The Dirty South (Charlie Parker #18) by John Connolly

‘The past shadows us. The past defines us. In the end, the past claims us all.’

Arkansas, 1997. Charlie Parker, former NYPD detective, grieving widower and father, has travelled to Burdon County in search of the killer of his wife and daughter. Young black women have been murdered in Burdon County and Parker is looking for a link. He asks questions about murders, murders that everyone seems to be trying to ignore or deny and finds himself arrested.

After a night in jail, convinced there is no connection between these murders and that of his family, Parker is happy to leave. But on his way out of town, he changes his mind. The local sheriff, keen to find out the truth and desperate for help, involves Parker in the investigation.

From beginning to end, this novel held my attention. I could imagine the setting: a dirt-poor county desperate for investment, with the relevant power-brokers happy to do whatever it takes to secure that investment. Clearly, in this setting, some people matter more than others, the lives and deaths of others are ignored. There are plenty of people with something to hide, including those involved in the drug manufacture and sales. Some public officials are corrupt, others are incompetent while others are doing the best they can.

The investigations lead into dangerous territory, with plenty of suspense and more than a few twists before the end. I enjoyed this novel with its rich characterisations and well described scenes. While the Charlie Parker series is on my reading list, this is the first of the books I have read. I think this could be a happy coincidence, given that this novel is a prequel.

‘Where this case is concerned, Mr Parker, you’re deep in the Dirty South.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff

‘During my two years in Trump World, I was afraid for myself, my friend and our country.’

‘Suffice to say, it ended badly for me, and for us. 

Melania? Don’t worry about her!  She’s fine.’

And that, gentle reader, is really all we need to know.

Why did I read this book? Well, I was in the library the other day, picking up some books I reserved, and this book was on display. I picked it up, curious. I took it home, I started reading. I have this problem: once I start reading a book, I finish it. No matter how awful it is, how disinterested I become in the content, I keep reading. Sad, but true. Fortunately, it did not take me long to read this book which really should have been titled ‘Me and Melania’.

Did I learn anything? Not a lot. The book reinforced all of my negative perceptions about Trump World, and the chaotic transition to power once Donald J Trump was elected.  I felt sorry for Stephanie Winston Wolkoff at times but was more than happy to close the book on the warped, weird world described.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

View from The Hill: Morrison should appoint stand-alone minister for women and boot Andrew Laming to crossbench (from The Conversation)

AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison is trying to have things both ways over disgraced Queensland Liberal Andrew Laming.

Laming, who has allegedly bullied constituents and photographed a woman inappropriately, announced at the weekend he won’t seek another term.

But he hasn’t been booted out of the parliamentary party, which is what should happen.

Having Laming go to the crossbench would wipe out the government’s majority, which is what the prime minister wants to avoid. The departure of Craig Kelly to the crossbench has already removed the Coalition’s working majority on the floor of the house.

When Nine on Thursday was about to run a story on the bullying, Morrison called in Laming and made him apologise in the house. Laming then trashed his own apology, saying on Facebook he didn’t even know what he’d apologised for. Morrison gave him another talking to.

On Saturday (speaking before the story about Laming photographing a woman stacking a fridge, whose underwear was showing, came to public light) Morrison told the media: “I spoke to him again this morning, and I’m arranging for Mr Laming, for Andrew Laming, to now go and get appropriate assistance through an appropriate course to build his understanding and awareness about his actions.

“And I think this is one of the important things that we need to do. The way you fix this is we’ve got to educate, inform and increase awareness to change behaviour. I want to see behaviour change.”

This sounds like some parallel universe – the prime minister “arranging” for Laming to get “appropriate assistance”, and suggesting he has to build “awareness about his actions”.

This MP has been in parliament since the 2004 election. He trained as a doctor. Let’s be frank: no MP needs a course to know gross bullying of people in his local community is appalling conduct for a parliamentarian.

As seems the way now with Coalition parliamentarians in trouble, Laming has gone on leave.

He said in a weekend statement he will “get assistance with courses in empathy and appropriate communication, not just to be a better MP, but to be a deeper and more empathetic person than what the recent events have demonstrated.

“The common thread of the last week has been not demonstrating anything close to understanding how my actions affect others. I intend to own those mistakes.

“I will also be obtaining clinical counselling, for a duration decided by others, but I will aim to complete it by the next parliamentary sitting”.

That is, when the government needs him back.

His leave is from electorate and committee work but Laming says his office will be “continuing to serve the community”.

Laming is the third embattled Liberal to go on leave in a few weeks. The others are ministers Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds.

Reynolds’ leave is a justified case – she has a heart condition.

It’s another matter with the others. Leave, frankly, looks like an excuse not to be around.

Morrison (who must be wishing he could get a bit of stress leave himself) will be bracing for any more revelations about people in his ranks.

It will be interesting to hear how he responds to the Sunday suggestion by two of his female backbenchers, Sarah Henderson and Katie Allen, on the ABC that MPs should be subject to drug and alcohol testing.

Henderson said she had heard “a few rumours about drugs”, although no names had been mentioned to her.

Meanwhile, early this week Morrison will announce his reshuffle. This involves shifting Porter and Reynolds but keeping them in cabinet, another compromise likely to be criticised as inadequate.

But a real test in this reshuffle is what Morrison does with the position of minister for women.

If he is serious about women’s issues, he should reallocate this post, at present held by the Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

Payne has shown no sign she can drive the agenda for women. She certainly can’t carry the very difficult public debate for the government; she has been little seen on the issues in the last few weeks. She did not even participate when the PM addressed Coalition staff the other day.

Given the present crisis embroiling the government, Morrison should have a stand alone cabinet position of minister for women.

This article has been corrected to remove a quote wrongly attributed to Josh Frydenberg.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Summoner’s Sins (Sandal Castle Medieval Thrillers Book 2) by Keith Moray

‘Everywhere in England is dangerous these days …’

In March 1322, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster was beheaded.  He had cursed Andrew Harclay:

‘You, miserable dog, Andrew Harclay will die a traitor’s death within one year, as the Lord is my witness.’

Soon after Thomas’s death, miracles were reported at his tomb at Pontefract, and he became venerated as a martyr and saint.

Andrew Harclay’s star appeared to be rising when King Edward II made him the Earl of Carlisle.

But in March 1323, he is executed as a traitor. His crime? He negotiated with rebels without the permission of Edward II, a treasonous act. With his last breaths, he was heard to curse all of those with a hand in his death, including Edward II. After the royal executioner is found dead in Pontrefact shortly afterwards, it is rumoured that Harclay’s curse is at work. Edward II believes that Cratwell’s death is due to rebels, and sends Sir Richard Lee, Circuit Judge of the Northern Realm, to investigate.

There are more deaths, and fear of the curse continues to spread. Sir Richard believes that the deaths are linked, but how?

Mr Moray brings fourteenth century England to life with his deft characterisations and details. And while Sir Richard investigates, we learn about the life of the Summoner, whose knowledge of the secrets of individuals brings him benefit as he makes note of their sins. Some will be summoned to before the ecclesiastical court, others will offer bribes. Curse, miracles, and superstition all have a part to play in this second instalment of Mr Moray’s Sandal Castle Medieval thriller series.

Occasionally I had to stop reading to learn some new (to me) medieval terms, but this enhanced my enjoyment of the story. I am looking forward to the next instalment.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Sapere Books for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Monsters by Alison Croggon

‘I can’t write this story in a straight line.’

A fractured relationship with a sister provides the starting point for this reflective narrative. From the individual (who am I, and where do I fit within the smaller world of family) through the present (including the privileges bestowed by place of birth and colour of skin) to the historical (the impact of British imperialism with its underlying racist and sexist behaviours). And, when these influences are considered and weighed, what of the future? Do we recognise the need to revisit (some at least) of our attitudes? Can we change?

In trying to understand her place in the world, Ms Croggon raises some serious and uncomfortable questions. We each occupy a life shaped by custom, culture, and history. Many of us accept, without question, both the constraints and privileges we are born into. In questioning this for herself, Ms Croggon invites the reader to do the same.

‘I need these narratives that give me a larger picture of who I am.’

I want to reread this book. As I shifted between memoir and essay, between the impact of a fractured relationship and the power structures of the British Empire, my thoughts kept straying to some of the related and painful contemporary issues in Australia.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Scribe UK for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



Friday essay: Sex, power and anger — a history of feminist protests in Australia (from The Conversation)

Angela Woollacott, Australian National University and Michelle Staff, Australian National University

Rage and roar are two words commonly used to describe the events of Monday 15 March, when tens of thousands joined the March4Justice: the emotional rage fuelling the protests; the roar of angry shouting voices raised against the treatment of women.

The anger driving the marches around the nation connects the day’s events to earlier feminist protests in Australia, and by Australian women in London. For well over a century, feminists have been angered by women’s lack of equal rights, their treatment by governments, and issues surrounding sex.

Indeed, for some women this recent protest was just one more in a lifetime of fighting for women’s rights and expressing their anger.

This was especially evident in front of Parliament House in Canberra. The large and energised crowd was diverse: from babies to the elderly; mostly women but many men; Indigenous people and whitefellas; dogs and prams threading among university and school students and those in business attire on their lunch break.

Feminists of the 1970s generation were in abundance, expressing their demands through placards, t-shirts and with their voices. Elizabeth Reid, who served as Women’s Adviser to Prime Minister Gough Whitlam from 1973 to 1975 — making her the first women’s adviser to a head of government anywhere in the world — sat down at the front in a folding chair, a highly-deserved queenly position. Her presence and globally historic role were acknowledged by the speakers.

Reid’s friend Biff Ward, a key founder of the Women’s Liberation group in Canberra, was one of the speakers, appearing alongside younger women like Brittany Higgins.

Four women of different ages stand with a fist in the air.
Biff Ward, third from left, joined thousands of women from across the generations at the March4Justice. Jessica Whaler

It was a joy to observe this range of generations joining forces.

The March4Justice adds to the long history of feminists using public space in spectacular ways to draw attention to society’s gender problems. Anger, sorrow and issues surrounding sex run through this history.

But so too do themes of joy, hope and resilience.

The spectacle of women’s suffrage

Feminist protest in Australia began in the late 19th century, when women were galvanised en masse for the first time by the issue of voting rights. Many were angered by the inequality and violence they witnessed and faced on a daily basis. They saw the vote as the key to transforming society, believing it would allow them to elect leaders sympathetic to women’s rights.

Pamphlet reads: 'Womanhood suffrage. Public meeting. Protestant hall, Monday, 4th June, 1990.'
Pamphlets were distributed to invite women and men who supported the suffrage movement to rallies and meetings. State Library New South Wales

As the historian Marilyn Lake explains in Getting Equal: The History of Australian Feminism, while all women lacked rights in the Australian colonies it was the plight of the married (white) woman that really captured suffragists’ attention. Upon marriage, women lost what little independence they had. They could not own property, easily file for divorce or maintain custody of their children.

The gender-based violence dominating feminist conversations in 2021 was also rife and politicised many early feminists. They were outraged wives had no personal autonomy and frequently suffered marital rape, unwanted childbearing, physical violence and economic control.

In response to this dismal situation, from the 1880s campaigns for women’s suffrage mounted. Local suffrage and other women’s organisations were formed and acted as pressure groups lobbying for change.

Read more: The long history of gender violence in Australia, and why it matters today

Activists like Louisa Lawson and Rose Scott made impassioned speeches, held public rallies and wrote to major newspapers to press for the vote, refusing to stay silent and submissive as was expected of women at this time.

Campaigns in Australia were more peaceful than elsewhere, but, like those marching for justice last week, suffragists were very much motivated by anger and frustration. They wanted to make a splash and used spectacle to bring attention to their efforts.

In 1891, Victorian women collected a massive 30,000 signatures on a 260-metre-long “monster petition”.

In 1898, two to three hundred women in the colony reportedly “invaded the club-room of the Legislative Council” to pressure members to pass a women’s suffrage bill.

Although unsuccessful at the time, the scale of these efforts revealed the force of women’s desire for change.

13 women in rows of three, in stiff formal wear of the time.
Suffragists about to march on the Parliament of the colony of Victoria, published in the Australasian on 17 September 1898. Trove

It is important to note the suffragists were almost exclusively concerned with the rights of white women like themselves. Aboriginal women — who endured even greater and more institutionalised forms of discrimination and violence — were not included in their vision for a new society based on equal rights. Then just as now, feminism had a significant race problem.

In 1902, white Australian women became the first in the world to enjoy the dual rights of voting and standing for parliament. They revelled in their new-found status as enfranchised citizens. But as daughters of the empire, they felt strongly connected to their British “sisters” and despaired they remained voteless after decades of protest. Some even travelled to Britain and contributed to its increasingly spectacular suffrage struggle.

Read more: Australian politics explainer: how women gained the right to vote

One Australian who captured imaginations in Britain was the performer and activist, Muriel Matters.

She was incensed by British women’s second-class status and, in 1908, famously chained herself to the iron grille separating the ladies’ gallery from the rest of the House of Commons, proclaiming “We have been behind this insulting grille too long!”

Both she and the grille — which many women saw as a symbol of their oppression — were removed in a dramatic scene, and Matters was sent to Holloway Prison.

The following year, Matters took her protest to the skies. Laden with a megaphone and 25 kilograms of flyers, and with a huge grin on her face, she crossed London in an airship emblazoned with the words “Votes for Women”.

There was a joyousness in this act of defiance. As Matters said: “If we want to go up in the air, neither the police nor anyone else can keep us down”.

Australian-born suffragette Muriel Matters prepares to take off in a dirigible air balloon from Hendon airfields, London, 16 February 1909. Wikimedia Commons

Vida Goldstein was another Australian who made waves in London. In 1911, she was invited by Emmeline Pankhurst — whose suffrage organisation, the Women’s Social and Political Union, was infamous for its militant tactics — to travel to London, where she participated in the Women’s Suffrage Coronation Procession.

The scale of this event was huge. Over 40,000 people marched four miles across the city, in what Goldstein described as “the most amazing triumph of beauty and organisation”. They were watched by great crowds of spectators and ended with a rally at the Royal Albert Hall.

Goldstein, along with Margaret Fisher (the Australian prime minister’s wife) and Emily McGowen (the NSW premier’s wife), led the Australian contingent. This group carried a banner designed by Australian artist Dora Meeson Coates. It was adorned with the figures of two women — representing Britain and Australia — and the words “Trust the women mother as I have done”.

Five women, whole-length, full face, wearing full length gowns, jackets, wide brimmed decorated hats, standing in a row. Text reads: Mrs. Fisher, Mrs. McGowen and Miss Vida Goldstein from Australia.
Many Australian women took part in the Great Suffragette Demonstration in London, 1911, after they had won the vote back home. State Library Victoria

Vivid imagery and clever slogans continue to be part of feminist protests today.

The suffrage protests of the late 19th and early 20th centuries used spectacle to draw attention to women’s grievances. They were driven not only by anger and frustration, but also an enduring sense of hope that sustained them in the face of adversity.

The roar of Women’s Liberation

The many protest marches of the Women’s Liberation era of the 1960s and 1970s were also driven in good part by anger. They were spurred, among others, by issues of sex: legalising abortion; access to the pill; the sexual double standard; objectification of women’s bodies; sexual harassment; and violence against women.

The anger was palpable in the size and noise of the marches, the protesters’ willingness to disrupt city streets and public spaces, the eagerness to shock spectators through casual styles of dress, and the deployment of both occasional profanities and popular music.

Women on the march wave their placards at the International Women’s Day march, Melbourne, March 8, 1975. Australian Information Service photograph by John McKinnon, via the National Library of Australia

Just as rage and roar have been used to describe the events surrounding the March4Justice, the Women’s Liberation anthem written and sung by Australian Helen Reddy featured the lines: “I am Woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore”.

Yet there was also a joy to some demonstrations of this protest era, especially the Women’s Liberation marches that allowed feminists to ventilate their rage, to prove to the world and themselves they were strong in number, sisterhood really was powerful and there were plenty of women who weren’t going to take it anymore.

Read more: Helen Reddy’s music made women feel invincible

Both the anger and the joy are well documented in the recent film Brazen Hussies. Brazen Hussies tells the story of the Australian Women’s Liberation movement from 1965 to 1975, covering its roots and rise.

Catherine Dwyer’s film provides insight into the anger fuelling the movement, from women’s individual stories of pain and injustice — the awful grief and trauma of having your baby taken from you because you weren’t married, the fury of being paid less for comparable work just because you were a woman, the trials of being a single mother, the enraging burden of shame due to the sexual double standard. And it covers the movement’s exclusion of Indigenous women and, to some extent, of lesbians through interviews with people like Pat O’Shane and Lilla Watson.

But there are also the triumphs and achievements: the legislative victories, the intellectual joys of feminist insights, the growing visibility of the movement.

That Australian Women’s Liberation was also marked by a sense of fun is perhaps best shown by a key event sparking the movement. On March 31, 1965, three Brisbane women dramatically protested their exclusion from the front bar at the Regatta Hotel in Toowong. When they were refused service (as was customary at the time for women in a front bar), two of the women chained themselves to the bar footrail, and the third took the key and threw it into the river.

It took hours for the police to remove the chain, and the event won an enormous amount of publicity.

Merle Thornton, Rosalie Bognor and Elaine Dignan were consciously playing on history when they staged this event, evoking the proclivity of suffragettes to chain themselves to fixed objects. It was also a clear echo of the moment when Muriel Matters chained herself to the grille in the House of Commons over 50 years before.

The fact protesters at the March4Justice were urged to wear black, and many did, signals a vital difference in its overall emotional affect compared to such earlier moments of fun.

The sombre colour of the rallies on March 15 was in stark contrast to the international suffragettes’ customary white dresses (with green and purple sashes), or the Women’s Liberation style of blue denim and colourful t-shirts, hippy skirts and dresses.

Black is the colour of sorrow, which was evident last Monday alongside the anger: sorrow at the terrible pain and suffering of women who are harassed, assaulted and raped, and not able to speak up, or are denied justice.

And sorrow at the fact women are still being harassed, assaulted and raped.

But even stronger than the sorrow was the anger at the Morrison government’s failure to deal with the assaults and allegations, or even to send a representative to the protest happening at its front door.

Fighting gender-based violence in 2021

Looking back at the history of feminist protest highlights striking continuities in the nature of gender-based violence and discrimination over time.

It shows the various ways women’s bodies have been controlled and abused.

It reveals how feminists have persistently protested their subordination, taking up space and refusing to be silenced. Anger, frustration and despair have driven people to action. Optimism, resilience and joy have empowered women to keep fighting even in the face of significant barriers.

21st century feminists are building on a substantial legacy of women’s protest. They are also grappling with the limits of feminisms past and present.

Indigenous women, leaders and community groups participated in many of the rallies around the country last week, drawing attention to the extensive trauma First Nations women have endured and continue to face. Their presence called for feminists to meaningfully engage with issues of race and to help end systemic injustice in the era of Black Lives Matter.

Trans and non-binary activists are calling for recognition gender-based violence disproportionately affects gender-diverse people. Feminists of the past largely viewed their fight through a gender binary. The challenge for today’s activists is to move beyond this.

Intersectionality exists as an ideal; the challenge now is to meaningfully put it into practice.

It remains to be seen what will come of the March4Justice and whether it lasts as a genuinely transformative cultural moment. What is sure, despite the many hurdles they have faced, Australian feminists have consistently found creative and captivating ways to express their indignation and visions for a better future. Feminists today can find inspiration in — and learn from — the various moments and the people who have shaped this history.

Brazen Hussies is now available on ABC iView, and will be broadcast nationally on ABC TV on Monday 5 April at 8.30 pm.

Read more: Bad times call for bold measures: 3 ways to fix the appalling treatment of women in our national parliament

Angela Woollacott, Manning Clark Professor of History, Australian National University and Michelle Staff, PhD Candidate, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Chinese Puzzle (Charles Dickens Investigations #8) by J.C. Briggs

‘This is a mystery of a particularly sensitive nature—a Chinese puzzle, you might say.’

London, 1 May 1851. At the opening of the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations  a Chinese junk captain, posing as a mandarin envoy from the Celestial Court, manages to penetrate the security surrounding the Queen. Another Chinese man, initially thought to be associated with the ersatz mandarin, gets close to Queen Victoria and then disappears. Given the anarchist unrest and previous attempts on the Queen’s life, these incursions are taken very seriously. The Prime Minister orders an urgent, discreet, investigation. The investigation is allocated to Superintendent Sam Jones from Bow Street.

On the same day, Cornelius Mornay, a wealthy retired businessman from Canton goes missing. Could there be a connection?

Fortunately for Superintendent Jones, his good friend Charles Dickens is available to assist with his enquiries. Charles Dickens has several connections which may prove helpful. A few days later, Mr Mornay’s body is found in the river near Wapping. Foul play is suspected.

What follows is a convoluted journey through the mean streets of London: from the opium dens to the homes of the rich. Mr Mornay was once connected to the opium trade and seems to have had many secrets.

This is the eighth book in Ms Briggs’s ‘Charles Dickens Investigations Series’, and while it can be read as a standalone, the series is worth reading in order because of the development of the main characters. For me, these characters have become old friends. Readers of Charles Dicken’s novels will recognise the connections to some of the characters in his novels.

‘What a city for contrasts London was: the Queen in her palace of many rooms and the poor Chinese man in his opium den, and nothing to link them but two beating hearts.’

A thoroughly enjoyable addition to the series!

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Sapere Books for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Yes, Australia is a land of flooding rains. But climate change could be making it worse (from The Conversation)

Etching of the 1867 flood in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley, depicting the Eather family. illustrated Sydney News/author provided

Joelle Gergis, Australian National University

Over the past three years, I’ve been working on the forthcoming report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I’m a climate scientist who contributed to the chapter on global water cycle changes. It’s concerning to think some theoretical impacts described in this report may be coming to life – yet again – in Australia.

The recent flooding in New South Wales is consistent with what we might expect as climate change continues.

Australia’s natural rainfall patterns are highly variable. This means the influence climate change has on any single weather event is difficult to determine; the signal is buried in the background of a lot of climatic “noise”.

But as our planet warms, the water-holding capacity of the lower atmosphere increases by around 7% for every 1℃ of warming. This can cause heavier rainfall, which in turn increases flood risk.

The oceans are also warming, especially at the surface. This drives up both evaporation rates and the transport of moisture into weather systems. This makes wet seasons and wet events wetter than usual.

So while Australia has always experienced floods, disasters like the one unfolding in NSW are likely to become more frequent and intense as climate change continues.

People watch swollen river
Flooding is likely to become more severe as the planet warms. AAP

Understanding the basics

To understand how a warming world is influencing the water cycle, it’s helpful to return to the theory.

From year to year, Australia’s climate is subject to natural variability generated by the surrounding Pacific, Indian and Southern oceans. The dominant drivers for a given year set up the background climate conditions that influence rainfall and temperature.

It is a combination of these natural climate drivers that makes Australia the land of drought and flooding rains.

However, Australia’s climate variability is no longer influenced by natural factors alone. Australia’s climate has warmed by 1.4℃ since national records began in 1910, with most of the warming occurring since 1970. Human-caused greenhouse emissions have influenced Australian temperatures in our region since 1950.

This warming trend influences the background conditions under which both extremes of the rainfall cycle will operate as the planet continues to warm. A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture (higher water vapour content), which can lead to more extreme rainfall events.

A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture which can lead to more extreme rainfall events. Climate Council

Since the winter of 2020, Australia has been influenced by the La Niña phase of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Historically, sustained La Niña conditions, sometimes with the help of a warmer than average Indian Ocean, have set the scene for severe flooding in eastern Australia.

During these events, easterly winds intensify and oceans around Australia warm. This is associated with the Walker Circulation – a giant seesaw of atmospheric pressure that influences the distribution of warm ocean waters across the Pacific Ocean.

The last La Niña occurred in 2010–2012. It led to widespread flooding across eastern Australia, with particularly devastating effects in Queensland. The event caused the wettest two-year period in the Australian rainfall record, ending the 1997–2009 Millennium Drought.

Oceanographers from UNSW studied the exceptional event. They demonstrated how a warmer ocean increased the likelihood of extreme rain during that event, primarily through increased transport of moist air along the coast.

Their analysis highlighted how long‐term ocean warming can modify rain-producing systems, increasing the probability of extreme rainfall during La Niña events.

It is important to point out that changes in large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns are still not as well understood as fundamental changes in thermodynamics. However, because regional rainfall changes will be influenced by both factors, it will take researchers time to tease everything out.

So what about climate change?

The theoretical changes to the global water cycle are well understood. However, determining the contribution of natural and human influences on climate variability and extremes – known as “attribution” – is still an emerging science.

More studies are needed to distinguish natural or “background” rainfall variability from recent human-caused changes to the water cycle. This is particularly the case in a country like Australia, which has very high yearly rainfall variability. This contrasts with some regions of the Northern Hemisphere with less variable rainfall, where a clear climate change signal has already emerged.

Right now, La Niña conditions are decaying in the Pacific Ocean. As expected, the 2020–2021 La Niña has brought above-average rainfall to much of eastern Australia. This helped ease the severe drought conditions across eastern Australia since 2017, particularly in NSW.

NSW rainfall total, week ending March 22, 2021
NSW rainfall totals for the week ending March 22, 2021. Bureau of Meteorology

What’s interesting about the 2020–2021 La Niña is that it was weak compared with historical events. The relationship between La Niña and rainfall is generally weaker in coastal NSW than further inland. However, it’s concerning that this weak La Niña caused flooding comparable to the iconic floods of the 1950s and 1970s.

The rainfall totals for the current floods are yet to be analysed. However, early figures reveal the enormity of the downpours. For example, over the week to March 23, the town of Comboyne, southwest of Port Macquarie, recorded an extraordinary 935mm of rainfall. This included three successive days with more than 200mm.

The NSW coast is no stranger to extreme rainfall – there have been five events in the past decade with daily totals exceeding 400mm. However, the current event is unusual because of its duration and geographic extent.

It’s also worth noting the current extreme rainfall in NSW was associated with a coastal trough, not an East Coast Low. Many of the region’s torrential rainfall events in the past have resulted from East Coast Lows, although their rainfall is normally more localised than has been the case in this widespread event.

Remember that as the air warms, its water-holding capacity increases, particularly over the oceans. Current ocean temperatures around eastern and northern Australia are about 1℃ warmer than the long-term average, and closer to 1.5℃ warmer than average off the NSW coast. These warmer conditions are likely to be fuelling the systems driving the extreme rainfall and associated flooding in NSW.

Sea surface temperature anomalies along the NSW coast. Bureau of Meteorology

A nation exposed

Weather and climate are not the only influences on extreme flood events. Others factors include the shape and size of water catchments, the presence of hard surfaces in urban areas (which cant’t absorb water), and the density of human settlement in flood-prone areas.

The Hawkesbury–Nepean region in Western Sydney, currently experiencing major flooding, is a prime example. Five major tributaries, including the Warragamba and Nepean Rivers, flow into this extensively urbanised valley.

Improving our understanding of historical weather data may help improve future climate change risk assessment. For example, past floods in the Hawkesbury–Nepean have been a lot worse than the current disaster. In 1867, the Hawkesbury River at Windsor reached 19.7 metres above normal, and in 1961 peaked at 14.5 metres. This is worse than the 13.12 metres above normal recorded at Freemans Reach on March 23.

It’s sobering to think the Hawkesbury River once peaked 6 metres higher than what we’re seeing right now. Imagine the potential future flooding caused by an East Coast Low during strong La Niña conditions.

It will take time before scientists can provide a detailed analysis of the 2020–2021 La Niña event. But it’s crystal clear that Australia is very exposed to damage caused by extreme rainfall. Our theoretical understanding of water cycle changes tells us these events will only become more intense as our planet continues to warm.

Joelle Gergis, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Drop-Off by Fiona Harris and Mike McLeish

‘Hey buddy, so maybe I should start at the beginning like most good stories do …’

Meet Lizzie, Megan, and Sam. Parents of children at Melbourne’s Baytree Primary School, they have become friends over school drop-off. Lizzie, a part-time midwife with four children, has an awkward secret. Sam, a chef, is now a stay-at-home dad whose wife spends a lot of time travelling because of her job. And Megan is a single mum with a thriving but demanding online business. Busy people, who have bonded over coffee and chat at school drop-off.

Chat at school drop-off was never part of my experience: there was never time. Child delivered: commute to work, full time job, shift working partner, no time to park and chat. I am envious, and I am still on the first page. So, what did these parents get up to?

Three parents, three quite different life situations, three different points of view. Lizzie, Megan, and Sam were like many of the other parents:

‘As school communities went, Baytree Primary parents were lazy and useless.’

Until a tragedy led them to become more involved in the school.

I enjoyed this novel, accompanying each of the characters as they dealt with changes and crises. They became unlikely saviours of a school event while supporting each other through personal issues. I may not have been part of the drop-off clique, but I recognise the challenges of being involved in the school community and of juggling commitments.

This novel was developed from a web-based comedy series (which I have not seen). I enjoyed the humour, found myself nodding in agreement with some of the issues faced and was delighted by the ending. Parenting is a tough gig, but everything is much easier with friends and good humour.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



Affection by Ian Townsend

‘Affection: (archaic) the action or process of affecting or being affected.’

For many of us, the bubonic plague was something that happened in the distant past, but it still occurs. It is caused by a bacillus Yersinia pestis, carried by infected fleas or animals such as rodents. These days, because we know how it is transmitted and have access to effective antibiotic treatment, bubonic plague is not as deadly as it once was. But effective management and treatment is essential, and much easier now than it was in 1900.

‘This novel is based on a true story, but it is fiction.’

In January 1900, an outbreak of plague is suspected in Townsville, Queensland. Dr Alfred Jeffris Turner is sent by the Queensland Government in Brisbane to join his colleague Dr Linford Row. Dr Turner, an amateur lepidopterist, arrives armed with a microscope and his butterfly net. Both doctors meet with a hostile reception: local councillors insist that the outbreak is ‘only’ typhoid. Fifty-two possible plague carriers including two MPs aboard the SS Cintra, are isolated on a quarantine station on Magnetic Island. They are not happy. And in Townsville itself, attempts to establish a quarantine station north of Townsville, near Three-Mile Creek, were resisted for a while.

Dr Row lives with his own tragedy: a young daughter who died of a respiratory illness. He throws himself into work to avoid his feelings of sadness and guilt. When he delivers a letter from one of the patients aboard the SS Cintra to the man’s wife, he becomes caught up with more of the people affected by plague.

This novel was published in 2005 but reading it in 2021 it is easy to see some parallels with the current COVID-19 pandemic. Economic interests in Townsville in 1990 had an impact on the speed with which the health crisis was treated. Some of those who lost loved ones to the plague were devastated thar those who died had to be buried in the plague cemetery without family members being able to attend. Fear and rumour spread faster than fact.

Do we ever learn?

I recognise some of the areas of Townsville and Magnetic Island referred to in the novel. I can imagine how challenging it would have been to try to deal with plague cases during the oppressive heat of the tropical summer.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith