0 comments on “I’m an ABC Waste Warrior!”

I’m an ABC Waste Warrior!

At the mouth of the River Derwent, we swim in Hobart’s plastic and toxic waste.

I have always picked up litter on paths and ocean beaches. Six months ago, I started walking my dog every day on any one of the six beaches inside the eastern mouth of the River Derwent. Very quickly I noticed how certain weather conditions would bring in specific types of waste. After stormy weather, the ocean regurgitates large ‘delights’ from the deep: chunks of knotted polypropylene rope, car tyres and gear from fish farms and boats.

On the other hand, extended periods of rain are followed by masses of plastic domestic items, such as pegs, balloon shreds, toys, condoms, Band-Aids, cutlery, syringes, single-use bags, tile-spacers, Styrofoam chunks, cable ties, baby wipes and UFPs (unidentified floating plastics – thousands of tiny, coloured pieces of plastic).

So, I initiated my daily ‘forty-minute forage’. The five most common types of waste are plastic straws, plastic lollipop sticks, small pieces of nylon rope, lids and single serve chocolate wrappers.

I am in the process of sorting, photographing and documenting each piece of over 60 kilos (and growing daily) of waste. Three things are apparent:

  • We swim in Hobart’s waste down here at South Arm. New studies are also showing that toxic pollutants, such as DDT or hexachlorobenzene, can adhere to soft, rubbery plastics.
  • I am just one person picking up beach waste – I would love to see a beach waste-free because everyone does it. Start your own ‘fifteen-minute forage’!
  • Or, even better, I would love to see a beach waste-free because everyone at the ‘user end’ is engaged in recycling, refuses to buy plastic-wrapped products, picks up waste around and in storm-water drains, doesn’t treat the ocean like a bin (that goes out to you, on boats) and really considers where the plastic straw or wrapper in their hand might end up.

0 comments on “Back to Japan … and the plastic dilemma”

Back to Japan … and the plastic dilemma

In early October I returned to Japan, for the third time. This trip was three weeks long. [Ideally, it should have been three months or three years]. I marvel at the small things in Japanese culture. Some are very apparent; others take me a while to notice, but this slowly unfurling personal awareness is a delightful treat.

Things that are instantly apparent are almost paradoxical. There is, for example, no litter in public spaces … but there are also no bins. There might be several tucked away in corners of the larger train stations, but they must be hunted down. They lurk beside the ranks of lockers, or behind smoking rooms or in convenience stores; but never in clear sight.

Second, Japan revels in plastic. This is curious, given the proclivity for many food gift purchases to be exquisitely and expertly wrapped in beautifully patterned paper/s. However, everything else is in plastic bags, plastic containers, plastic food packaging, plastic anything packaging. Some items are encased in plastic three of four times. The convenient madness of individually plastic-wrapped bananas, apples and eggplants is rife [see Vice‘s article on it here].

Domestic waste (in Tokyo at least) can be divided into recyclable PET bottles, aluminium cans or glass bottles … and everything else. This means other packaging plastics are not recycled in a conventional sense. Instead, all of the other mixed waste (including food)  is incinerated. Japan has huge incinerators in every major city. In Tokyo in 2015, roughly 8,000 tons per day of household waste was generated by about nine million people and put out for disposal, collected and then immediately transported to one of 21 factory-size waste incineration plants located around the city. The waste is incinerated at over 800° C: this not only reduces the volume to 5%, but also the amount of dioxin gases produced by incineration. Much of the sandy or ashy slag can be incorporated in asphalt, bricks and concrete. Multiple filters and processes are used to prevent harmful substances and gases (such as particulates and sulphur oxide) from being emitted from the facilities. Chimneys of waste incineration plants emit vapour — not smoke — and these are monitored constantly.

Tokyo’s Toshima Incineration Plant, for example, consumes 300 tons of garbage a day, turning it into electricity, hot water and a form of recyclable sand. Over 180,000 people frequent this plant annually, to swim and exercise in the plant’s fitness centre and pool, and to use the health clinic for the elderly.

Many of Japan’s incinerators are architecturally significant. Architect Yoshio Taniguchi [designer of the expanded Museum of Modern Art in New York] designed the very beautiful Hiroshima City Naka Incineration Plant, which he calls “my museum of garbage”.

Sorting trash is a serious civic responsibility in some places. In the eastern Japanese town of Kamikatsu, residents compost all food waste and sort other waste into 34 different bins for recycling. The aim is for a zero-waste town. In Tokyo, I saw no overflowing bins on the streets and I was told many citizens even rinse their household waste, item by item, before carefully sorting it. On long-distance buses and trains, each seat is provided with a small plastic bag and passengers take home all of their rubbish. Trucks and taxis are spotless; neighbours monitor each others’ waste to ensure it is correctly sorted; children clean their own schoolrooms and shop employees, for example, take responsibility for cleaning their respective footpaths. It’s a system which works.

But the individually wrapped bananas in the supermarkets? I found these particularly jarring, particularly given the recent move in many Australian supermarkets to do the same.

0 comments on “Following the cherry blossom trail in Japan”

Following the cherry blossom trail in Japan

A different way of enjoying Japanese culture – follow the blossoms

If you want a Japanese holiday that has a different focus and a relaxed approach to moving northwards, stopping at the major towns and their public gardens, then this is the trip for you. Photographic opportunities abound, the weather is generally good (although still cool in the evenings) and you can share the sense of relief at winter’s end by joining a hanami party and toasting the coming of summer with a few glasses of umeshu.

Springtime cherry blossoms in Japan

Cherry blossom (sakura) season in the spring is beloved by Japanese locals and visitors alike. Although the season lasts only a month in any one place (typically April in Tokyo and Kyoto), the phenomenon can be followed, as the blossoms open, in towns and cities from the south to the north of Japan. Cherry blossoms open as early as mid-January on the southern Okinawa islands. In Hokkaido in the far north, they bloom as late as mid-May.

Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties

The season is one to celebrate. For the Japanese it means the end of winter and a time to enjoy the slowly warming evenings. Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties involve a picnic under the drifting blossoms. Young office workers sit under the trees in city parks and much laughter ensues as umeshu (Japanese plum liqueur) and traditional bento boxes (filled with seasonal fare) are consumed. While cherry trees bloom overhead, gardens are full of flowers such as daffodils, tulips, peonies and azaleas. It is also a popular time for weddings and couples in full traditional clothing can be spotted being photographed in front of the blossom trees. Food stalls around city parks sell delicious treats such as roasted chestnuts, takoyaki (balls of fried batter filled with pieces of octopus) and okonomiyaki (savoury Japanese pancakes).

The cherry blossom trail from south to north

The cherry blossom forecast for each year is normally posted online by January. An ideal hanami route would begin in Okinawa, which has a humid, subtropical climate. This region is renowned for its diving and white sand beaches. Better-known stops on the way north, recognised for hanami, include Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, Yokohama, Tokyo, Nara, Nagano and Sendai. The final stop is Sapporo on Hokkaido and the centre of Japan’s best-known skiing region.

Kyoto’s beautiful Philosopher’s Path, from the Silver Pavilion to Nanzenji Temple

Most Japanese cities have beautiful walks, graced by the cherry trees. The Philosopher’s Path, in Kyoto, a gentle 90-minute stroll alongside a stream, starts at the Silver Pavilion (Ginkakuji) and ends at Nanzenji Temple, at the base of the forested Higashiyama Mountains. This is one of the most important Zen temples in Japan, and both the Pavilion and Temple grounds are filled with flowering trees and shrubs in the spring, and gold, red and orange leaves of deciduous trees in the autumn.

Travelling by train in Japan

The best way to get around Japan is by train, and preferably the Shinkansen, or bullet train. Save money by buying a Japan Rail Pass before you depart for Japan. The Shinkansen is always punctual, modern and spotless. It is very easy to book seats, which is recommended, particularly in popular travel times such as spring.

0 comments on “All the small things – making a garden on the east coast of Tasmania”

All the small things – making a garden on the east coast of Tasmania

This is an excerpt from the first [overly long] blog post I made, back in 2013.


My naivety and arrogance was profound.

I have had great successes with gardens in Brisbane and then Launceston, although worlds apart. The basic gardening principles are similar; however, the shift to a cold Mediterranean climate from the subtropical initially presented some challenges. The seasons were topsy-turvy, with rain in the winter. Germination was slow and I could no longer poke a green stick in the ground and watch its leaves unfurl as its roots expanded under the ground, in a period of weeks. Both locales, however, had good soil, plentiful sun and water on tap.

I had grown up gardening with blousy, soft, over-coloured, sub-tropical species such as Heliconia, Oleander and Brugmansia (formerly Datura). But secretly, passionately and inspired by avidly perusing English gardening books as a child I craved perennials: Primula, Phlox, true Geranium, Dianthus. I yearned for highly scented Narcissus. I longed to pick bunches of Lilac and Azalea molle and place boughs of Wintersweet in tall jars to perfume the heated winter house when the sky outside was still charcoal grey. I ached, yes ached, to pick my own Sweetpeas, and even daydreamed of myself as a 19th Century flower girl (in mittens), selling tiny bunches of purple and white Sweet Violets at Covent Garden to wealthy London ladies.

There is something magical about these flowers, the subjects of myth and the symbols of Victorian emotion; they are the gentle-ladies of the garden. And they are pink, white, lavender and blue, not the garish, over-baked oranges and yellows of sub-tropical flowers (and leaves). I eventually successfully grew most of the above in my Launceston garden except for the stubborn Wintersweet – Chimonanthus praecox, which has languished behind a stoic Daphne odorata for years. Even as I write I am accompanied by a vase of pale golden and cream Paperwhites, Jonquils and other Narcissus. The smell is elixir. My spirit is lifted.


I needed, perhaps after travelling through North America, Europe and Japan, four seasons, each differentiated by a distinct change in weather and vegetation. There is something to be said for the patience learnt from waiting for nature to turn, literally, a leaf. There is delight in anticipating the seed germinating, warming in the subsoil, responding to cues invisible to obtuse humans: small changes in temperature and lengthening of daylight. No mechanised invention, to my mind, can rival the complexity, and the simplicity, of this little genetic powerhouse.

But I digress. As the garden in Launceston became established, self-seeding and abundant I coincidentally bought a two-room shack at the beach on the northeast coast of Tasmania and my world was completely altered, in terms of gardening. The coast is generally five or six degrees warmer in the winter than inland, and without the crippling frosts and tedious grey days. In preparation for my move I potted plants from the inland garden to transplant into their new maritime environment. I researched, located and bought endemic east coast species, as tubestock, expecting them to flourish instantly. No my great despair, many faltered. I replanted, mulched and hoped.

My perseverance is paying off. Two (seemingly long) years after I planted my first tree, an endemic Oyster Bay Pine (Callitris rhomboidea), it is now over my head in height. I have learnt to pot up all tubestock into 200mm pots with quality potting mix, and to resist planting these out until there is good root development. My own nursery of cutting-grown and seed-raised endemics is thriving, out of the wind, with regular and, importantly, deep watering.

My ignorance still exists. Gardening is a lifetime of learning, watching, even listening. My initial zeal to plant anything, anywhere in the sand has been tempered by plant loss or growth retardation. I am now even more studious and patient. I do not have the luxury (nor, thankfully, the expense) of town water, but I do have the four distinct seasons as a guide and a kinder growing climate (than both Launceston and Jarman’s). And I know where tiny, secret, untended, unnamed and possibly quite rare Paperwhites are pushing their creamy heads through a patch of grass, within walking distance of my shack. My bliss is complete.

0 comments on “Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules for writing”

Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules for writing

These rules, recently discovered (by me), relate more so to writing fiction, but they are also such strong reminders of focus and commitment to the craft.

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  9. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Kurt Vonnegut: Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), pp. 9-10.

0 comments on “Digging into American history in Washington DC”

Digging into American history in Washington DC

Different museum experiences

Washington DC is renowned for the Washington Monument, White House and the National Mall, which is lined with museums, including the National Air and Space Museum. For a history buff there are also museums that offer fascinating insights into specific aspects of American history, such as the National Museum of the American Indian and the United States Botanic Garden.

American Indian culture on display

The museum’s large and diverse collections pay respect to the tribes and communities, and reflect the sense and spirit of Native America. The NMAI cares for one of the world’s most expansive collections of Native artifacts, including objects, photographs and archives – from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego. As many of the cultures and communities represented in the museum are still living, this is an active, living museum.

Building and landscaping

The amazing building evokes a wind-sculpted rock formation, and contains celestial references, such as a dome that opens to the sky. The deep connection between indigenous peoples and their land is reflected in the landscaped grounds around the building. Four hundred years ago, this region abounded in forests, wetlands, meadows, and croplands. Today, a small hardwood forest, a wetlands area and traditional seasonal crops represent these natural riches. The day we visited, a tiny pocket of sunflowers, maize and scarlet runner beans flourished under the canopy of the vast museum.

Eating – American Indian style

The best way to experience the beautiful displays and performances is to start at the stop and meander down the floors to the museum’s Mitsitam Native Foods Café, where traditional food are prepared and served. ‘Mitsitam’ means ‘Let’s eat’ in the Native language of the Delaware and Piscataway peoples. Each of the five food stations depicts regional customs related to cooking techniques, ingredients and flavours found in traditional and contemporary dishes. We ate cedar-plank-roasted salmon, maple syrup roasted duck, a sweet yam mash and wild grains salad – each a modern twist on traditional staples.

United States Botanic Garden – a ‘green museum’

Slightly away from the Mall, but easily accessible by Hop-on Hop-off buses, is the United States Botanic Garden. This Garden, established by the U.S. Congress in 1820, is one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America. Its establishment is based on George Washington’s vision for the capital city of the United States to include a botanic garden that would demonstrate and promote the importance of plants to the nation.

 The cultivation of plants for food

The Botanic Garden has a strong focus on educating visitors about the history of cultivating plants for food. In the huge glass Conservatory, for example, are fruiting cacao trees and vanilla orchids. The Botanic Garden also hosts multi-cultural, botanically related displays and activities. We were delighted to see a rare Japanese ‘Thousand Bloom Chrysanthemum’ – a single plant painstakingly cultivated over 12 months to produce one thousand flowers; literally a living work of art.

Washington DC daytrip-planning

All of Washington’s fascinating attractions would take many weeks to view. Planning daytrips that take into account your specific historical, artistic, scientific or cultural interests will save a lot of time. You can then spend more time, as we did, absorbing a few special places.