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‘Iso’, ‘boomer remover’ and ‘quarantini’: How coronavirus is changing our language

Kate Burridge, Professor of Linguistics, Monash University

Howard Manns, Lecturer in Linguistics, Monash University

People love creating words – in times of crisis it’s a ‘sick’ (in the good sense) way of pulling through. From childhood, our ‘linguistic life has been one willingly given over to language play’ (in the words of British linguist David Crystal). In fact, scientists have recently found that learning new words can stimulate exactly those same pleasure circuits in our brain as sex, gambling, drugs and eating (the pleasure-associated region called the ventral striatum).

We’re leximaniacs at heart and, while the behaviour can occasionally seem dark, we can learn a thing or two by reflecting on those playful coinages that get us through ‘dicky’ times.

Tom, Dick and Miley: In the ‘grippe’ of language play

In the past, hard times birthed playful rhymes. The 1930s Depression gave us playful reduplications based on Australian landmarks and towns: ‘ain’t no work in Bourke’; ‘everything’s wrong at Wollongong’; ‘things are crook at Tallarook’.

Whenever we face the possibility of being ‘dicky’ or ‘Tom [and] Dick’ (rhyming slang for ‘sick’), we take comfort in language play. It’s one thing to feel ‘crook’, but it’s another thing to feel as ‘crook as Rookwood’ (a cemetery in Sydney) or to have a ‘wog’ (synonymous with ‘bug’, likely from ‘pollywog’, and unrelated to the ethnic slur ‘wog’).

Remedies may be found in language’s abilities to translate sores into plasters, to paraphrase William Gouge’s 1631 sermon on the plague. New slang enables us to face our fears head-on, just as when the Parisians began calling a bout of late-18th century influenza ‘la grippe’ to reflect the ‘seizing’ effect it had on people. The word was subsequently taken up in British and American English.

In these times of COVID-19, there are the usual suspects: shortenings like ‘sanny’ (hand sanitiser) and ‘iso’ (isolation), abbreviations like BCV (before coronavirus) and WFH (working from home), as well as the compounds ‘corona moaner’ (the whingers) and ‘zoombombing’ (intrusion into a videoconference).

Plenty of nouns have been ‘verbed’ too – the toilet paper/pasta/tinned tomatoes have been ‘magpied’. Even rhyming slang has made a bit of a comeback, with Miley Cyrus lending her name to the virus (already end-clipped to ‘the Miley’). Some combine more than one process – ‘the isodesk’ (Or is that ‘the isobar’?) is where many of us are currently spending our days.

Slanguage in the coronaverse: What’s new?

What is interesting about COVID-lingo is the large number of creations that are blended expressions formed by combining two existing words. The new portmanteau then incorporates meaningful characteristics from both.

Newly spawned ‘coronials’ (corona + millennials) has the predicted baby boom in late 2020 already covered. ‘Blursday’ has been around since at least 2007 but originally described the day spent hung over; it’s now been pressed into service because no one knows what day of the week it is anymore. The official disease name itself, ‘COVID’, is somewhere between a blend and an acronym because it takes in vowels to make the abbreviation pronounceable (CO from corona, VI from virus and D from disease).

True, we’ve been doing this sort of thing for centuries – ‘flush’ (flash + gush) dates from the 1500s. But it’s never been a terribly significant method of coinage. English professor John Algeo’s study of neologisms over a fifty-year period (1941–91) showed blends accounting for only 5 per cent of the new words. Linguist Tony Thorne’s impressive collection of over 100 COVID-related terms has around 34 per cent blends, and the figure increases to more than 40 per cent if we consider only slang.

Not only have blends become much more common, the nature of the mixing process has changed too. Rather than combining splinters of words, as in ‘coronials’, most of these corona-inspired mixes combine full words with parts of others. The ‘quarantini’ keeps the word ‘quarantine’ intact and follows it with just a hint of ‘martini’ (and for that extra boost to the immune system, you can rim the glass with vitamin C powder). Many of these bubbled up during specific times of the pandemic – ‘lexit’ or ‘covexit’ (the strategies around exiting lockdown and economic hardship), ‘coronacation’ (working from home) and so on.

Humour: From the gallows to quarantimes

Humour emerges as a prevailing feature of these blends, even more so when the overlap is total. In ‘covidiot’ (the one who ignores public health advice and probably hoards toilet paper), both ‘covid’ and ‘idiot’ remain intact. There’s been a flourishing of these types of blend, including ‘covideo party’, ‘coronapocalypse’ and ‘covidivorce’, to name just a few.

Clearly, there is a fair bit of dark comedy in the jokes and memes that abound on the internet, and in many of these coinages too – compounds like ‘coronacoma’ (for the period of shutdown, or that deliciously long quarantine sleep) and ‘boomer remover’ (used by younger generations for the devastation of the baby boomer demographic).

Callous, heartless, yes. But humour is often used as a means of coming to terms with the less happy aspects of our existence. People use levity as a way of disarming anxiety and discomfort by downgrading what it is they cannot cope with.

Certainly, gallows humour has always featured large in hospital slang, with diagnoses like GOK (‘God only knows’) and PFO (‘pissed and fell over’). For those who have to deal with dying and death every day, it is perhaps the only way to stay sane. COVID challenges us all to confront the biological limits of our own bodies, and these days humour provides the much-needed societal safety valve.

So what will come of these creations? The vast majority will fall victim to ‘verbicide’, as slang expressions always do.

This is one of the fifty essays from 2020: The Year That Changed Us edited by Molly Glassey and co-published with The Conversation. Available now.

AU$21.99


Posted on November 23, 2020
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Breath meditation: essentials from High-Grade Living

Jacqui Lewis and Arran Russell are best known as the powerhouse team behind The Broad Place, a global school for creativity, clarity and consciousness. Now, they have released their first book High-Grade Living, a modern guide to wellbeing. Here we share an extract from the book focusing on one of the pillars of meditation: breath meditation.

We recommend learning meditation in person with a teacher, rather than from a book. However, you can get started on your own with a beginner’s style of meditation that is widely used, where the breath is the focal point.

Even though we’re breathing all the time, we often forget to breathe deeply and properly in the course of our day. Breath meditation helps us centre ourselves and become completely aware and present.

Image: Jacqui Lewis and Arran Russell

Putting into practice

First, get yourself into a comfortable seated position. Sitting still is very important for this technique, so finding a way to sit comfortably is key.

Ideally, you should start breath meditation by sitting cross-legged on the floor, with your back straight. Some find it helpful to sit on a cushion to raise the buttocks off the ground and allow the legs to fall gently forward.

However, you may find that while sitting on the floor without a back support, you slump your back and shoulders. It’s important to have a straight back, so we recommend sitting on a chair to begin with if you need that extra support. Experiment with both methods and find what works best for you.

Once seated, ensure that the spine is straight, the chin gently tucked in and the shoulders relaxed. Rest your hands comfortably and gently in your lap.

Close your eyes and become aware of your breathing. Your breaths should be light and easy, and gradually become longer in length.

Your breath is your guide during this meditation and it is what you come back to as an anchor for the busy mind.

Image: Jacqui Lewis and Arran Russell

Now move your focus to place your awareness on the lower belly. In Japanese practice this is known as the hara. Focus your mind intently there and breathe into this space. The belly should expand with each breath in and contract with each breath out. Each time you are distracted by thoughts (which will be constantly), this is the space you come back to.

As you concentrate on your breaths, the mind will dash about, the body will distract and surrounding noises will pester you. Don’t worry; this is normal. When you find yourself distracted, simply come back to the breath. How does it feel in the body? Are the breaths long and slow, or are they shortening naturally? Bring your awareness back to the hara and your attention back to the breath.

Repeat this practice once or twice a day for 15 minutes. Routine is very important and will ground your practice.

Image: Jacqui Lewis and Arran Russell

This is an extract from High-Grade Living, out now. Text and images by Jacqui Lewis and Arran Russell with design by Arran Russell.

AU$49.99


Posted on November 23, 2020
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An introduction to Songlines: The Power and Promise

Songlines is the first in the First Knowledges series of six books that will give an in-depth understanding of Indigenous expertise in six areas. The second and third books on Design and Country will be published in 2021.

LYNNE KELLY

If Indigenous art forms such as song, story, dance and ceremony are so similar and so effective in cultures around the world, why aren’t we using them in contemporary Western education? Why can’t we all benefit from Indigenous techniques for learning and storing knowledge?

The answer is simple: we can. All Indigenous knowledge techniques reflect the way the human brain stores information – the way your brain stores information. So why not use these knowledge methods alongside the techniques you already have? You don’t have to give up writing or technology. You don’t have to give up anything to add to your toolbox of memory aids and learn from the knowledge technologies that Indigenous cultures have been perfecting for millennia.

It’s time to go beyond learning about Indigenous cultures and start learning from them. If you start incorporating some of the ideas in this book into your personal knowledge system, you will experience the power of Songlines.

WITHOUT MEMORY, THERE IS NO KNOWLEDGE

Almost all human knowledge is now available on the internet – you just have to search for it. So why bother memorising anything? This worrying question is asked far too often.

Firstly, you can’t look up something if you don’t know it exists.

Secondly, as you burrow down to specific information, you can’t connect it to the bigger picture. Creativity – the way to see things in new ways and construct new ideas – depends on being able to see and understand from different directions. If you don’t have various forms of knowledge in memory, how can you identify new patterns and ideas? All you are capable of doing is regurgitating the information that has already been neatly written and indexed for you.

Thirdly, how often do the knowledge keepers in every society have to make decisions based on what they know, without the time to go and look it up? How would you feel about a doctor who had to look up every symptom you mentioned? Or a policeman who had no idea what the law stated? Or a singer who knew none of the lyrics without an autocue?

Fourthly, if you want to go to the higher levels of thinking that we educators talk about endlessly in education – analyse and synthesise, hypothesise and theorise – then you have to analyse, synthesise, hypothesise or theorise about something. Otherwise, your new  thinking is meaningless. By grounding your knowledge, literally, in Songlines, you have a firm knowledge base on which to build ever more complex layers of understanding.

And finally, your brain is a muscle. Like every other muscle in your body, it will slowly atrophy if you don’t use it. Looking up information and regurgitating it does not exercise your brain at all.

All knowledge is based on memory, and all memory is prompted by cues. One of the great gifts on offer to us from those who understand Songlines is how to set up those cues and push our memory just that much further to a capacity we have never experienced before.

MARGO NEALE

Like the Songlines that never end, the promise of this book is to open you up to a new way of understanding and a new way of knowing and being Australian on this continent. As an Australian, you too share a kinship with the First Peoples. We are all beneficiaries of the deep history of this continent and its long human occupancy stretching back thousands of generations. Immerse yourself in this legacy. It is a shared history in a shared country.

Elders from the Songlines exhibition who are custodians of the Seven Sisters Songline are very clear about why all Australians need to know about the Songlines. As they say, if you want to share this country with us then you need to know your stories beyond the last couple of hundred years. If you want to truly belong to this country, as Australians, you have to know your story about this place, this continent and its creation: ‘We are here to teach you your stories, not just to share ours. Without the deep stories you can’t take root, you will only ever be a transplant.’

The elders are not talking about sharing their stories; they are talking about telling you your stories.

Understanding how the Songlines work as a framework for relating people to each other and to place will give you the key to belonging. Learning how to integrate the dual knowledge systems from the first and second Australians will give you access to a third archive and with it, power over knowledge.

Songlines divulge powerful lessons about what it means to be human and to live on this earth. They offer us the promise of connectivity to each other and our planet in a fragmenting world.

This is an edited extract from Songlines: The Power and Promise by Margo Neale & Lynne Kelly, available now. Series editor Margo Neale and cover design by Nada Backovic. Ebook also available.

AU$19.99


Posted on November 11, 2020
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Performing for Princess Diana: An extract from Soar

Ballet great David McAllister’s memoir Soar: A Life Freed by Dance is filled with enchanting stories from his life on and off the stage. In this edited extract from the book, he shares one of his most memorable experiences as a dancer for The Australian Ballet, performing for Princess Diana in 1992.

Image: Ronald G Bell/The Australian Ballet archive

In early 1992, The Australian Ballet was preparing to head to London for its thirtieth anniversary celebrations. The company travelled first to Italy, where we performed outdoors at the Nervi Festival, before heading to London for a season of Coppélia at the Coliseum theatre in the West End. There was some anxiety that a strike in France would prevent the sets and costumes from arriving in time, but mercifully they got there and the show could go on. Miranda Coney – a fellow principal whom I had known back in my Perth City Ballet days when we were children – and I were to dance the leads in Coppélia for the Royal Gala in front of Princess Diana. It was incredibly stressful. The dress rehearsal had been a disaster, I think in part because I couldn’t stop thinking about performing for the princess, a known ballet lover and one of the most stylish and beautiful people in the world. I was terrified of putting in a bad performance.

The next morning, with the show that night, I woke up vowing I was not going to be nervous but excited. I came to the theatre determined to enjoy myself hugely – it was the most effective way of dealing with my own expectations as well as those of the other dancers and the company’s management. If I can get through winning Bronze at the International Ballet Competition in Moscow, I told myself, and not for the first time, I can get through this. A security sweep through the theatre before the performance made us even more aware of our royal guest.

From the minute the curtain went up, it was one of the few shows in which I can honestly say I don’t think I put a foot wrong. The entire company was on fire that night. Everything just seemed to happen effortlessly; I even started taking a few risks with steps – and they paid off. Miranda was so much fun to dance with and I felt like we had a real connection – the whole performance was a joy and one of the best nights of my life.

At the end of the show, after the curtain calls, Princess Diana came up on stage and we were presented to her. She was absolutely radiant – a vision in a long peach and cream gown to her ankles, and so much more beautiful than even the best photographs of her. I was completely overwhelmed, and when she came to talk to us I was a tongue-tied mess. I can’t even remember what I said, but I doubt any of it made sense. I went back to the dressing room thinking I had just blown my special moment with the most famous woman on the planet. I knew some of us were being invited to a function after the performance, so I made a pact with myself that if I saw her there I wouldn’t gibber like an idiot; I would talk to her like a normal human being.

After we changed back into our civilian clothes, we were taken to St James’s Palace, where a few of us had been chosen to mix with British high society – including royalty. Miranda, artistic director Maina Gielgud and I were there along with some other dancers from The Australian Ballet, including Colin Peasley (who had performed as Dr Coppelius that night), Jayne Beddoe, Vicki Attard and Lisa Bolte. We all thought we would be at a table with Princess Diana, but it turned out she was on another table, with a seat next to her that was occupied by a revolving circuit of people throughout the night. I was on a table with some charming people from Chanel and was having a great time. Just before dessert, Lady Potter, one of our generous patrons and the host for the evening, came and asked me if I would like to have five minutes with the guest of honour. I was sitting next to the princess before Lady Potter could finish her sentence. As luck would have it, this was precisely as dessert was being served, which, according to protocol, meant I couldn’t be moved along until the plates had been cleared.

We had about fifteen minutes together while she grappled with her peach sorbet (that was actually served in the shape of a peach) – it was so frozen she asked for a knife to cut into it, and we both spent the next few minutes trying to hack into it, in vain. The princess immediately made me feel at ease, like we were old friends. We talked about her dancing, her favourite ballet (Romeo and Juliet), Chanel shoes and our performance, which thankfully she liked. It was all a little surreal. Who would have thought that a daggy little kid showing off on a septic tank in suburban Perth would one day have dessert with a princess?

This is an edited extract from Soar: A Life Freed by Dance, out now. Text by David McAllister and Amanda Dunn, cover image by Greg Barrett and cover design by Daniel New.

AU$39.99


Posted on October 22, 2020
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A beautiful Spring menu plan from Miss Maggie’s Kitchen

We are so lucky to be able to share with you a Spring menu plan curated by the ever so talented recipe creator Héloïse Brion. This collection of recipes is taken from her new book, Miss Maggie’s Kitchen, named after her widely loved food and lifestyle brand. Together, they form a delicious four course French feast that is sure to impress your next dinner party guests.

Rosemary-Rhubarb Cooler

Makes 4 cocktails

Photography by Christophe Roué

Active Time 5 minutes

Cooking Time 5 minutes

Infusing Time 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 600 g young, pink-stemmed rhubarb, divided
  • 1½ cups (300 g) superfine sugar
  • ¾ cup (200 ml) water
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary with flowers, divided 2 lemons, preferably organic
  • ¾ cup (200 ml) vodka
  • Large ice cubes
  • About 2 cups (500 ml) sparkling water

Recipe

  1. Wash the rhubarb and cut 500 g into small pieces, and the remaining 100 g into 4 large pieces for garnish. Place the small rhubarb pieces in a large saucepan with the sugar, water, and 3 rosemary sprigs. Heat until the sugar dissolves, then boil for 5 minutes to make a syrup. Remove from the heat and let infuse for 15 minutes.
  2. Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve and place 2 tablespoons of syrup in each of 4 glasses.
  3. Top the syrup in each glass with the juice of ½ lemon and 3½ tbsp (50 ml) vodka.
  4. Add 4–5 ice cubes and a splash of sparkling water per drink. Stir to combine.
  5. Garnish with pieces of the remaining rosemary sprig and rhubarb before serving.

Cheese Shortbreads

Makes about 30

Photography by Christophe Roué

Active Time 10 minutes

Chilling Time 1 hour

Cooking Time 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 stick plus 1tsp (120g) unsalted butter, well chilled and diced
  • 1 3/4 cups (200g) shredded mature cheddar
  • 1/2 cup (50g) grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup (130g) all-purpose flour
  • 12 pecan halves
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Recipe

  1. In a large bowl, combine the butter, cheeses, cayenne pepper, flour, and a pinch of kosher salt using your fingertips. When the dough comes together, shape it into a large ball.
  2. Divide the dough in two and shape each half into a log with a diameter of 6–7 cm. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the chilled dough logs into 0.5 cm slices and place on the baking sheet.
  4. Top each slice with either a pecan half or a small sprig of rosemary or thyme, lightly pressing them into the dough, and bake for 15 minutes. While the shortbreads are still warm, sprinkle them with kosher salt and pepper. Let cool and serve.

Green Bean Salad with Hazelnuts and Parmesan

Serves 4

Photography by Christophe Roué

Active Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 kg green beans
  • 2 tsp whole grain mustard
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp hazelnut oil
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp crushed toasted hazelnuts
  • 2 handfuls arugula
  • 1 handful shaved Parmesan
  • 1 handful dried cranberries or blueberries
  • A few arugula or amaranth sprouts (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Recipe

  1. Blanch the green beans in generously salted water for 5 minutes.
  2. Plunge the beans into a large bowl filled with ice water. After 1 minute, drain and dry the beans.
  3. In the base of a large salad bowl, prepare the vinaigrette: Combine the mustard, vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, and hazelnut oil, then season with salt and pepper.
  4. Add the green beans, hazelnuts, shallot, and dried cranberries or blueberries to the salad bowl and toss with the vinaigrette.
  5. Before serving, sprinkle the salad with the arugula, Parmesan, and amaranth sprouts if using.

Onion Quiche

Serves 4-6

Photography by Christophe Roué

Active Time: 20 minutes

Chilling Time: 30 minutes

Cooking Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 quantity savory pastry dough with thyme (see recipe p. 25)
  • 7 onions (a mix of yellow and red), thinly sliced 1 tbsp butter, plus more for greasing the pan 3 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ cup (200 ml) heavy cream
  • 2 pinches ground cumin
  • 1 handful grated Gruyère cheese
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

Recipe

  1. Prepare the savory pastry dough with thyme leaves as indicated on page 25. Cover in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, place the onions in a large saucepan or Dutch oven with the butter, a generous pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the onions are tender and translucent.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4 and grease a 28-cm tart pan or dish with butter. Roll the dough into an approximately 32-cm round. Ease the dough into the pan, gently pressing it into the sides. Trim any excess dough, prick the base with a fork, and pre-bake for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove the crust from the oven and spread the mustard over the base in a thin layer. Distribute two-thirds of the onions evenly over the mustard.
  5. In a bowl, beat the eggs, then whisk in the cream and cumin. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over the onions in the tart crust and sprinkle with the grated Gruyère. Scatter the remaining onions over the top and bake for 35–40 minutes, until the filling is set and the crust is golden.

Franou’s Lemon Pie

Serves 6-8

Photography by Christophe Roué

Active Time 20 minutes

Chilling Time 2 hours

Cooking Time 35 minutes

Ingredients

FOR THE PASTRY DOUGH

  • 1 egg yolk
  • ½ cup (100 g) granulated or superfine sugar
  • 3½ tbsp (50 ml) water or milk
  • 2 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour 1 pinch salt
  • 1 stick plus 2 tsp (125 g) unsalted butter, well chilled and diced, plus more for greasing the pan
  • Generous ½ cup (80 g) toasted pine nuts

FOR THE LEMON CURD FILLING

  • 2 large lemons, preferably organic
  • 1 stick plus 2 tbsp (5 oz./150 g) unsalted butter
  • ⅔ cup (4½ oz./130 g) granulated or superfine sugar
  • 3 small eggs

Recipe

  1. To prepare the pastry dough, whisk together the egg yolk and sugar in a bowl, then whisk in the milk. Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and rub it into the flour with your fingertips until coarse crumbs form. Work in the egg-sugar mixture, followed by the pine nuts, until the dough just comes together in a ball. Shape into a round, flatten the top, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4 and grease a 28-cm tart pan or dish with butter. Roll the dough into an approximately 33-cm round. Ease the dough into the pan, gently pressing it into the sides. Trim any excess dough, prick the base with a fork, and bake for 25 minutes, until golden. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  3. To prepare the lemon curd filling, remove the zest from 1 of the lemons in strips, using a vegetable peeler; juice both lemons and set the juice aside. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, add the zest, and blanch zest for 5 minutes. Drain the zest and return it to the saucepan. Add the butter and cook over low heat until the butter melts. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.
  4. Meanwhile, in another bowl, whisk the sugar and eggs together. Whisk in the lemon juice, followed by the melted butter. Pour into the saucepan and set over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon and has slightly thickened; this could take up to 8–10 minutes. Do not let the mixture boil or it may split. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 10 minutes. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 1½ hours. Spoon the chilled filling into the baked crust, smooth over the top, and serve.

This is an edited extract from Miss Maggie’s Kitchen, out now. Text by Héloïse Brion with photography by Christophe Roué. Originally published by Flammarion.

AU$39.99


Posted on October 21, 2020
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Meet the dwarf star: an extract from The Secret Life of Stars

The Secret Life of Stars is a fun and accessible introduction to the many remarkable personalities in our galactic family. From renowned astrophysicist and Australia’s first Women in STEM Ambassador Lisa Harvey-Smith, the book guides you through the most extreme and confounding members of the Galaxy’s vast, varied and really quite weird stellar brood.

In this extract from the book, Lisa delves into the strange and fascinating existence of dwarf stars.

Stars appear in a vast range of sizes, with most being smaller and cooler than the Sun. The smallest burn their hydrogen more slowly and therefore have much lower temperatures. You can tell a lot about a star from its colour. Hotter stars give off more blue light, and cooler stars tend to the red. It’s similar to how hot gas-cooking flames are blue, whereas cooler candle flames are red. Counterintuitive, huh?

By looking in great detail at the colours of stars, we can tell precisely how hot they are, what chemicals they contain, and how old they are. We can even predict their future as they go through the ageing process.

Before we go on, I should fess up that the names of star categories make no logical sense whatsoever. From the coolest to the hottest stars we call them M, K, G, F, A, B and O, with numbered subcategories from 0 to 9. Uh-huh …

There are also subcategories for luminosity (how much light a star puts out) from 0 through to VII, in Roman numerals, just to be fancy.

Adding to the confusion, all small and average-sized stars are called ‘dwarf stars’. Only the very rare and very large stars are called ‘giants’ or ‘supergiants’. There are no ‘regular’ stars.

At this point I’d like to apologise on behalf of astronomers everywhere for this ridiculous situation – astronomy is littered with strange historical naming schemes. But there we have it.

Our Sun is a G2V star, somewhere in the middle of the jumbled alphabet soup of stars. B and O stars, at the top end of the scale, are humongous, gluttonous giants that explode in a shower of sparks when they come to the end of their life. In contrast, M and K stars are cool and steady types who live long and interesting lives. From now on, we will call these M and K stars ‘red dwarfs’.

Red dwarfs have only about a tenth to one half the mass of the Sun, and are only half as hot. They are smaller in physical size, too, and decidedly dimmer (although not lacking in intelligence). These stars are capable of great feats of physics – they still burn hydrogen into helium to produce vast amounts of energy in their core – but because they are smaller, there are far fewer nuclear reactions and their output is decidedly more puny.

Red dwarfs are the most common type of star in the Milky Way, with the faintest M-dwarfs making up more than 70 per cent of stars in our universe. Despite that, we never see them. I mean that literally. We don’t see any of them. At all. Ever. We didn’t even know that red dwarfs existed before the invention of the telescope, because they are too faint to see with the naked eye. Imagine that! Every star you can see is part of the 30 per cent minority.

As slow burners, these stars live extremely long and varied lives. Not only does their reduced rate of nuclear fusion extend their life, but also their enhanced internal mixing causes fresh hydrogen fuel from the outskirts of the star to be transported to the engine in the middle. As such, we predict that red dwarfs can live in excess of a trillion years.

As adolescents they can be active and sparky. In this gregarious stage of their lives they are often characterised as ‘flare’ stars. Rather than being a regrettable 1970s fashion statement, this moniker actually describes a stage of intense variability in the life of lower-mass stars where they quickly erupt – explode, even – for a few minutes before relaxing back to their regular demeanour as if nothing had happened. Flares from young red dwarfs are 100 to 1000 times more energetic than when the stars are older. As red dwarfs age, they cease this nonsense and increasingly potter their way through life, with age slowly ripening and changing their character.

Stars of all sizes form when gravity pulls together materials in interstellar clouds of gas. Red dwarfs are the littlest stars, just slightly larger than Jupiter, and are the smallest member in the official category of stars. But there are also some almost-rans, plucky hopefuls who tried but just missed the cut-off for full stardom. These battlers, called brown dwarfs, live out quite different lives to other stars.

With core temperatures of below 3 million degrees Celsius, brown dwarfs are simply not big or hot enough to turn hydrogen into helium via nuclear fusion. They can, however, manage other nuclear fusion reactions involving chemicals called deuterium and lithium. These reactions don’t generate as much heat as hydrogen fusion, so the surface temperatures of brown dwarfs are generally below 800 degrees. They emit almost no visible light: if you looked at one close up, you might just see a dim purple-ish glow.

Brown dwarfs weren’t discovered until 1995, because the only way to find them is to use infra-red detectors. Once astronomers built a telescope powerful enough to see them, we could finally make out their slight warmth in the icy cold of space.

Lisa Harvey-Smith

The Secret Life of Stars is out now. Text by Lisa-Harvey Smith, illustrations by Eirian Chapman and cover design by Philip Campbell Design.

AU$34.99


Posted on October 1, 2020
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A recipe for blueberry-rhubarb jam

If anyone knows a thing or two about jam, it’s Jessica Koslow. After the success of her first book Everything I Want to Eat, the owner of beloved LA restaurant Sqirl is back with The Sqirl Jam Book. This home cook-friendly book features a collection of Koslow’s signature recipes for jams, jellies and preserves. Think fig jam with red wine, roasted honey apple butter and yuzu marmalade with honey. Not sure where to start? Give this delightful blueberry-rhubarb jam a go.

Photography by Scott Barry

Blueberry-rhubarb is the first berry jam that we made at Sqirl after marmalade season, a riff on a Southern classic. An iconic jam for me because it’s what Sqirl’s all about — taking a classic and turning it on its head.

Ingredients

  • 1,000 g rhubarb
  • 1,000 g blueberries
  • 1,200 g (6 cups) sugar (60% of the weight of blueberries plus rhubarb)
  • 40 g (2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp) lemon juice (2% of the weight of blueberries plus rhubarb)

Directions:

  1. Prepare your plate test by putting a few saucers in the freezer.
  2. Cut the rhubarb into 6 mm slices; they should all be about the same size for even cooking. Set aside.
  3. Put the blueberries in a blender and puree until smooth: Start with a little bit of the blueberries and blend on low speed as you add the rest of the berries and increase the speed.
  4. If you have more or less than 2,000 g rhubarb and blueberries (we use 50% rhubarb and 50% blueberries), you can figure out how much sugar and lemon juice you will need by using the following formula:
    • Grams of rhubarb plus blueberries × 0.60 = grams of sugar
    • Grams of rhubarb plus blueberries × 0.02 = grams of lemon juice
  5. Combine the blueberry puree, rhubarb, sugar, and lemon juice in a jamming pot. Cook the mixture over high heat, stirring frequently. When the rhubarb is softened, about 14 minutes, reduce the heat to low. Use a potato masher or wooden spoon to smash it; you’re going to be stirring a lot because the fruit needs to disintegrate, release liquid, and eventually melt into the blueberry puree. (It won’t fully break down — it’s okay to have some chunks.)
  6. Turn the heat back up to high and cook for 4 minutes, stirring. Use a spider or fine-mesh skimmer to skim off any scum. Dip the spider into a bowl of water and shake off any excess to clean between skims.
  7. Reduce the heat to low, then smash the rhubarb again with a potato masher for a minute. Turn the heat back up to high and continue to cook, stirring and skimming as necessary, for another couple of minutes, until the jam is thickened, the texture is homogenous, and the temperature reaches 101°C, about 25 minutes total. Perform a plate test.
  8. Spoon a little of the jam onto a frozen saucer. Put the plate back in the freezer for 1 minute, then slide a finger through the jam. It’s done when it parts and you see a strip of clean saucer. If it isn’t set, return the pot to the heat, stir constantly, and test again after 1 to 2 minutes.

Photography by Scott Barry

This is an edited extract from The Sqirl Jam Book, out now. Text by Jessica Koslow with photography and design by Scott Barry. Published by Abrams Books.

AU$49.99


Posted on September 18, 2020
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How to Grow Beetroot With as Little as a Windowsill

There is little more satisfying than growing something you can eat. The joy of picking a ripe tomato, digging out a wonky potato or ripping off some fresh basil leaves is spring’s very own drug.

Claire Ratinon is an organic food grower who once grew food for Ottolenghi’s kitchen. In this extract from her first book, How to Grow Your Dinner Without Leaving the House, Claire demystifies an Australian favourite: beetroot.


As a child, I only ever tasted cooked supermarket beetroot. It was always a bit soggy and sour, and made all that touched it bright pink. Suffice to say, it was not my favourite. But as a grown-up vegetable fancier, I find my love for beetroot is constantly expanding. I’ve come to appreciate its earthy sweetness, and I adore the colours and tastes of the more unusual varieties, such as ‘Choggia’, with its concentric circles of magenta and white, or golden beetroot, which is a bright, warm yellow in appearance and flavour. You can also eat the highly nutritious leaves, although take only a few at a time or your beetroot plant will stop growing.

Photography by Ida Riveros

Timing
You can sow beetroot seeds indoors from early spring, plant them out 4–6 weeks later and harvest by early summer. Sow seeds every few weeks if you have the space, for a regular supply. Seeds sown in mid summer will yield roots that can be kept into winter, as long as they’re harvested and stored before the first frost.

Getting started
Beetroot seeds benefit from being soaked before sowing so put your seeds in a glass of water for 24 hours. Plant a couple of seeds in each module, as they grow well in a little group. Each seed is actually a cluster of seeds with the potential to produce a few germinated seedlings, so thin the bunch down to four or five strong plants while they’re still small. You can also sow directly into the final container. If you’ve used modules, transplant the seedlings while they’ve got two sets of leaves per plant: they won’t appreciate being moved once they’re bigger.

Growing

Container
Beetroot doesn’t need a huge container, and you can plant one cluster of seedlings in a 5-litre pot with a diameter of 22cm. If you grow the plants close together, you will still get a harvest but the roots will be on the small side.

Water
It’s important not to let your beetroot plants dry out or their roots will become woody, so be generous when you water, especially in hot, dry weather.

Light
Beetroot grows best in a sunny position, but it can tolerate some shade as long as it has had a strong start in life, with adequate light.

Feeding
Beetroots are vigorous growers and will benefit from feeding when grown in pots. A fortnightly feed of liquid seaweed or comfrey will support the plants to grow and roots to develop.

Harvesting

Your first beetroot harvest can arrive as early as two months after sowing, when the root is the size of a golf ball. At this stage you can also harvest the leaves and cook them as you would spinach. These early harvests will be the sweetest and most tender. Gently twist off the largest roots and leave the remaining ones to keep growing, harvesting them as you want to eat them. Just don’t let them get much larger than a tennis ball, or they’ll be tough and less delicious.


How to Grow Your Dinner: Without Leaving the House is out now. Text by Claire Ratinon and cover by Rita Platts.


Posted on September 10, 2020
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What matters now: a gallery from Human Nature

Humanity has reached a pivotal point in time. Human Nature brings together twelve of the world’s most influential photographers to show us why. With compassion and empathy, their extraordinary images and the stories behind them help us to understand what matters now for humanity and the planet.

Get to know the different photographers featured, some of their work from the book and their views on the Age of Anthropocene.

Brian Skerry

Brian Skerry is a photojournalist with a focus on underwater environments and marine wildlife and is a lecturer on exploration, photography and conservation. His work has been featured in many publications and he has produced over twenty-five stories for National Geographic magazine.

‘The decisions that we make today are going to determine the future of this planet, and the future of our species. It’s a time for truth; it’s a time for science and storytelling and journalism to work together collaboratively. The stakes have never been quite so high.’

From Human Nature: Planet Earth in Our Time, edited by Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday, image copyright © Brian Skerry.

Frans Lanting

Hailing from the Netherlands, Frans Lanting is a renowned photographer and naturalist whose work has frequently appeared in National Geographic, where he served as a photographer-in-residence.

‘Nature can help us overcome the effects of climate change in a much more effective way than anything else. If we invest in nature, in protecting nature as habitats, as forests, as lungs of the planet, then we can save species that are dependent on those habitats.’

From Human Nature: Planet Earth in Our Time, edited by Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday, image copyright © Frans Lanting.

J Henry Fair

Based in New York City and Berlin, J Henry Fair creates imagery and media to explain the science of complex environmental issues.

‘What we see in these pictures are the hidden costs of mining; the detritus from the production processes that make the things that we buy every day, whether it’s electricity, bread or the soda cans we throw away on the street. We are complicit, but it’s a complicity of ignorance.’

From Human Nature: Planet Earth in Our Time, edited by Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday, image copyright © J Henry Fair.

Paul Nicklen

Paul Nicklen is a Canadian photographer and marine biologist specialising in the polar regions and their wildlife.

‘Change is happening. A little too late and too slowly, but it is happening and that’s what gives me hope. We know that there’s no other option but to fight for this and I think we are going to win. There is hope everywhere around us.’

From Human Nature: Planet Earth in Our Time, edited by Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday, image copyright © Paul Nicklen.

Cristina Mittermeier

Cristina Mittermeier is a marine biologist and activist who pioneered the concept and field of conservation photography, founding the International League of Conservation Photographers in 2005 to provide a platform for photographers working on environmental issues.

‘This lack of commitment to community, this lack of care for the other, is absolutely at the heart of the environmental issues we are confronted with. Inequality and climate change are the two biggest issues that we’re facing.’

From Human Nature: Planet Earth in Our Time, edited by Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday, image copyright © Cristina Mittermeier.

Brent Stirton

Brent Stirton is a South African photographer and a senior staff photographer for Reportage by Getty Images, specialising in documentary work covering global topics including health, the environment and conflict.

‘It’s almost suicidal in terms of our civilisation’s thinking on these issues, but a lot of that’s because people are simply in the process of surviving, feeding their families. Conservation is almost considered a luxury, when it should be a necessity.’

From Human Nature: Planet Earth in Our Time, edited by Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday, image copyright © Brent Stirton/Getty Images.

Ami Vitale

Ami Vitale is a photographer, filmmaker, writer and explorer who tells stories about our fragile relationship with the natural world.

‘We all have the capacity to get engaged and use our voices to make a difference. The messenger matters just as much as the message itself. Each of us can be a powerful voice when speaking to the people in our lives.’

From Human Nature: Planet Earth in Our Time, edited by Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday, image copyright © Ami Vitale.

Steve Winter

Steve Winter has been a photographer for National Geographic for over two decades. He specialises in wildlife and particularly big cats.

‘If we can save the ecosystems and these animals’ habitats, we can help save ourselves. That’s my mantra: if we can save big cats, we can help save ourselves. We don’t have a choice; we either save the planet or we perish.’

From Human Nature: Planet Earth in Our Time, edited by Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday, image copyright © Steve Winter/National Geographic.

Tim Laman

Tim Laman is a field biologist, wildlife photographer and filmmaker.

‘It’s hugely important for climate change that forest stays as forest – all that carbon that’s in there – and the birds of paradise are flagship species that can focus people’s attention on conserving New Guinea’s forests.’

From Human Nature: Planet Earth in Our Time, edited by Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday, image copyright © Tim Laman.

George Steinmetz

A regular contributor to National Geographic magazine, George Steinmetz’s work has examined subjects ranging from global oil exploration and the latest advances in robotics, to the innermost stretches of the Sahara and the little-known tree house people of Papua, Indonesia.

‘Over the years, my work has turned me into an accidental environmentalist. I never set out to be an advocate for our planet, but I think that if people know more about an issue, they can make choices that will lead to solutions. Our individual choices add up.’

From Human Nature: Planet Earth in Our Time, edited by Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday, image copyright © George Steinmetz.

Richard John Seymour

British photographer, designer and filmmaker Richard John Seymour uses photography and film to explore the connections between cities, economies and landscapes in an effort to draw attention to the political, environmental and social issues that stem from human-made environments.

‘In the last fifteen years we’ve produced half of the plastic ever made and in the last twenty-five years we’ve emitted half of the CO2 ever emitted in the history of humanity. Since we’ve had the information that we’ve needed to change our habits, we’ve massively done the opposite.’

From Human Nature: Planet Earth in Our Time, edited by Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday, image copyright © Richard John Seymour.

Joel Sartore

Joel Sartore is an award-winning photographer, speaker, author, conservationist and the 2018 National Geographic Explorer of the Year.

‘Human beings are the ones that hold earth’s fate in our hands. We really do need to pay attention and look these animals in the eye. Hopefully then people will decide whether or not the future of life on earth is worth it.’

From Human Nature: Planet Earth in Our Time, edited by Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday, image copyright © Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark.

This is an edited extract from Human Nature, out now. Text edited by Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday, copyright © Blackwell & Ruth.

AU$65.00


Posted on September 1, 2020
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An Extract from Max Allen’s Intoxicating

Intoxicating is award-winning journalist Max Allen’s personal journey through Australia’s colourful and complex drinking history, glass in hand. In the book, Max uncovers ten of Australia’s most famous – and most surprising – drinks, sharing anecdotes about each.

In this edited extract, Max discusses his first forays into cider and home distillation, from the chapter ‘Peach Cyder’.    

I was born and spent the first few years of my life in Bristol, in the heart of England’s West Country, epicentre of traditional cider production. As a teenager living in London, some of my first experiences of alcohol came in the form of big plastic bottles of cheap Woodpecker Medium Dry cider bought underage at the local off-licence. Then, travelling around the West Country in the late 1980s, I discovered the real thing: farmhouse scrumpy, stuff of legend.

The revelation came in a crumbling 16th-century pub called the Three Tuns in Hay-on-Wye, a little town famous for its bookshops and literary festival, just over the Welsh border from Herefordshire. Saggy wooden benches by the smoke-blackened inglenook, an ancient shillings-and-pence slot machine in one corner, and an even older landlady tending the tiny bar.

When I asked for cider, instead of reaching for the hand pump on the bar or a bottle from the fridge, she rummaged around in the gloom and hauled out a plastic gallon container of cloudy golden liquid. This was scrumpy, made by a local farmer using nothing but freshly pressed apple juice and wild yeasts and time.

‘Be careful,’ she warned, as she poured out a pint. And she was right: with its huge, sharp aromas of pulpy windfall fruit and its furry taste of tough, brown apple cores strewn across a barnyard, this was a deeply challenging explosion of agricultural flavour. I think it might also have had mild hallucinogenic properties. I was hooked.

I first made cider in my backyard in Melbourne in 2011. I’d found a small orchard full of old apple varieties just a few blocks from my house, in the grounds of Rippon Lea, the National Trust–owned Melbourne mansion built by merchant and politician Frederick Sargood in 1868. Like many grand estates established on the outskirts of Australia’s emerging capital cities in the late 19th century, Rippon Lea was originally surrounded by farmland. Much of that country is now covered in suburban houses, schools, cinemas and the ABC’s old Gordon Street studios where my mum worked with my wife’s parents in the 1960s. But in the 1980s, one corner of the estate near the original 1860s stables was converted to an orchard that now boasts over 130 varieties of heritage apples and pears, including Golden Pippin and the classic cider variety Kingston Black.

I’d heard that the gardeners at Rippon Lea had harvested enough fruit to make cider by netting some of the trees to stop the local flocks of lorikeets munching the crop. So I contacted the head gardener and asked if I could gather enough of what was left over – those few apples still clinging unscathed to higher branches, the unbruised windfalls lurking in the grass below – to make a demijohn of cider myself.

Photography by Riley Allen

Not owning any cider-making equipment at that time, I crushed the apples in the most rudimentary way by bashing them to a pulp with a block of wood in a bucket. Then I borrowed a winemaker friend’s old basket press, wrapped the apple pulp up in parcels of shade cloth, put them in the press, slowly squeezed them and filled a glass demijohn with golden-brown sticky syrupy juice.

At this stage, according to all the modern cider-making manuals I’d read, I should have added some safe, reliable cultured yeast from a packet. Instead, I did nothing. I walked away and waited for nature to take its course. I wanted to do what the farmer who made that scrumpy in Hay-on-Wye had done and just let the wild yeasts on the apple skins and flesh and stalks and pips, in the air, on the press, do what yeasts do naturally: turn sugar into alcohol.

Nothing happened at first. The juice just sat there. But then, after a few hours, up from the depths of the murk emerged tiny pinprick bubbles of carbon dioxide: a definite sign of microbial activity. Fermentation had started. The wild yeasts were getting to work.

As I watched those little bubbles slowly rise, I felt another strange and profound feeling of connection with the generations of people before me who have marvelled at this seemingly miraculous process. And not just the cider makers: the winemakers and brewers, all those innumerable human beings who, for thousands of years, long before scientists identified yeasts and bacteria as the living organisms responsible for fermentation, have simply trusted in the mystery to produce a delicious drink.

I’ve made my own cider each autumn almost every year since that first fermentation epiphany. I’ve bought my own small-scale cider-making equipment. I’ve crawled around on my hands and knees in the mud and damp grass under apple trees foraging for windfalls in the Goulburn Valley. I’ve scrambled over gates and fences to reach fat ripe apples on wild roadside trees in Coonawarra. I’ve made friends with orchardists on the Mornington Peninsula who have old heritage varieties: proper cider apples like Kingston Black, almost-forgotten English apples like Sturmer Pippin, unfashionable Australian apples like Sundowner.

Each year I’ve brought my motley harvest back home and dragged my crusher and press out of the garage and invited friends and family, reluctant teenagers and eager neighbours, to help me make cider. And after the crushing and pressing, we’ve all sat down for a meal and opened bottles of last year’s batch and celebrated the season.

I now take bottles of my cider with me when I travel, to share with friends or to pour for winemakers or brewers or other, professional cidermakers. Sometimes people even say they like it, which makes me feel proud – and connected, as though the annual autumn West Country rituals are echoing in my own creaking basket press.

Photography by Riley Allen

Intoxicating is out now. Text by Max Allen and cover design by Josh Durham.


Posted on July 31, 2020
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At Home in a Strange Land

Landscapes of Our Hearts is an epic exploration of our relationship with this country. From distinguished research scientist and award-winning writer Matthew Colloff, the book asks the question: ‘If we look afresh at our history through the land we live on, might Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians find a path to a shared future?’

In this extract, Colloff discusses the importance of responsibility in the pursuit of belonging for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Photography: Jackie Money

Most Australians have connections with more than one place, whether they are Indigenous people or descended from 19th-century European settler-colonists or more recent migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers. We value and maintain our cultural identity. For many Australians, the expression of culture singles them out as ‘different’ from other Australians and creates the tension between integration into ‘the Australian way of life’ and the multicultural plurality of modern Australian society. For example, the children of Greek migrants who refused to go with their parents and older relatives to large group barbecues and picnics in parks because they regarded such an event as ‘woggy’; in other words, it represented their involvement in a cultural activity that would identify them as migrants to other Australians.1

But there is no contradiction between citizenship and cultural diversity. Attempts by politicians and populists to construct and promulgate ‘a national identity’ have tended to be unsuccessful. Sociologist Robert Van Krieken writes, ‘Political and cultural citizenship do not necessarily coincide – it is possible to be defined legally as a citizen, but still remain an outsider, with the rules governing the transition from one category to the other remaining obscure and elusive.’2 I would argue that the process of transition from one to the other often begins with developing a connection with this land and the process of place-making.

Are we all strangers in our own land, trying to make a home wherever we find ourselves? For Australians of Anglo-Celtic descent whose families have been here for several generations, they may have been born in one place, grown up in another and live as adults somewhere else again. For many Indigenous Australians, their ancestors may have been forcibly removed from their lands, their grandparents or great-grandparents raised on a mission or an Aboriginal reserve many hundreds of kilometres away, and their parents may have moved from place to place to find work, as Stan Grant’s parents did, all the while trying to stay in contact with the diaspora of their kin.

For many of us migrants, the idea of referring to Australia as my country carries with it a deeply felt sense of ambivalence. This tension emerges not only from the cultural connections with the countries of our birth but also an unease about whether we have such a right, considering this land was taken by invasion and dispossession of its Indigenous peoples during the one hundred and forty years of the Frontier Wars. As Henry Reynolds wrote: ‘It was only by forgetting that white Australia was able to overlook the violent foundation of the nation.’3

Historian Peter Read sums up the tension as follows: ‘how can we non-Indigenous Australians justify our continuous presence and our love for this country while the Indigenous people remain dispossessed and their history unacknowledged?’4 Some of us make our place and feel a strong sense of belonging accordingly. We feel we have a right to belong. Others of us feel no such right. Australia always was and always will be Aboriginal land. Belonging is a deeply personal journey, travelled by multiple routes. There was nothing in the citizenship interview and examination that I took in 1996 on how to go about the process of belonging. The only mention in official documentation on citizenship is the statement that volunteering can be a great way of increasing one’s sense of belonging to the Australian community and that, ‘You can walk the desert or the shore, the mountains or the rainforests. Every step you take is a step closer to belonging to this vast and vibrant land.’5 Indeed. A route to belonging through volunteerism and tourism. Were it that easy.

For some, claiming continuity with Indigenous people and the environment as part of our non-Indigenous heritage is a means of achieving a sense of belonging. In an interview with Peter Read, environmental historian Tom Griffiths stated: ‘Aborigines and environment: these are the two great historical revolutions of our generation. Writing both into Australian history allows you to reach back beyond the moment of invasion and draw you into deep time as part of our own inheritance. We should discover the continuities.’6

Griffiths’ perspective echoes the need to reconcile a sense of attachment to place with the history of environmental and cultural change. With this need comes a set of responsibilities to ‘a vision of a morally and environmentally integrated Australia’, in which the relationship between humans and the environment is one in which people ‘share its past and provide for its future’. Yet can non-Indigenous Australians legitimately claim to belong to deep time while Indigenous Australians remain dispossessed and governments continually seek to obstruct practical processes of reconciliation?7

Perhaps one way for non-Indigenous Australians to think construc­tively about these vexed issues is not just to focus on assumptions about rights of belonging, but on their responsibilities. Simply put, if our sense of belonging is to be gained through a continuity with deep time history, then we have an equal responsibility to Indigenous Australians, ourselves and our shared environment to do what we can to achieve reconciliation. We might start by considering and adopting elements of the ancient environmental knowledge, values and rules of Indigenous Australians that they observe and we do not. Perhaps this might form a basis to begin to shape our common future in more sustainable ways.8

If there can be no lasting or legitimate sense of belonging without a sense of responsibility to the land and each other, then here’s the challenge, as articulated by Tom Griffiths: ‘If all Australians are to rejoice in the deep past, then we must ask the non-Aboriginals to share responsibility for its mistakes. If all Australians are to rejoice in the deep future, then we must ask the Aboriginals to share in its responsibility.’ Idealistic and difficult this may seem in practice, but the alternative is worse; a business-as-usual continuation of what we have already done: ‘the mere expropriation of past and future’.9 If we can acknowledge the past, reconcile the present and nurture the future, then perhaps all Australians, one day, may truly find a place we can call home.

NOTES

1     Denis Byrne, Heather Goodall & Allison Cadzow, Place-Making in National Parks: Ways That Australians of Arabic and Vietnamese Background Perceive and Use the Parklands along the Georges River, NSW, University of Technology Sydney and Office of Environment and Heritage, Sydney, 2013, p. 17.

2     Robert Van Krieken, ‘Between Assimilation and Multiculturalism: Models of Integration in Australia’, Patterns of Prejudice, vol. 46, no. 5, 2012, pp. 500–17.

3     Henry Reynolds, Forgotten War, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2013.

4     Peter Read, Belonging: Australians, Place and Aboriginal Ownership, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000, p. 1.

5     Department of Home Affairs, Australian Citizenship: Our Common Bond, Communication and Engagement Branch, Department of Home Affairs, Canberra, 2018, pp. 17, 41.

6     Read, p. 178.

7     Read, p. 181.

8     Tyson Yunkaporta, Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Change the World, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2019; ‘Can Indigenous Thinking Save the World?’ Late Night Live, Radio National, 16 September 2019.

9     Read, p. 183.

Landscapes of Our Hearts is available now. Text by Matthew Colloff, cover photography by Louise Denton Photography, and cover design by Alissa Dinallo.

AU$34.99


Posted on July 1, 2020
Posted on

Making Colour Visceral: How Paint is Made

From one of the world’s most respected paint-makers, David Coles, Chromatopia reveals the stories behind fifty striking pigments. In this extract, Coles discusses the extraordinary process through which paint is made.

Photography by Adrian Lander

This book has looked at the origins of historical and contemporary pigments, but pigments are hardly ever used in their raw form. To be usefully employed as a colour, billions of individual grains of pigment must be glued together with a binder. This is, in essence, how you make paint.

Throughout history, people have found ways to permanently ‘fix’ colour to create lasting images of the most exquisite beauty. For instance, the binding of pigments in Neolithic cave paintings was probably serendipitous; cave walls containing silicas or limestone trapped the pigment and locked it to the surface over time. Since then, we have discovered a host of sticky, adhesive materials in nature that could hold pigments in place. Some of these earliest binders are still used by artists. Gum arabic, the water-soluble sap of the North African acacia tree, makes watercolours; and beeswax, collected and refined from hives, makes encaustic (molten wax) paint.

Mixing pigments with different binders successfully converts them into a material for uses as diverse as house paints, plastics, writing inks, automotive coatings, paper and – of most interest to me – artists’ paint.

In my role as a master paint-maker, I make oil paint, which are by dispersing pigments in a ‘drying oil’ such as linseed, walnut, poppy or safflower oils. Linseed oil is by far the most important and widely used drying oil. When drying oils absorb oxygen they convert from a liquid into a hard, permanent coating. Pigments can be bound with very small amounts of oil. This means that oil paints contain much higher amounts of the pigment than watercolour or acrylic paints. For artists, this gives the paint a physical feeling. The paintbrush is literally pushing around dense, coloured pastes.

Photography by Adrian Lander

So how do we make our paint? Our first task was to source a high-quality linseed oil. We selected ours after sampling dozens of products from suppliers all over the world. We were looking for a clean, straw-coloured oil that was free of natural impurities. It had to have a good drying rate and minimal yellowing as it aged. Eventually we chose exceptional bright, clear oils made in Holland and Germany.

Next comes the selection of the pigments. There are so many manufacturers of pigments that the choice seems overwhelming. We hunt out pigments that have qualities equal to their noble intended use: they must be as lightfast as possible, chemically stable and exhibit colour qualities of benefit to the artist. The vast majority of pigments do not meet our needs. They are built for larger, more commercially important industries and have been tailored for industrial applications.

To select our pigments, we go through a long period of investigation. We select colours of interest, research the chemical construction of the pigment, and assess its suitability for artists’ paint before requesting samples for laboratory trials. The anticipation of opening a sample box and seeing a new pigment for the first time, in its raw unadulterated form, is exhilarating. There is always the nervous hope that the promise held out by this new pigment will be borne out, that its potency will not dull, and that its colour will not be lost when it is mixed with the binder. Backwards and forwards go the experiments – working out the right amount of pigment to add to the oil and correcting for undesirable qualities. Like a chef honing a new dish, small, delicate changes in the recipe can lead to dramatic differences in the finished product.

Photography by Adrian Lander

When we are ready to make the paint, the linseed oil is weighed out into 60-litre heavy-duty stainless-steel bowls. All of our manufacturing equipment and surfaces are stainless steel. The equipment is kept meticulously clean to prevent any chance of other colours contaminating the purity of each new batch.

Stearate, a wax-like material that is essential to the wetting and stability of the paint, is weighed and added to the oil. The bowl is secured in a planetary mixer and large, powerful motors slowly rotate the blade through the wax and oil mixture.

Next, another steel bowl is placed on the electronic scales, ready for the pigment. Even after all these years, opening the bins of pure pigment is a ridiculously breathtaking assault on the eyes. The pigment is scooped out, weighed and added slowly to the oil. There are no short cuts. Adding all the pigment at once would make incorporation impossible. The liquid oil allows the individual grains of colour to slide over each other. The physical shape of pigments means that, without this lubrication, they would drag over each other, causing extraordinary resistance, reducing the mixing action and – as happened once very early on – breaking the very expensive blade of the mixer.

The slow churning of the paste begins. Over the rumbling of the mixer’s motor, you can hear delicious slurping noises as the blade methodically drives through the mixture. As the dry pigment is gradually incorporated with the wet oil, it changes from an incredibly thick batter into what looks like an enormous vat of vividly coloured butter.

This process can take as long as four hours, but it is not the finished paint. Under close inspection, vast quantities of the pigments still cling together rather than being individually coated. This is where the triple-roll mill comes in.

Photography by Adrian Lander

A triple-roll mill is at the heart of paint-making. At its most basic, it is three horizontal granite rollers that each run at different speeds and spin in alternating directions. The paste is scraped out of the mixer’s bowl with a baker’s blade and dropped into the hopper. Each giant dollop makes a delicious slap as it plops onto the rollers below. The paste is drawn down into the tiny space between the rollers, again and again. With each pass, the space is narrowed to more aggressively separate the pigment particles. If you have ever used a pasta-making machine with its two rollers forcing the dough through the small space between them you can understand the paint-making process. Just as the roughly made dough cannot pass through the narrowest setting first, so the pigment-paste must be passed through the mill rollers multiple times. It’s just that our mill is like a pasta-machine on steroids, with three rollers rather than two and a massive motor to drive the material through. For soft pigments such as zinc white only three passes are needed, but the synthetics can take up to nine passes. Synthetic pigments are very difficult to prize apart: their incredibly small size and specific shape mean they have to be painstakingly teased into dispersion.

The paint-maker must be constantly attentive to the vagaries of milling. Rollers heat up under the friction of pigment particles, which alters the size of the roller gap, and the fluidity of the oil is affected by changes in ambient temperature. Also, pigments behave differently from one batch to another. This is especially true of the natural earths, which vary in their mineral make-up depending on the part of the seam the earth was dug from.

Photography by Adrian Lander

Towards the end of the paint-making process, we take samples of the paint and test it for quality. Historically, paint-makers would rub the paint between their thumbnails – a simple but surprisingly delicate solution to feel for the grittiness of unmixed pigment. Nowadays we use a precisely honed stainless-steel gauge to check the quality of dispersion.

But we are still not ready to sign off on the product. Two extremely thin films of the freshly made paint are applied to paint-maker’s cards. One daub is the pure paint. The other is the paint mixed with a specified amount of titanium white.  By placing the card next to one from a previous batch of the same colour, we can ensure that every time we make the paint it has identical colour, tinting strength, tint colour and undertone to all previous versions.

Only after the paint has passed these tests is it approved for packing. It is hand-filled into collapsible aluminium paint tubes, labelled with hand-painted swatches of the individual colour, boxed and shipped to studios around the world.

Chromatopia is available now. Text by David Coles, photography by Adrian Lander, and cover design by Evi. O Studio.

AU$34.99


Posted on June 17, 2020
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Recipe: Speckled Beetroot Sourdough

There’s no better time to settle in to the ultimate, feel-good luxury of making homemade bread, and this Speckled Beetroot Sourdough is worth settling in to.

Whilst all the recipes in How to Raise a Loaf are suitable for beginners, this recipe should be attempted once you’ve already made your first basic loaf. The recipe for a basic loaf, as well as kneading and folding tutorials, are all included in How to Raise a Loaf. You’ll also find a step-by-step guide to making and using your starter. Head over to Laurence King’s Instagram story here to watch how we make our starter.


Speckled Beetroot Sourdough

With a distinctive appearance and earthy aroma, this is a real show-stopper, and a perfect, hearty accompaniment to winter soups or stews. Beetroots are a rich source of antioxidants, and also give the dough an unforgettable pink colour, which fades in the oven, leaving speckles in a classic open crumb.

Photography by Ida Riveros

Ingredients

· 200g starter
· 10ml (2 tsp) olive oil
· 180ml warm water
· 340g strong white bread flour
· 7.5g (1½ tsp) fine salt
· 150g fresh beetroot, peeled and coarsely grated
· rice flour or semolina, for dusting

1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the starter, olive oil and warm water together until the starter has dissolved.

Photography by Ida Riveros

2. In another bowl, mix the flour with the salt. Add this to the wet mixture and mix well with your hand, then add the grated beetroot and mix until the beetroot is evenly distributed. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave to rest for 30 minutes.

3. Wet your hands, then pull, fold and rotate the dough 8—10 times, so that it forms a ball. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.

4. Repeat Step 3 twice so that you’ve worked the dough three times and it has rested for a
hour in total.

5. Dust a proving basket liberally with rice flour or semolina. Wet your fingers, work them around the bottom of the ball of dough and gently transfer it to the proving basket, keeping the seam upwards.

6. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove. Depending on the temperature and the activity of the yeast, it may take three to six hours to gain about 50 per cent in size.

Photography by Ida Riveros

7. When the loaf has proved, preheat the oven to 230°C (210°C fan)/gas mark 8, with a heavy baking tray or baking stone on the middle shelf, and add a source of steam. Turn the loaf out of the proving basket onto the heated surface, cut it twice across the top with a sharp blade or scissors, then place it in the oven.

8. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 210°C (190°C fan)/gas mark
and bake for another 40 minutes, or until the loaf is done and sounds hollow on the base
when tapped with a fingertip.

9. Leave to cool on a wire rack before eating.

Photography by Ida Riveros

This is a recipe extract from How to Raise a Loaf, published by Laurence King Publishing, $25, available here.


Posted on May 11, 2020
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My Bedroom is an Office: Joanna Thornhill on your Interior Design Dilemmas

When My Bedroom is an Office was published in March 2019, we had no idea it would be so relevant over a year later. Now, Joanna Thornhill reminds us that even if your office is just an outdoor table at the end of your bed, it’s still worth making it a space you are happy to spend the day in.


No one wants to stare at a messy workspace at the best of times, least of all when dozing off in bed at the end of the day. But if the bedroom is your only viable space to set up shop, however small the available area, if you’re savvy and organised you can create a spot that functions as a place of productivity without causing nightmares.

For the workspace itself, think about repurposing a piece of furniture that will fit the aesthetic of your bedroom. A bureau or secretaire can work brilliantly, and you can just shut the hatch when you’re not using it. A simple writing desk, console or even small dining table can be a good option, but try to make a raised platform for your monitor (perhaps just a shelf resting on two wooden battens) to ensure that it sits at the correct eye level; you can tuck your keyboard under this when it’s not being used. If your table has no drawers, a basic fabric skirt fixed around the top can hide a multitude of sins, from printers to power cables.

Left: Hiding in plain sight can be a good approach for the bedroom office. Through the use of cute accessories, charming vintage furniture and a pretty overall aesthetic, this study spot is a chic addition rather than an unfortunate eyesore.
Right: An ingenious fold-down wall desk can work wonderfully in a tiny space. A purpose-built unit allows you to keep your laptop and a few other essentials hidden away, while a wall-mounted drop-leaf table or a drop-leaf butterfly table would do a similar job.
Below: Natural materials can offer the perfect counterbalance to a tech-filled study space. Paired with simple floral cuttings and touches of greenery, this work nook looks the opposite of corporate. Clever, subtle tech, such as the lamp that incorporates a wireless charging base, allows the desktop to remain relatively cable-free.
Image © Tiffany Grant-Riley / 91 Magazine

Since space will no doubt be limited, think laterally to make the most of your work nook. If your desk is in an alcove, this can offer the ideal spot to add shelves for storage, but otherwise a ladder-style leaning desk unit may be most efficient, or even a modular shelving system incorporating a desk. Soften the appearance of work paraphernalia such as box files or ring binders by covering them with fabric or wallpaper swatches that tie in with your room decor, and be creative with storage – why not keep archived paperwork in a small vintage suitcase, for example, or stack your printer paper in an old wooden fruit crate?

An ugly office chair will never enhance any bedroom, so consider working from a more visually pleasing dining chair or even a padded stool. If this is your full-time workspace, however, a proper computer chair is best for your body, so shop around for an aesthetically pleasing one (they may be few and far between, but they’re out there). If you’ve already got a bog-standard one, try covering it with a chunky throw when it’s not in use, or make fitted covers in a charming fabric to give it a more homely feel.

Joanna Thornhill
Joanna Thornhill, author of My Bedroom is an Office. See Joanna’s Instagram takeover here

If you’re up for a DIY challenge, try converting a cupboard or wardrobe into a bijou office. Add a deep shelf across the whole space at desk height, place additional shelving above for storage, tuck your printer underneath and simply shut the door when you’re done.


My Bedroom is an Office

This is an extract from My Bedroom is an Office, published in March 2019, by Laurence King Publishing, $29.99, available here.


Posted on April 27, 2020
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Alice Oehr’s wonderful world of cake: a gallery

The Art of Cake is illustrator, designer and artist Alice Oehr’s playful ode to cake for its devotees everywhere. Through her distinctive, quirky style, she captures cake as an art form that satisfies not only our taste buds but also our eyes and imagination.

Learning about the history of fifty cakes adored across the globe is like the sweet escape you didn’t know you needed. We’ll take a bet here and guess that you don’t know the story of the Cannoli, the origin of the Éclair, or the scandal behind the Sachertorte. Alice covers them all with a sense of nostalgia and whimsy. The Art of Cake also features six of Alice’s own homespun recipes to keep you busy and baking.

Take a look through our gallery of six of our favourite cakes from the book: the humble carrot cake, the controversial pavlova, the dainty strawberry shortcake, the strikingly layered red velvet cake, the elegant éclair and finally the alluring black forest gâteau.

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The Art of Cake is available now. Text and illustrations by Alice Oehr and design by Ashlea O’Neill

AU$24.99 / NZ$29.99


Posted on April 8, 2020
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The beginner’s guide to brewing medicinal plants

‘Often the easiest approach is the most potent.’

Learn the difference between teas, infusions, decoctions and sun brews with master herbalist Erin Lovell Verinder’s guide to brewing medicinal plants. Find this extract in her new book, Plants for the People, alongside her accompanying recipes for brews to aid immunity, digestion, vitality, and sleep.

Photography by Georgia Blackie

Teas, infusions, decoctions and sun brews have been in use for as long as plants and people have been kin, and are four of the most accessible ways to work with plants, dried or fresh.

Essentially, infusions, decoctions and sun brews follow the principles of tea, but they are amplified in the medicinal sense. Medicinal teas are made by steeping the plant material in boiling water for a quick 10–20 minutes. Follow with a simple strain and sip mindfully.

An infusion involves longer steeping in boiling water, for a gentle extraction and activation of the plant material. It is best used for the softer aerial parts of a plant – think flowers, leaves, buds and berries. Bear in mind that there are some plants that prefer a cold-water infusion as their delicate properties are sensitive to heat. Infusions extract the volatile oils, vitamins and precious enzymes of medicinal plants, so be sure to cover the infusing concoction to trap all of these beneficial elements. Infusions can be 20–30 minute brews or left for 4–12 hours to deepen the medicinal impact.

A decoction is used more for the woody parts of plants – think roots, rhizomes, seeds, twigs, bark – which require more time and amplified heat to liberate the medicinal constituents. A decoction calls for a slow, covered boil, around 20–40 minutes.

A sun brew is simply an infusion made by combining dried or fresh herbs with filtered water, sealing and popping out in the sun to brew for a day.

A golden principle of medicinal teas, infusions, decoctions and sun brews is that they are best used straight away. As water is their base, there is no preservative present and we want to avoid any mould formation. However, infusions can be kept for up to 24 hours; sun brews and decoctions can be refrigerated and will stay active for around 48 hours.

A Guide to Brewing Medicinal Plants

Herbal Teas

Pour boiling water over the dried or fresh herbs and steep for 10-20 minutes. Strain out the plant material with a fine-mesh sleeve, and enjoy.

Infusions

Add the plant material to a heatproof mason jar, fill with boiling water and infuse for 3-4 hours minimum, or leave overnight to deepen the strength. Simply strain out the herbs with a fine-mesh sleeve and sip throughout the day. Infusions make a perfect iced tea; however, if you desire a little warmth, you can gently heat on the stove.

Decoctions

Simply add your hardy herbs to a saucepan with water, and bring to a boil. Allow the concoction to simmer for at least 20-30 minutes, then strain and enjoy!

Sun Brews

Spoon the herbal blend of your choice into a glass jar, generally filling around half the jar with fresh plant material or a quarter of the jar with dried plants. Fill to the brim with cool water, pop on a muslin top or lid to keep the bugs away, and leave out in a sunny spot to imbue the brew with warmth.

Plants for the People is available now. Text by Erin Lovell Verinder, photography by Georgia Blackie and cover design by Alissa Dinallo.

AU$39.99 / NZ$45.00


Posted on March 17, 2020
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A Q&A with plant whisperer Erin Lovell Verinder

Photography by Georgia Blackie

‘Plant medicine is your birth right.’ This is the mantra of Erin Lovell Verinder, a fully qualified and much-loved Western herbalist, nutritionist, energetic healer, mentor and educator. Her first book, Plants for the People, draws on ancient wisdom with a modern approach to medicine. Inviting you to return to the roots, this is the ultimate beginner’s guide to using plants to restore wellbeing. We chatted to Erin about her journey to discovering the healing realms of the plant world and inspiring others to do the same.

Where did your passion for naturopathy, healing and the plant world begin? 

I have felt a deep sense of belonging amongst nature for as long as I can recall. When I think of my childhood, I think of the height of the Eucalyptus trees in the park nearby and the fragrant smells of summer. The plants made an early impression on me.

I was enamoured with all things esoteric and mystical and began studying energetic healing (crystals, reiki, kinesiology, colour therapy, sound healing, breath work) at 16 years old I was not your typical teenager, that’s for sure! Training in the healing realms for many years taught me so much about the spiritual, mental and emotional bodies, and I really yearned to know more about the physical body. This is when I began training in Naturopathic medicine – forking off into deeper studies in Western Herbal Medicine and Nutritional Medicine, graduating with my bachelor’s degree as a Herbalist and Nutritionist. I loved learning about how plants hold an embodied power with a deep affinity for our bodies, and how ultimately nature’s way is the greatest healer.

Tell us a bit about your naturopathic philosophy. For you, what does it mean to be a true naturalist?

To me, being a true naturalist means walking the plant path – there are many ways to do this! I walk this path dedicating my life to working with plant medicine, by choosing to live amongst wild nature and by doing my very best to be a woman in tune with nature in all of her glorious facets.

I guide people to shift their health stories and thrive with the assistance of plant medicine as a gateway to radically awesome health. I have been working within the field of healing for 21 years now, with a strong focus on my clinical practice with clients, bridging the gaps between naturopathic and nutritional medicine, grass roots herbalism, and intuition. Much of my mission is to assist and educate people on the generous healing nature can offer us all, in combination with honouring and listening in to our bodies and beings. This is my holistic approach to health and healing and my naturopathic philosophy.

Photography by Georgia Blackie
Photography by Georgia Blackie

What does a typical day for you look like at home in the Byron hinterland?

I rise with the sun, mornings are slow and soft, and include breakfast at home with my husband around the kitchen table. There is always a meditation, pottering in my herb garden, a beach swim or a bush walk (communion with nature). We work from home, which affords us a lot of freedom and comfort. My days are full of mentoring, clinic, writing, or creating in some way. I make a commitment to take breaks, with a pot of herbal tea under my big pecan tree often. All work is switched off by 5pm, and as the sun sets and the yin of the night ushers in, there is always a nourishing home cooked meal, a sleepy time tea, conversation, candlelight, books, calm music and then in bed by 9pm.

What about a day in the clinic?

The days in my clinic are full and seem to zoom by. I follow my daily rhythms and set my hours with clients and mentoring around this. For me, being in practice for many years has given me a lot of opportunity to refine what works best for me as a clinician and space holder. As much as it is key to activate your intuition when working with people’s health, it is a very heady job that demands a lot of mental focus! I need it to feel paced, with little breaks, nourishing snacks and meals in between, and plenty of time with each client or student to fully be present for them. I keep my mornings chill, and although I sometimes work until late in the evening with clients, I am sure to switch off and give myself space to decompress. For this reason, I keep a lot of supportive foundations in place for myself to be able to do my work with clarity and confidence. It is an incredibly rewarding job to witness people get better and improve their health outcomes with natural interventions and plant medicine support. Truly it never ceases to amaze me that this is the work I get to do and offer.

Plants for the People is the perfect guide for plant medicine aficionados and those who have just started out on their plant path. What would your main piece of advice be for the beginners about to delve into your book?

To start with what resonates, which plant/s jump out to you in the Materia Medica section? Which recipes sound good to you? Start with what you are drawn to the most; the plants and recipes that stand out to you are usually what you may be needing the most.

Photography by Georgia Blackie

Do you have a favourite recipe from the book?

It is very hard to choose one. I do really love the Elderberry elixir recipe, which is super delicious and a great staple to keep in the fridge to support immunity.

What’s next for you?

This year is big, bold and bountiful for me! I will be promoting the book in three counties, travelling, continuing to work with clients and mentoring in my clinic, building my digital offerings and writing more.

Plants for the People is available now. Text by Erin Lovell Verinder, photography by Georgia Blackie and cover design by Alissa Dinallo.

AU$39.99 / NZ$45.00


Posted on March 11, 2020
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Jonathan Drori takes us Around the World in 80 Trees

Trees are one of humanity’s most constant and most varied companions. From India’s sacred banyan tree to the fragrant cedar of Lebanon, they offer us sanctuary and inspiration – not to mention the raw materials for everything from aspirin to maple syrup.

Jonathan Drori’s bestselling book, Around the World in 80 Trees, is now available in paperback. In this extract, we take a closer look at something local, the Jarrah, and then journey to Iran to hear about the origins of the pomegranate.


Jarrah

Eucalyptus marginata, Western Australia

Jarrah

Jarrah: a name that sounds quintessentially Australian. The word comes from the Nyungar language of the continent’s far southwest. In pre-colonial times, there were millions of acres of jarrah forest on the leached soils of what is now called the Darling Plateau. It is a majestic tree, easily 40 metres (130 feet) high and its trunk 2 metres (6 feet) across, with rough, very dark-brown bark. Gloriously fragrant flowers, miniature white starbursts, festoon the tree in clusters of ten or so, attracting bees, which make a distinctively malty, caramel-flavoured honey from its nectar. Jarrah is the linchpin of an important and complex forest ecosystem, home to unspeakably cute marsupials with names to delight any Scrabble player: the numbat, the potoroo, the quoll and the quenda.

Jarrah trees are long-lived – at least 500 years and up to a millennium or more – if they get the chance. British colonists quickly saw the value in the rich red jarrah wood, which was immensely strong and resistant to rot, insects, wind and water. It was eagerly taken up for shipbuilding and harbour pilings. When convicts arrived en masse from 1850, the fl ood of cheap labour meant that jarrah could be exported across the British Empire to feed its insatiable appetite for railway sleepers and other durable infrastructure such as telegraph poles, wharves and even tea sheds. A network of steam-powered sawmills and railways sprang up to extract the timber.

Jarrah

On the other side of the world, Londoners were trying to work out
what to use to pave their roads, which by the 1880s were hectic with horsedrawn traffic. Stone blocks and cobblestones were deployed on substantial sections of main roads, but they were expensive and caused horses to slip and skitter in the city’s frequent rain. Tarmac, known then as macadam, would still need another few decades of development before it was robust enough. Then there was wood. Softwood deal and pine paving from the Baltic had advantages over stone: it was much quieter, more easily swept and kinder to horses’ hooves. But those woods wore and rotted quickly, and would soak up the swill of equine urine and ordure and, under pressure from a heavy wheel, squirt it out at passers-by. Unsurprisingly, then, when jarrah wood was exhibited in 1886 at the Indian and Colonial Exhibition in London and advertised as a durable paving material, there was immediate interest. It turned out to be extraordinarily hardwearing, losing only 3 millimetres (1∕8 inch) a year on busy roads. Lasting decades and blessedly non-porous, it was popular with man and beast alike. By 1897, despite the huge shipping costs and distance, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) of London’s busiest and swankiest streets had been clad in Australian jarrah wood – millions and millions of blocks, mostly laid over concrete. Back in Australia, the huge demand spawned many competing and unregulated jarrah-wood companies. Competitors repeatedly dropped their prices to gain orders, to the point that in 1900 Australian jarrah was being sold in England for less than vastly inferior woods brought from nearby Sweden. It was a lucrative but ludicrously unsustainable business; the forests could never withstand such rapacious exploitation. Despite the rapid forest loss, it wasn’t until the end of World War I that laws were introduced to manage more sensibly the trees that remained. And while asphalt replaced wooden paving blocks soon afterwards, the demand for jarrah timber for construction work never went away.

Aside from a few spectacular protected areas, most of the jarrah forests are gone now, felled for timber or to make way for agriculture and mining. What is left is at risk from global warming and the cascade of complex changes that come with it. The fungus-like organism Phytophthora cinnamomi is causing deadly dieback, and in summer there are increasingly frequent droughts and heatwaves. The original unbridled exploitation of jarrah and the depletion of its fragile ecosystem coincided with the demise of Nyungar culture. The remaining jarrah is again in danger, this time from climate change, to which we all contribute and by which all cultures are threatened.

Jarrah

Pomegranate

Punica granatum, Iran

Pomegranates feature frequently in writings from ancient Egypt and classical Greece, in the Old Testament and Babylonian Talmud, and in the Qur’an. Their abundance of seeds and juice consistently link the fruit to fertility. The ancestors of the cultivated pomegranate grew several thousand years ago in arid, hilly regions between Iran and northern India, and today’s cultivars still prefer hot days and cool nights. Small, many-branched trees of 5–12 metres (16–40 feet), with shiny leaves of deep green, they are long-lived, perhaps to 200 years. Pomegranate flowers are a sight to behold. Distinctive calyxes, protective layers around the base of each flower, form sturdy funnels from which crumpled petals burst exuberantly in lurid shades of scarlet and crimson.

Pomegranate flowers

Pomegranate fruit range in colour from yellow with a blush of pink to burnished rose or even maroon. They have a tough, leathery skin, ensuring the fruit last well after picking; historically, they were a refreshment taken on long journeys. Inside, held within a spongy cream membrane, are hundreds of seeds, each within a juicy sarcotesta (a swollen seed coat), ranging from translucent pink to deep purple. The turgid grains interlock satisfyingly with one another – a triumph of efficient packing – and the juice within each one is delectably sweet, tart and mildly astringent. These are ample compensations for the dry woodiness of the seeds and the dilemma, for some, of whether to spit or swallow.

While fresh pomegranate fruit, juice and cordials are widely available from the western Mediterranean to south Asia, the Iranians have truly embraced pomegranate culture. Specialist stalls stock juice from different cultivars. Mounds of seeds – fresh, dried or frozen – are ready to be sprinkled on top of juice or ice cream, sometimes with a pinch of thyme. In autumn, fresh juice is boiled until it thickens into dark-brown molasses, a key ingredient of khoresht fesenjan, a chicken and walnut stew. And of course, Tehran has the requisite annual pomegranate festival.

Pomegranates have a reputation for health benefits. Traditional uses for diarrhoea, dysentery and intestinal parasites are long established, and the fruit contains antioxidants that are likely to be beneficial; some gung-ho anti-cancer and anti-ageing claims, however, require better evidence. But perhaps we shouldn’t dismiss the psychological benefits of a fruit whose consumption requires our undivided attention.

Pomegranate fruit

Jonathan Drori is a Trustee of The Woodland Trust and The Eden Project, an Ambassador for the WWF and was for nine years a Trustee of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He is a Fellow of the Linnean Society and the Zoological Society of London, and a Member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. In 2006 he was made CBE. You can read his full biography here or listen to his TED talks here.

Jonathan Drori

This is an extract from Around the World in 80 Trees. Text by Jonathan Drori and illustrations by Lucille Clerc.

Around the World in 80 Trees paperback edition, published March 2020, by Laurence King Publishing, $24.99, available here.


Posted on March 3, 2020