Saturday, 28 February 2009

Silent Killer Lurks in Tropical Soils

Not only do we have to contend with large killer crocodiles, man eating sharks, deadly King Brown snakes, let alone drunken drivers on the roads, there is a new and more deadly killer in our midst.

Chances of recovery.........less than 50%, although they are getting a bit better as medical staff learn how to deal with the disease and treat the symptoms. That is in Darwin......where there is some knowledge. In Thailand, the estimated death toll annually is over 1000.

The nasty is .............melioidosis. And you can catch it while GARDENING.

This is absolutely true,25197,25112442-23289,00.html gives more details. As does .

In Darwin it used to be called Nightcliff Gardeners Disease, but that is a bit unfair. Just because many residences in Nightcliff have active gardeners, and are more exposed to the disease.

At last there seems to be developing a better understanding of the etiology of the disease, with significant work being done at the Darwin locally based Menzies School of Health Research. I have had a few discussions with staff there regarding knowledge of the disease among medical staff in Thailand, where I have worked and was a bit more apprehensive than normal as I knew I would be wandering around in rice paddies.

It seems to occur in many tropical and subtropical regions and countries. The warning now here is to use gloves while gardening and to wear covered shoes. This can be difficult in a culture where being bare footed is vey common. I have certainly been bare footed in many rice paddies and flooded pasture areas in the NT during my work. When the water is 300 - 400mm deep it hardly seems sensible to be wearing boots.

Monday, 16 February 2009

It Rained Today

It just goes to show you cannot trust the weather to behave when you need it to do so.

It rained this morning.........just at the time most people were on their way to work. But no, not just some rain. Yesterday was dry, and the ominous signs of the monsoon moving offshore were quite obvious. Were we to have some more dry days? There had been 26 days in a row with rain, Sunday was dry. Maybe a few dry days would be good.

But this morning it rained, very seriously! About 40mm [ more in some areas around Darwin] in about 20 -25 minutes, equivalent to about 100mm in an hour intensity. That is serious rain!

Traffic quickly switched to "wet mode" - headlights on, a bit more care, lots of splashing water off the road and a slightly slower pace. And people were caught out big time, with quite a few drenched bodies seen.........had gone out without the mandatory umbrella!

And now, 40 minutes later the clouds are rising, and blue sky is slowly appearing across the southern sky as the storm clouds disappear to the north, offshore.

But it will be wet underfoot for some time still as the ground slowly moves the water overland or absorbs it.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Modern Houses in Darwin

The modern current type of design for houses in Darwin seems to have forgotten many of the guiding principles of design for the region. And a black or charcoal grey roof is not a smart idea in this climate!

They tend to be heavy in construction- brick or block and on a concrete slab on the ground; with poor flow through ventilation; often with poor insulation, particularly in the roof space; poor orientation so that the prevailing SE or N /NW breezes are missed; small windows, often that cannot be opened adequately so that the effective opening is less than 50% of the glass areas, and often too with little or no outdoor roofed space that could be utilised for outdoor living. Higher costs partly drives some of these - eg outdoor areas, and often these do get added later.

However, with this type of design - probably more appropriate for a temperate climate - you are needing to seriously consider airconditioning, to make the house habitable.

Yes, there are some other considerations now. People say that household security is improved with this current design. I am unconvinced, as adequate security can be built into for example louvred windows with full openings by using cross bars that are unobtrusive, and anyway, residents often add serious heavy security screens anyway on the outside.......more costs.

Some of the houses can be attractive inside, but I wonder if this is just pandering to newcomers to the region who "expect" houses just like Melbourne, Sydney or Perth. This climate demands a different type of house design.

There are some excellent architects locally in north Australia - with their design offerings seen from Brisbane north and through to Darwin. Suitable aesthetics, good design and well suited to handle both the wet and dry sectors of the local weather. These do not necessarily exclude airconditioning, but rather use it to moderate conditions eg at night in the bedrooms or to supplement in the hot weather in November and December, or for an office. With modern inverter air con systems operating costs are modest if used in conjunction with well designed buildings, and obviously not needed in the dry season.

The other type of "southern" house still needs airconditioning in the cooler dry season weather, as they do not use the cooler dry season breezes well, due to poor cross flow.

Apart from solar HWS, which are very common on new and even older houses, there is little use of solar PV systems, except in Alice Springs, where there is support from the Solar Cities Program. One local Darwin house estimates that their PV system still produces about 75% of output in the wet season compared to dry season output which is higher. So it is feasible. But few seem to care.

There has been little use of water management systems, although many do run their washing machine in to the back garden [ not always legal though].

Superior design can be effective, and cost effective, but it seems that many do not seem to understand what it really means to have a house design that is well suited to the climate.

Our own house is a post Cyclone Tracy built house in a time when it was difficult to really do what was best design wise as the pressure to build was intense. However, cross flow air, solar HWS, fans in bathrooms, light colurs, tiled floors reduced thermal load on external walls and roof, high grade insulation in the E and W walls, well oriented to catch the breeze and similar had to part of the design and there is little we would change now.

We do have air conditioning in the bedrooms, but it is used predominantly at night.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Victorian Fires - Just Pray

We are a long way from the bushfires in Victoria, with weather totally different. Parts of Victoria had maximum temperatures around 47C [117F] over the past few days, the highest EVER recorded. We are actually likely to be having local floods today across many parts of the Northern Territory, as well as in north Queensland and the NW of Western Australia.

The bushfires in Victoria are just awful, even by Australian standards where summer bushfires are a regular issue in much of the southern states, each summer. I cannot even hope to emulate the material on so many of the commercial media web pages, with images often contributed by those most affected, or at least by those who got out.

See - or as two major media outlets with vivid stories and photos; if not obvious, search on Victorian bushfires.

As of Monday morning there have been over 100 deaths, about 800 houses totally destroyed and countless other lives and houses devastated. It seems obvious that these figures will rise significantly as authorities reach areas previously cut off. Think of the army of volunteers as fire authority staff, Red Cross assistants and so on who are there helping, and the countless stories of those who were lucky to survive. They do have a bit of deprecating humour, typically Australian............but they will suffer, when the tragedy hits the brain. It might be hours, days or weeks, but realisation will come. I speak as a cyclone victim and survivor and can feel for them.

They need some help............think of them and offer a silent prayer.

And wonder about the idiots or the deranged who may have actually lit the fires in some cases - it seems the authorities are serious about high level prosecutions - manslaughter or similar in a number of situations.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

The Kingfisher

It is a wet, monsoonal, squally shower sort of day......very typical of monsoonal weather. There is a cyclone brewing up in the Indian Ocean, floods in Queensland, and terrible, terrible bushfires in Victoria. Typically an Australian summer!

We have had a visit to the yard from a kingfisher today. A very pretty bird, and there must be quite a few around the area, for I have seen a number of them recently along the Rapid Creek cycle path, in the trees and on the ground. Our family has always recognised a semi-resident king fisher......which has been christened "Kerry", but this one is smaller and maybe a first time visitor to the yard.

We have a large resident population of birds in the garden, including a lot of honeyeaters of various types, even with a few local cats, including our own at times. My view is that the local houses with pools, water features in the garden and similar facilities actually encourage birds, in comparison to the unwatered areas that would be there with the former native vegetation. It also helps that we are about 100m from a permanent creek.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Exercise Junkie

I am coming out............yes, I am a bit of an exercise junkie. I really enjoy my afternoon swim training. And I am getting a bit serious.

There is the joy of chasing the black line and the graceful feeling of water sliding past your body, especially if travelling a bit fast doing freestyle, and really developing a rythmic side movement of the body as you twist from side to side, swimming down your arm. No one can get you unless they come to the end of the pool. [ although that is optional these days], mobile and regular phones, e-mails, noise, and at least where I train, not too many people in a lane.

There are some serious open water swims coming up here from about June, including the Pee Wees to the Trailer Boat Club swim - about 2.4km open water across Darwin Harbour. Are there sharks? Well, the common answer here is that, no there are no sharks.......the crocodiles ate them. But seriously, they check the area and with a few hundred swimmers entered, there is a fair bit of protection around.

These types of open water swim are becoming very popular around Australia with many now in SE Australia in the summer time. Just don the budgie smugglers and away you go. [ Budgie Smugglers aka Speedos, swimmers, togs, cozzies, racers, nylons, lycras; those skimpy ones worn by Olympic swimmers in previous Games - except that many are, like me of a different, older, more mature generation......and women too!]

Back to the is finally starting to make a difference. I have put in some hard metres in the pool , some tough interval swim sessions and at the gym on weights and strength training, and training times and interval periods are coming down. Everyone has good sessions and definitely not so good training sessions, for all sorts of reasons; with work for many being a seriously interfering factor in training.

No luxury of being a full time athlete, although these days, surprisingly, many mature age competitors [retired] are able to train.....and they do.....virtually full time. Most, though, do work or run a business, and putting in the training can be an effort. BUT.....getting organised does help!

It is still many weeks to go to June, but recent results are heartening. I won my age group last year; I would like to do well again this year.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Plane Crash in Darwin

Not as spectacular as the recent large passenger aircraft crash in New York but still a big event locally in Darwin.

Shortly after take off around 0830 today, a pilot had to make an emergency landing on a coastal beach near East Point, Darwin. Just after takeoff, the plane lost power and then was ditched very successfully just off the beach.

All 6 passengers and pilot are uninjured, and they walked ashore from shallow water just off the beach. Most believe the pilot did a fantastic job........missed the residential areas. At least here the flight path off the main runway does go to the west over vacant land and then over the water, so he has had to get the plane around and back to the beach to land.

We have large tidal ranges here in Darwin and the light aircraft is now being drowned by the incoming tide.

This is definitely the story of the day locally.