This website is a collection of his writings on a range of sporting events and stories.

Could mangroves save Victoria’s second largest bay?

Local volunteers are currently trialling a nature-based solution to rising sea levels at Western Port Bay.

While many coastal towns have relied on seawalls to counter sea level rise, the Western Port Seagrass Partnership (WPSP) have implemented a mangrove rejuvenation program.

The volunteer organisation was established in 2002 by climate science experts and community members, who say they were forced to pursue this novel approach due to a lack of government support.

“Mangroves are cheap to grow and the State, up until now, has not put any effort into stopping that erosion and it’s eroding about a metre a year,” says WPSP Board member Hugh Kirkman.

Although mangroves have been successfully planted in tropical climates, this has never been done before in Victoria.

Mangroves are generally seen as habitats for birds and small fish, but WPSP Director Ian Stevenson, hopes that they will also act as a barrier to the erosion and inundation that has plagued Western Port since the 1970s.

“Locals started experiencing major flooding sessions throughout the area in the 1970s, which destroyed the seagrass on the eastern arm of Western Port,” says Stevenson.

“The inundation is largely from storm surges, which have always occurred, but they’ve been continuing in recent decades to the point that inundation and flooding is quite frequent,” according to Stevenson.

The worst affected areas are rural land (particularly an old swamp) in Lang Lang and the more urban area of Grantville- which has suffered continuous erosion and inundation that is eating into the front yards of private properties despite the presence of a protective concrete seawall.

In one extreme case, the front paddock of a farmer’s property suffered over a kilometre of inundation after a major storm.

Some farmers have therefore taken desperate measures to protect the area, dumping car bodies, rocks and concrete, in front of the shore.

It is hoped that mangroves will provide a cost-effective alternative.

“If the mangroves can arrest erosion, and we can reduce sediment around those areas, then we’ll overcome some of the problems of inundation as well as avoiding some of the cliff erosions,” Stevenson explains.

Kirkman says that if the program is successful it would be a significant environmental breakthrough because “[mangroves] can hold and store carbon dioxide about ten times better than a rainforest. Sometimes it has been recorded as more than ten times, but no less than that.”

The organisation is still perfecting a number of techniques, including how far apart seeds should be planted, how many rows should be put in and how far out to sea they should go.

“We’ve been trying a whole range of experimental techniques for ten years on propagating, seed collection, direct seeding, and putting pipes in for protection,” Stevenson says.

Currently, the process involves taking seeds off the tree once they’ve germinated, and putting them in a nursery within a glass house. Once they have grown, they are placed in a 10 mm plastic pipe, pushed in the ground, and grown from there.

The WPSP’s activism and ability to adapt to the challenges of climate change despite their limited resources, is an encouraging and unusual development, according to according to Swinburne University’s Dr Belinda Christie.

“It’s usually more of a case of government or council intervention rather than local people going ‘hey we’re a bit worried that in 50 years’ time our walkway is going to be under the water’. I haven’t heard many cases of grass roots intervention,” she says.

Although their ambitious new approach shows promise, Kirkman admits that they still don’t know if it will actually work.

It has been a long and sometimes frustrating process as the seeds can sometimes get full of seagrass or stuck on the edge of the pipe.

“We’ve lost a lot of them [the plants] but I suppose the best germination we’ve had is about 60%, sometimes we get 8% or 30% or something like that,” says Kirkman.

“It’s still early days. We’re having some success, but it’s still just the start of the bigger issue and on its own it’s unlikely to be successful for that section of coastline,” Stevenson says.

“We’ve got some plants that are about 10 years old that are doing very well. We’ve had a lot of failures because of the terrain, but there are plenty of areas where we’ve seen natural re-vegetation.”

For now, the experiment continues.

Aboriginal Households Face Uphill Battle to Pay Energy Bills

Many low-income households will struggle to stay warm this winter as soaring energy prices take their toll. But research by energy specialists has found that an accumulation of factors mean Aboriginal households are particularly vulnerable to the winter chill.

A three-year investigation called the Koorie Energy Efficiency Project (KEEP) has blamed a trifecta of raw service costs, a lack of awareness around energy efficiency, and “energy hungry” housing stock for the uphill battle confronting many Aboriginal people trying to haul back their energy bills.

The upshot is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders experience a distinct disadvantage compared to other groups – indeed, “compared with the rest of Australia, really”, says the head of the project, Swinburne University researcher Dr Rowan Bedggood.

Many of the households were using energy hungry appliances that generated bills that few households could afford, let alone those from low socio-economic backgrounds, according to Bedggood.

“Some [Aboriginal] people had an electricity bill that was three, four or five thousand dollars. You can imagine with a household that’s already struggling financially and already on a very low income, that’s just impossible to pay,” she says.

“Some households didn’t have heating so they’d use plug-in heaters like blow heaters, not realising how much energy they consume, some didn’t have central air-conditioning and might have had four or five air conditioners in each of the rooms so they would put them on and not realise,” Bedggood says.

Lack of knowledge is not a uniquely Aboriginal problem as many households across Victoria are unaware of the simple steps they can take to improve their energy efficiency. However, Aboriginal households are at a distinct disadvantage because they are often not able to access the support networks that can assist them to pay their bills.

Energy retailers rarely reached out to these households for support. In fact, they often seemed resistant to helping them, Bedggood says.

“One of the stories we did hear in the project was that the householder would contact the retailer and usually go to a call centre, and that retailer was invariably not helpful or even resistant as soon as they found out the person was Aboriginal,” she says.

TheKEEP project  assisted 4,500 low-income Aboriginal households around Victoria, providing a range of energy efficiency initiatives- including home visits where householders were given a number of energy saving tips and advice, and the installation of major/minor retrofits and in-home energy use displays.

Aboriginal Community Development Officers, who visited these homes to provide energy saving strategies, would often play a secondary role as an advocate for householders with energy retailers.

“Our workers in our project would go to the household to help walk them through their bill and give them energy tips to help reduce their next bill,” Bedggood says.

“But a lot of their work was advocacy, they’d get on the phone on the householder’s behalf to the retailers and sometimes they’d be on the phone for up to two hours and they had to go into battle almost sometimes with whoever they were on the phone with to get the support that the household was entitled to,” according to Bedggood.

While energy retailers are regulated to provide support to those experiencing hardship, they are proactive in doing so.

“To get on a concession plan or payment plan, for example, you have to realise that those offers are available. Now I suppose these things are available on companies’ websites, but a lot of the people that were in our study didn’t have a computer or access to the internet.”

The longitudinal study overseen by Bedggood was one of 20 projects funded under the Federal Government’s $55 million Low Income Energy Efficiency Program (LIEEP) delivered to 32,000 households across the country.

It also found that poor housing stock is making it even harder for Aboriginal people to reduce their energy consumption.

“These challenges were coupled with them being in housing, most of it social support housing, where frankly you may as well have been living in a tent,” Bedggood says.

“They weren’t insulated, they weren’t upgraded, they had fixed appliances that were energy hungry, not energy efficient,” she says.

This issue was also identified by Dr Philippa Watson of the University of Tasmania in another parallel project called Get Bill Smart.

“We just have terrible housing stock in Australia really from what I understand compared to European standards,” says Watson

It’s a historic problem, according to Watson, as the Government tried to “build housing for everyone,” favouring quantity over “thick walls”.

Bedggood agrees that poorly built housing stock is an issue throughout Australia, but argues that the conditions in which many Aboriginal people are living often fall into the extreme end of the frame.

“One house didn’t have a back-door and some had no window coverings. You can imagine trying to keep them warm in winter or cool in summer,” she says.

“There was one home that my research team visited to do a follow-up interview and it had no light bulbs so when it became dark they went to bed or had candles. There were wires hanging out of the wall where electricity sockets used to be,” according to Bedggood.

“We designed the program with our Aboriginal partners to deliver outcomes for the Aboriginal people,” she says.

Bedggood says a “targeted effort” to assist the Aboriginal population is possible given that they represent about 3% of the Australian population.

She proposes creating Aboriginal call centres so that Aboriginal households can ring an energy line and receive appropriate assistance over the phone.

Whatever the Government does to tackle the issue, Aboriginal input is critical, Bedggood says.

“We’re coming up with ideas that may or may not work, but the main thing is if that discussion is held with Aboriginal people sitting at the table, then we might have a really good outcome,” she says.

Finalists announced for the 2019 Walkley Young Australian Journalist of the Year Awards

Walkley Student Journalist of the Year

Walkley Young Australian Journalist of the Year Finalists

‘A very tragic history’: how the trauma of a 1926 massacre echoes through the years

Located on the banks of east Kimberley’s Forrest River, with a scenic cliff face at its entrance, Oombulgurri boasts rare natural beauty. Few would believe this peaceful, isolated spot – only accessible by boat – has experienced so much trauma, and so recently.

Until 1969 Oombulgurri was a punitive Anglican mission called Forrest River. In 1926 tensions between Aboriginal people on the mission and residents of the nearby Nulla Nulla station, on their ancestral lands, came to a bloody head.

You can read the rest of this article at theguardian.com.au

The Scottish explorer who became the butcher of Gippsland

Once revered as a pioneer, the Scottish explorer Angus McMillan is now known as “the butcher of Gippsland”.

This reversal of reputation – from virtuous Presbyterian to cold-blooded killer – is the work not just of the people he wronged but of his own relations and the descendants of his closest friends.

In July 1843 at Warrigal Creek, McMillan and his Highland Brigade surrounded a large group of Gunaikurnai people and mercilessly shot between 60 and 150 men, women and children.

You can read the rest of this article at theguardian.com.au