Every month, Probus Perth invites a speaker to address members on his or her particular field of expertise or endeavour. Below are summaries of talks given recently. Summaries of various earlier talks are to be found within the “Archives” section of the website.
A TUMULTUOUS LIFE
Brian Burke, June 2019
David Heath introduced Brian Burke, who spoke about his life which is recorded in his book – “A Tumultuous Life”.
Brian started with an honest appraisal of his two years in prison and how the great support from his wife Sue and his very large family saw him through what was a very tough time. Sue and Brian had met as 16 year olds, married at 18 and now had 54 years together. It was this stable family life which sustained him during that period. Prison first at Canning Vale and then at Wooroloo was anything but the “holiday away from home” that some people seem to think. Thirty per cent of inmates were very smart, articulate often repeat offenders who set the gaol rules; 30% were “weekend warriors” usually young, in for minor crimes and drug offences but generally repeat offenders; 10+ were “lifers” who were isolated and the remaining 30% were largely unstable mentally and often dangerous.
Brian was proud of the fact he played a major role in the abolition of capital punishment. He had support from prominent liberals of the time, notably Phillip Pendal and Ray Young. He believes there has to be a better way based on effort going into treating these people before they commit their murderous crimes. That is fine if a way can be found to achieve that, but if offenders are beyond treatment there are many who believe capital punishment would be better than putting others at risk if paroled or spending taxpayer money to gaol them for life when that money could be put to better use. The down side is that apparently 16% of those hung or other ways had their lives concluded were innocent.
He told the story of an enterprising inmate who knew a lot about birds and after painting a pair of black cockatoos crimson was able to sell them to Bird World for $20,000. Another painted pair sold to John Roberts for $50,000. It wasn’t till the crimson pair sired black youngsters that he got found out and gaoled for fraud. Another enterprising inmate set up a business installing stereos in cars. Repeat business came when he later stole the stereos back from the cars and resold them, often to the first buyers who were happy to accept the same model stereos at a discounted price.
Brian nominated what he saw as his successes: –
- He was never challenged as leader of the WA Labour Party and was premier for two terms.
- He re-opened the Fremantle rail line which had been closed down by the previous Liberal Government and he initiated the electrification of the rail network.
- He claims to have solved the Peel Inlet’s algae problem by creating the Dawesville Cut. His sceptics believe there were better and cheaper ways of solving the algae problem and the Dawesville Cut was more related to creating valuable coastal real estate.
- He saw the Casino proceed and had words of praise for Colin Barnett’s later further development of the Burswood area with the new Stadium, Tennis Centre and the beautification of the entire Burswood Area.
- Hillary Boat Harbour, another of Perth’s major tourist attractions was initiated in his time as was the upgrading of much of Fremantle with the Americas Cup defence in 1987.
Brian quoted Paul Keating as his favourite Prime Minister and conceded that Bob Hawke as being the ideal foil for Keating, helped Paul’s success. He named “Fattie” John Roberts as the smartest business man he had met and Robert Holmes a Court as the coldest and cruellest.
The audience had plenty of questions for Brian, to which he responded in his usual smooth manner.
Peter Medd thanked Brian on our behalf and offered him a bottle of wine which Brian returned to be auctioned.
A DAY IN A NATIONAL PARK
Paul Udinga, May 2019
Paul Udinga, a Senior Ranger in National Parks, gave us an insight into the work the Park rangers do. It is more than what you could be led to believe in watching the Hammond family in the old TV series “Skippy the Bush Kangaroo”.
People management is an issue, ensuring that facilities and pathways are such as to discourage damage by erosion and bad behaviour.
Maintenance and upgrading to ensure public enjoyment and use of Parks is encouraged is a major focus. West Australia is a world leader in its National Parks, with very few in the world that can match what Kings Park has to offer.
Park rangers have a big involvement in events held in the parks. The Avon Descent is well known and attracts plenty of participants and visitors to watch. There are charity walks and trail running competitions to oversee.
Work experience for school children and special groups with the emphasis on education and health/therapeutic aspects of time spent in the parks is available with ranger support.
Fire control with the emphasis on educating the public on how to act and respond is important. The need for control burning to reduce the dangers of “hot” fires which are a threat to life and properties is explained. “Hot” fires occur when there has been a build-up of undergrowth to the extent that fires are uncontrollable. It takes 10 years for the natural flora to recover from a “hot” bush fire whereas a “cool” controlled burn encourages regrowth and reduces the chances of having an uncontrolled bush fire.
Paul advised that without the support of volunteer groups such as the “Friends of John Forest National Parks” their budget would go nowhere near covering what they have been able to achieve. Working with the different agencies also stretched their budget and enabled research work on both flora and fauna that can be found in the Parks.
Lloyd Berry thanked Paul for his interesting and informative talk.
A HISTORY OF POISONS
Dr Barry Chesson, April 2019
Peter Medd introduced Dr Barry Chesson to present his talk on poisons. Poisons have played a part in history forever, either intentionally to kill someone or wipe out an enemy or accidentally proving just as fatal. They will probably continue to play a role into the future although it is interesting to note that some poisons used medically to suit certain situations can be lifesaving.
Plants and animals were the source of early poisons used mainly for hunting in conjunction with arrows and darts, lead, copper, hemlock, opium and many types of mushrooms were other sources of poison widely used to achieve a result.
Chemical warfare dates right back to 1000 BC, when the Chinese used it against their enemies. World War 1 saw the use of poisonous gases on a large scale. Tear gas, chlorine and phosgene often fired by artillery, caused a lot of deaths. Many of these deaths were to the side guilty of firing them off due to wind changes bringing the gases back on them. I.G. Farben, the pharmaceutical industry giant, developed nerve gases, saran and tuban, used by the Nazis during World War II, in particular in the gas chambers of the Holocaust.
Accidental deaths have occurred throughout history in almost as large numbers. The mining industry with its dust polluting the air causing silicosis probably heads the list. The Lucifer matches with their yellow phosphorus caused problems for 70 years before being banned. The felt hat trade which used mercurous nitrate caused hatters shake and hallucinations for 100 years before it was banned. Painters using radio luminescent paints developed bone cancer through the radium when painters habitually licked their brushes to give a fine point for detailed work. The Bhopal Tragedy in India resulted in thousands of deaths from the carbides used in making pesticides.
Attempts to use poisons medically go back 2300 years when the Chinese believed mercury could prolong life – not true. Toxicologist Catherine de Medici experimented by administering poisons to the poor and the sick with no good results. Alchemists over the ages have believed mercury could be turned into gold and that it could also be an elixir for long life.
It was a fascinating talk that made members aware of the uses and dangers of the many poisons that exist in everyday life.
CLIMATE CHANGE – Should we be alarmed?
Dr John Happs, March 2019
Peter Medd introduced Dr John Happs, who gave us a well informed and very interesting talk on climate change. It’s a pity the E.P.A. did not hear his talk before they brought out their report which could do a lot of harm to the economy of Western Australia.
The “greenies” of this world and ill-informed celebrities who continually predict doom and gloom if we do not reduce CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions should also listen to what John has to say. These people continually ignore the facts that point to the very minor effect CO2 has on climate change. They delight in showing clouds of steam coming from cooling towers and pretending it is smoke. They and the public in general should be given all the right information before they make a judgement.
For starters CO2 represents 0.04% of the atmosphere and of that human activity produces only 3%. CO2 is colourless, odourless, non-toxic and is essential for plant life on earth, which makes up 80% of the biosphere.
The planet has been going through warm and cold cycles for millions of years and at the present time is actually in a cold cycle, albeit very slowly warming, but a long way short of what could be considered average temperature.
The ability to accurately predict what will happen weather-wise over decades and centuries is very limited. Even predicting seven days ahead is very difficult and usually wrong, despite all the modern equipment and technology. Predictions of the world becoming an overheated disaster have long expired with none of them coming into being.
It would be good if all the facts as currently known were debated by the experts without the alarmist unnecessarily scaring the general public and causing politicians to make stupid decisions.
Thank you John for a very interesting talk.
Chris Carmody, February 2019
Peter Medd introduced Chris Carmody who ran us through the early years of the South Fremantle and East Fremantle football clubs, when 50% of the payers were wharfies. They were rough, tough, hard drinking and hard playing with a rivalry on the field that led to many split lips, black eyes and big bruises. Amongst them was a lot of talent and a lot of players who are remembered to this day.
John Gerovich’s famous high mark of the 1956 season still features as one of the best ever and adorns the pages of most books on Aussie Rules football.
John Todd was a champion at age 16 and a Sandover medallist at 17. Without the problems he had with his knees, he could have been the best footballer ever. After his playing career, which was cut short by his injuries, he became one of the best coaches ever, taking 3 different clubs to premierships.
‘Jungle’ Jack Sheedy was a great footballer and later a great coach, who had the reputation of being a bit of a thug who did not hesitate to knock the opposition out. He infamously gave Claremont’s favourite son, Ken Caporn, some very rough treatment only to get some of his own medicine back from Ken’s umbrella wielding mother who took exception to his actions.
Steve Marsh was a small man but a giant of a footballer. He was part of the very successful South Fremantle teams of the late 1950s. When he jumped camp to become Captain/Coach of East Fremantle he became a traitor at South and a loved hero at East. Steve had a foul mouth and did not hesitate to berate his team if they failed to play to his expectations. Bernie Naylor was one of the greatest full forwards of all time. He kicked over 100 goals in a season so many times he lost count. His kicking style was very accurate and long and has never been repeated – he was a freak.
The Grljusich brothers Tom and George both became famous. Tom was probably the better footballer, but George became more famous because of his many years as a commentator.
There were plenty more. For those like myself who played and followed football through those years the following names will bring back memories too. The Regan brothers, the Doig brothers, George Prince of football and Rottnest ferry fame, the Lewington brothers, Ray Sorrell who always cleaned up Victoria’s Jack Clarke in interstate games, Punga Preen and Des Hoare who starred for WA in both football and cricket, Barry White and Vic French and many more all had something which made their names go down in football history.
Chris also talked about and showed photos of the Pubs in Fremantle at the time, wharf activities of those days, Fremantle streets, buildings, bridges and citizens. It represented a quick history of Fremantle.
I thanked Chris for his interesting and entertaining talk and reminded him that my old team Subiaco had turned things around and now reigned as the top team in the West.
AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE CONSERVANCY
Angela Bowman, November 2018
Peter Medd introduced Angela Bowman who spoke to us about the problems Australia faced with the extinction of endangered animal species and what her organisation was doing to address the problems.
Australia had the worst record in the world for losing its rare animal species – 30 species had been lost for ever since Europeans inhabited Australia. In the same period the United States had lost only one species. Those species that had not been lost altogether were losing numbers at a frightening rate; typical of this was in mammals where woylies as an example had gone from 225,000 down to 180,000 in the period monitoring had been introduced.
The A.W.C.with their limited funds had created 27 properties around Australia as wild life sanctuaries. In parallel with this the State Governments had created National Parks around Australia with the same basic aims. Government expenditure was huge compared with the A.W.C. expenditure, but despite its large staff numbers and huge expenditure Government expenditure was nowhere near as effective in terms of results achieved. Government were starting to accept that A.W.C. could do it better and in some instances were engaging A.W.C. to manage their National Parks. A.W.C’s success was based on getting people into the field and with meaningful monitoring where Governments spent a big proportion of their budget on administration and bureaucracy. Success could only be claimed when numbers of endangered species actually started to increase and there are now instances, such as the purple crowned fairy wren, where this is occurring.
The biggest threats to our endangered species are feral cats, foxes, agriculture, herbivore and “hot” fires. There are 4 million feral cats in Australia who between them are killing 2000 individuals every minute – frightening numbers. The only way to protect species from these feral cats and foxes is by selecting properties which can be proved to be free of them and fencing those properties. Fences must be designed to disallow climbing over them or digging under them. A lot of research is currently going into creating a gene in feral cats which causes them to give birth only to male cats. Over a period of time the cats will lose the ability to breed. Obviously the human population has to eat so we must have agriculture which means clearing land and losing habitat. The herbivore problem is related to domestic animals eating and tramping down growth which could have provided protection and hiding places for species. By discouraging less eating of meat the herbivore problem can at least be reduced. “Hot” fires are the burning off late in the season when there is more dry fire fuel to burn. The extra heat created by these fires kills off flora which would otherwise survive and regerminate. The “cool” fire technique is to reduce the quantity and size of burn-offs and do them early in the fire season. The recovery from “cool” burn off is remarkably good and gives the protection and concealment needed by species.
It was interesting to be told dingoes were now almost recognised as native to Australia and were not a real danger to our endangered mammals. Dingoes only killed to eat whereas feral cats killed for the sake of killing. Dingoes and mammals seem to be able to live together. The presence of dingoes also discouraged the presence of feral cats and foxes.
A.W.C. relied on Government funding but was gaining more support from the Corporate Sector and other charities. Supporters can visit their Properties which are generally established in locations which could be classed as tourist attractions themselves.
Angela was thanked by Penny McHugh and given the usual bottle of wine in appreciation of her interesting talk.