CANBERRA WRITER’S TAKE ON THE CURRENT CLIMATE GOES INTERNATIONAL

Canberra author of Little One and Son of Mine Pete Papathanasiou has had opinion pieces on the bushfires published in the Chicago Tribune and the Toronta STAR

Dispatch from Canberra, Australia, where the air is thick with toxic smoke, politics and climate debates

By PETER PAPATHANASIOU CHICAGO TRIBUNE |JAN 07, 2020 | 11:03 AM 

Greetings from Canberra, Australia’s capital city. Surrounded by native bushland and replete with parks and greenery, we are normally a picture of health and vitality, of cleanliness and purity. But since the beginning of 2020, we have the unenviable honor of being the world’s most polluted city.

Located in Australia’s southeastern corner, Canberra is deep within Australia’s most catastrophic bushfire zone. For the last six weeks, Canberra has had fires burning to the north near Sydney’s Blue Mountains, and to the east on the New South Wales South Coast. And now, with temperatures forecast to hit 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) and high winds, the fires are massing to the south and west, creeping up from the Snowy Mountains. Our small city is surrounded, and people are worried. More than worried in fact, given the memory of the deadly 2003 bushfires still fresh in mind. People are prepping and taking drastic measures in case the situation escalates.Editorial: Australia burns as the planet bakes »

Pic by Mark Baker

As the father to three young sons ages 4, 2, and 5 months, and the son to a mother who is 89, I find myself caught in the middle, caring for those most susceptible to the hazardous bushfire smoke. The ultrafine particles lodge in their vulnerable lungs and make breathing difficult. Mum’s eyes sting, her throat burns, her voice is hoarse. Both she and her grandsons have been confined indoors during this time, which is especially frustrating for energetic young boys who want to play outside. All I can do is apologize to them and find another board game or picture book or stream another cartoon show.

During the month of December, I was glued to the particulate matter readings of Canberra’s Air Quality Index, or AQI, that are reported hourly from three measuring stations. Hazardous air quality is considered 200 or above. In this period, Canberra’s air quality exceeded 200 on at least nine occasions, with the highest reading of 1,413 on Dec. 21. It was around this time that hardware stores across town sold out of P2/N95 particulate filter masks. Only these could offer protection from the toxic bushfire particles in the air.

And then, on New Year’s Eve, the NSW South Coast bushfires flared disastrously. Located 90 minutes to the east of the capital, this is normally the region where much of Canberra spends its summer holidays, so the sleepy coastal towns and idyllic beaches were at their busiest. At 8 p.m. on Jan. 1, following a day’s worth of wind, Canberra’s AQI hit the terrifying mark of 5,185. This is 25 times worse than what is considered hazardous and earned our city of 400,000 residents the undesirable distinction of being the world’s most polluted city, surpassing such metropolises as Delhi (population 30 million) and Kolkata (15 million) in India, Lahore (10 million) in Pakistan, and Shenyang (7 million) in China.

Such dirty air has created an eerie end-of-world feeling in what is normally rated as Australia’s most livable city ahead of overcrowded Sydney and Melbourne. The streets are deserted. Public pools and major tourist attractions have closed. Sporting events have been postponed. Department stores sold out of air purifiers. Businesses suspended trading. Such was the level of concern that the Australia postal service stopped all deliveries to Canberra to protect their outdoor workers from the toxic air. So much for those who had ordered P2/N95 masks in the mail.

With fires still burning, a political debate raged alongside. The Australian government remains enamored with coal as its primary source of energy production. The 2020 Climate Change Performance Index recently ranked Australia worst of 57 countries on climate change policy. When the bushfires were increasing in intensity before Christmas, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison went on a family holiday to Hawaii. After the new year, he visited devastated bushfire zones, but some residents refused to shake his hand.

With the NSW South Coast being evacuated, a wave of “climate refugees” began arriving in already-strained Canberra. Long queues formed at petrol stations, supermarkets sold out of bottled water, bank ATMs were emptied of cash. I was soon receiving messages from friends outlining their prepping arrangements: “We have seven days of food and water, both cars fully fueled plus an extra 50 liters in jerrycans, a thousand in cash, torches, batteries, radio, firefighting gear, and go-bags packed.” It was enough to scare the living daylights out of me.

Eyeing the smoke cloud sitting dolorous and heavy from our living room window, and watching the TV news channel for regular updates, I would explain it all to my sons as best as I could, and silently apologize for the future we’re leaving them. Theirs, hopefully, will be the generation to properly tackle climate change since all ours could do was squabble as to its existence.

THE MOST DANGEROUS AIR ANYWHERE

As a result of relentless NSW bushfires we have some seriously deady air here in the capital.

The official reading has been rated as “the worst in the world”. The IQAir AirVisual website, which collates air quality information globally, ranked the nation’s capital above “the likes of Kolkata and Delhi in India”.

New Years Eve in Harrison ACT
A screenshot of the IQAir AirVisual rankings at 9:30am on Wednesday.

Many Canberrans have opted to wear a facemask when venturing out. There was a long queue of locals outside a suburban building supply company at 7am today wanting to stock up on heavy duty face masks which had already run dry at Bunnings and other retail outlets. But things get serious tomorrow (Sat Jan 4) when the temperature is predicted to reach 42 degrees and stong winds are forecast.

Shoppers in Civic taking no chances with poor air quality

Chief Minister Barr has declared a “state of alert” as a “precaution” in the event of a local bushfire threat

For most of the year Canberrans, like many in other parts of Australia have staged rallies protesting the inaction of the LNP government on climate change.

Canberran Emily who suffers from a chest complaint is very concerned and frightened about the quality of the air, described the recent days as “apocalyptic and just foreshadowing how much we have let go in terms of what we really value”.

EMILY

HAPPY NEW EAR BASHING FROM 2GB

 

The last time I heard the word emasculated in a radio station was over 30 years ago. And I had to consult a dictionary. An enterprising PD (Program Director for Millenials) at the then chronically under-resourced 7AD Devonport swapped some unwanted record stock for a record player for the station’s library. But when the branded vinyl began popping up at a second hand store a member of the family which owned the network was most unimpressed with the “emasculation” of the station’s music library.

 

 

According to a few industry experts the once rightwing Sydney based broadcasting powerhouse 2GB has also been emasculated. But the alleged neutering is not in the station’s record library. It’s its raison d’etre , its talkers.

2GB, now part of the rebranded Nine media family which includes the perennial Melbourne ratings dominator 3AW, has apparently become burdened by the weight of relentless rightwing ranting, to the extent that the new owners are ‘re-positioning’ the station in order to attract a younger female audience.

Recovering night-time rightwing ranter/infomercial wizard Steve Price, who recently replaced the punted afternoon lightweight loudmouth Chris Smith, was quickly punted himself. Price is to be replaced in 2020 by Deb Knight, freshly punted herself from Nine’s Today breakfast TV settee.

A meme from social media

Meanwhile, down south at 3AW the inoffensive former Young Talent Timer Denis Walter was “reclocated” from his longtime afternoon slot to nights to make way for another female presenter Dee Dee Dunleavy in 2020.

 

Will the “emasculation” of commercial talk radio be successful? Not at 2GB at least and 3AW is a vastly different beast. As different to 2GB as Melbourne is to Sydney.

One longtime Sydney talk radio insider is not optimistic about ratings sucess with the new touch, suggesting “nice doesn’t get numbers “.

People listen to 2GB for the hate it radiates. Melbournians have been accustomed to 3AW’s balanced, intelligent and quality talk back broadcasting for decades and don’t seem to have a problem with “ladies” on the wireless.

Already 2GB’s Ray Hadley, diligently striving to project himself as a softer, kinder human being after one too many bullying incidents, is losing audience share. The former racecaller ended 2018 with a healthy 17.9% share of the Sydney mob. But ended this year with a much softer 13.8%.

And the unchallenged headmaster of the school of shockjocks Alan Jones spent most of 2019 witnessing his once almost 20% audience share vapourise. He also has the humiliating, for him, “one more slip of your acid tongue and you’re out” caveat hanging over his head.

 

While 3AW’s numbers appear to be stable, putting a stockinged ‘sock in it’ at 2GB is going to be problematic and radically recalibrating the right wing ranting richter scale will be tricky.

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THE SUMMER JORIAN GARDNER SPENT AS A LONELY SHOCKJOCK

FROM Canberra CIty News Jan 2011

GOOD Morning… it’s Jorian Gardner filling in for Mark Parton and Mike Welsh over summer on the Breakfast and Drive shows on Talking Canberra 1206 2CC. 

Today on the program… the third spear carrier to the left in a new amateur production of “Cats” will join us; the homeless guy who lives outside the Canberra Centre – what are his political views? And, don’t miss this one, but I will have live in the studio today – that’s right LIVE! – an exclusive with that guy who washes your windscreens whether you like it or not on the corner of Northbourne and Wakefield Avenues in Dickson. An interview not to miss!

Ahh, summer. While the big guns get to retire to their summer homes down the coast or somewhere in Europe, it’s yours truly who’s left to carry the can and provide the good people of the national capital with quality talkback.

But you all know Canberra don’t you? It’s a veritable ghost town from just before Christmas to basically the end of January – which just happens to coincide with when I am on air.

Pollies, business people and pretty much anyone with a life (obviously, that’s not me) clear out of the capital for summer, leaving me with a roster of guests that’s about as long as the list of friends of Kyle Sandilands!

But fear not talkback lovers – I relish a challenge, and while everyone else might be in holiday mode, I will be scouring the news and getting the guests on that matter.

It’s lonely at 3.30am in the studio, especially in the Silly Season when interview subjects are either hung-over or still drinking. But necessity is certainly the mother of invention and no topic is too large – or for that matter too small – for me to tackle, so expect some, ummm, “surprising” guests.

“Welcome to the program Guido the office cleaner, who’s going to tell us, for the next hour, how recycling really works!”

But seriously, I am not worried about summer on 2CC, there will be still be great interviews, music, comedy and news and more. The season gives me more time to spend talking with the people who do matter – my listeners.

The stark, and unfortunate, reality of an Australian summer is that there will be bushfires and floods and accidents and all manner of tragedy that the media will report on.

But let’s really hope you are listening to me interviewing that third spear carrier from the left, because that will mean that those horrible summer catastrophes aren’t happening.

HOW SCOMO REALLY GOT THE GIG


Originally published in 2018

OPPOSITION LEADER BILL SHORTEN WILL NEVER BE PRIME MINISTER, IF A LITTLE KNOWN BUT FATAL POLITICAL CURSE STILL EXISTS.

For two weeks in April 2006 the then trade unionist embedded himself in the nation’s psyche from the top of a gold mine in Beaconsfield Tasmania as international media broadcast the gripping story of two miners trapped below. 

Returning to the Apple Isle to campaign for the July 28 by-election in the seat of Braddon Shorten was seriously rebuffed after only 30 locals attended a Devonport chamber of commerce sponsored “working lunch” on July 4. What Bill, or his advisers ignored was the “Devonport curse”. If Devonport rejects you, you are toast.



 It was in the coastal port hub on Melbourne Cup day 1984 that the curse first materialised. Then federal opposition leader and conservative pin-up boy Andrew Peacock, dropped in to campaign for the Dec 1 federal poll before flying back to Melbourne to watch the big two miler at Flemington.

I was the mid-morning announcer on radio 7AD and the “Kooyong Colt” was scheduled for a 10 am in-studio chat.

By the time Peacock entered the studio he was 25 mins late and livid. In a huddle with advisers a frustrated Peacock muttered the F word several times- thankfully not on air-but not detected by the  30 strong media pack which had crammed into the antiquated 7AD studios. The source of Peacock’s fit of pique was also the reason for his tardiness. In the Rooke St Mall below, party flunkies had frantically but unsuccessfully searched for a local who either recognised the man who was heading for the Lodge or was prepared to participate in a photo opportunity.

On air I urged callers to “keep their questions short” as our guest had “a horse race to get to”.  A member of the traveling media pack joked in the Australian the following day that “Announcer Mike Welsh needed not to have bothered with a brevity plea to open line callers as there were none”.

Whether that part of the nation which is stopped by a race had already downed tools, or the people of Devonport had decided Peacock’s birthright to rule was dead in the water, is unclear but Black Knight won the cup and in less than a month Bob Hawke was re-elected Prime Minister. Opposition leaders curse or coincidence?