South Australia has many salt lakes and quite a problem with farmland salinity. But along the road from Adelaide to Melbourne is a lake that’s not blindingly white and is an asset rather than a liability. In my photo you’ll see only a faint tinge of pink in the surface of this lake at Dimboola in the Wimmera country but at other times of the year the pink tinge is more intense. The coloration is caused by an algae that manages to live in salt water and which produces beta carotene. The salt, unlike most table salts, is rich in mineral traces which come from the lake’s underground sources. These natural minerals include calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, sulphur, iron, manganese, zinc and copper.  The salt has been harvested since 1912 but until recently was mostly for industrial use. Now a partnership between Olive growers at Mt Zero and the local indigenous land owners, the Barengi Gadjin Land Council, sees a smaller harvest, but one which is aimed at a higher value market as a boutique table salt.  My photo was made as a panorama stitch…which explains why we have gravity-defying powerlines in the foreground! Oops. 

ON THE ROAD — While the Helmeted Honey-Eaters and other birds occupy the upper storey habitat in a large freeflight enclosure at Healesville Sanctuary, a family of Bush Stone-curlews (Burhinus grallarius) share the terrestrial zone with a few Black-breasted Button Quail (Turnix melanogaster). In Darwin we are used to seeing the Bush Stone-curlew around the streets and gardens but in southern Australia populations are in serious decline where Pizzey and Knight describe its status as “rare to wholly extinct in settled parts of south-east Australia”. With big eyes the Bush Stone-curlew is well equipped for night hunting when it takes insects, lizards and occasionally small mammals like mice. The Black-breasted Button Quail is a species listed as vulnerable in the wild under the Commonwealth’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

ON THE ROAD — Zoos today walk a narrow path at the edge of an ethical precipice. Our 21st century moral sensibilities no longer find it acceptable for animals to be kept in captivity solely for the entertainment of our species. Healesville Sanctuary on the outer edges of Melbourne was set up in 1920 with a research agenda but now has a formidable reputation for developing skills in captive breeding for vulnerable and endangered species. In the precarious state of the environment today, sanctuaries are often places of protective custody rather than captivity, where fences are more about protecting critical populations of endangered species from predators, than about keeping animals for our interest or entertainment. Healesville has been one of only two institutions to successfully breed platypus. The sanctuary is also playing an important role in a recovery program to save a Victorian sub-species of the Helmeted Honey-eater aka the Yellow-tufted Honeyeater (Lichenostomus melanops cassiddix) from extinction. The bird is listed as critically endangered with only three small semi-wild populations in remnant streamside forest to the east of Melbourne. Through a program of captive breeding the sanctuary aims to establish a stable wild population with at least ten distinct but inter-connected colonies as well as keeping a protected population as insurance against loss of populations in the wild. As for many native species in Australia, habitat loss through forest clearing has been the main threatening process. The incursion of the aggressive native Bell Miner (Manorina melanophrys) through range expansion is another critical factor. With limited habitat the Bell Miners’ aggressive territoriality makes it difficult for the Helmeted Honeyeaters to get the resources they need to survive. At Healesville the Helmeted Honeyeater is an institutional icon, branded a “Headstrong Hero” and I was lucky to photograph them perched on their signage in the large open flight aviary where they help to spread the word about the threat of extinction faced by many species today.


Health system struggles with racism, research shows

When Laurel Hanuse had a seizure in bed last year and banged her head, her boyfriend at the time called an ambulance. Foggy and injured, Hanuse needed help down three flights of stairs.

By the time the pair reached the bottom, the paramedics had already arrived.

One said loudly, “Oh great, another drunk native we have to pick up,” Hanuse recalled.

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ON THE ROAD — Two different Orb-weaving spiders (family Araneidae) from South Australia. One shows red sections on leg segments, something typical of some groups of Orb Weavers. Sorry no species ID today — The revision of Australian orb-weavers lists 268 species in 39 genera and the informed estimate in Volker et al’s Guide to the Spiders of Australia is 500 species in 60 genera. Worldwide there are 3030 species known in 169 genera.

ON THE ROAD — At the end of a long day it’s nice to meet up with some friends around the pool for a drink, a snack and maybe a dip. Top: Immature Superb Blue Wren (Malurus cyaneus) jumps to take an insect while the mature male thinks only about having a drink. Middle: Scarlet Robin (Petroica boodang) hits the pool for a splash. Above: The diminutive Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) pauses poolside to test the waters. Photographed at a small farm dam on the Fleurieu Peninsular, south of Adelaide.