March 2014 Letters

Opinions expressed in the pages of the magazine are those of the signed contributors or the editor and do not necessarily represent the official position of the University of Sydney.

Fire management a divisive issue

I concur with the argument by Mark Adams (“Too hot to handle”, SAM October 2013) that the only way to protect large assets from wildfire is to eliminate the fine fuel on the floor of the adjacent woodland/forest. It is the build-up of fine fuel on the forest floor and ladder fuel hanging from the trees that carries the fire to the crown of the forest canopy, causing an exponential increase in the magnitude of the fire.

As a landholder in north-eastern Victoria and fire-fighter with the Country Fire Authority since 1975, I can attest to the dramatic increase in frequency and magnitude of wild fires in our region during the last decade.

Instead of radical back-burning during a fire fight it is less damaging to have a controlled low intensity fire in the cooler months to eliminate the fine fuels adjacent to assets. The other consideration is to assess and relocate inappropriate housing developments in undefendable locations unless the structures can be constructed to resist extreme fire impact and protect those inside from annihilation.

Fuel reduction to protect assets, whether they are suburbs or national parks, will require public support and a large professionally trained cohort of fire fighters. It will cause issues with air quality- and it will cost the taxpayer/ratepayer – but we must choose whether we want to be managers, or victims of wildfire and climate change.

Edward Minty
(BSc ‘73 DipEd ’74 MSc ’90)
Huon Vic

Mark Adams’ argument is just too simplistic and the kind of headlines delighted by politicians and some of the public. He appears to treat all vegetation in Australia as requiring the same treatment. He apparently ignores the mounting evidence that the more fires vegetation is exposed to, the more fire-prone it becomes. There is mounting scientific evidence on this subject.

There is also mounting concern as to the efficacy of fuel reduction over large areas. The cost of ‘windows’ for such action to ensure such fires do not escape can be enormous – not just financial but the impact on flora and fauna.

Fuel burnt today may help to reduce a fire but there is plenty of evidence to show that it may not be the case. In any case, fuel in some vegetation builds up to ‘dangerous’ levels within three to five years and id the area is burnt again there will be a loss of some plant species and the effect on fauna may be dramatic. Fuel does not continue to build up in volume. CSIRO has shown that even in dry forests, fuel levels out within 12 to 15 years. Their studies also show that there is a loss of nitrogen and phosphorous in the soil and replacement takes many years.

Nowhere has the subject of planning been mentioned. If people live in or beside the bush, then they must accept the threat of fire. But governments, local, and State, could regulate where settlements are made. Planners made recommendations years ago but the Councils generally ignored them as they were guidelines. If we acknowledge rising sea levels and plan a retreat, we should be having a planned retreat from fire-prone areas.

So many fires are caused by escaped burn-offs because private burn-offs are not more carefully controlled. If this was done year-round by paid staff, it would be much cheaper and efficient than employing all those aircraft to fight those fires.

James Tedder (BEc ’51)
Grassy Head NSW

Rememberance of philosophy past

I was thrilled to see a photo of brother and sister Gillian Leahy and Terry Leahy and to read the interesting article "Lights, camera, Zimbabwe" (SAM October 2013).

I remember halcyon days with philosophy teacher Bill Bonney in the upstairs tower corner of the quadrangle when Terry, Gillian and I discussed Immanuel Kant over cocoa. The article brought back memories of an introduction to causality in the work of David Hume and the elements of Hobbes' thought as expounded by Professors David Armstrong and David Stove.

My friendship with Gillian and Terry dated to happy evenings in the late 1960s at the Balgowlah home of MLA Douglas Darby when his public speaking influenced many of us, including the young senator-to-be Chris Puplick. My years at the Sydney Law School, with such marvellous teachers as Professor Alice Tay, Professor Benjafield and Jane Swanston, helped me apply principles of logic acquired in Philosophy to an understanding of how the law works in society.

I well remember the campus marches against the war in Vietnam and the divisions in the community that were reflected amongst students. I also remember the scones, jam and cream served by the ladies' auxiliary of the Congress for Cultural Freedom.

Sally Gaunt (BA ‘72 LLB ’76)
Perth WA

Defence of pigeons restores faith

This is a note of appreciation to Eva Tang for her letter “Bird Rights and Wrongs” (SAM, Letters, October 2013), Thank God somebody stepped up to write in defence of that poor pigeon caught in the freshly cleaned organ pipes in the Great Hall. Her article helped me to regain a little faith back in the world.

The pigeon’s contribution to the welfare of mankind has been magnificent, to say the least. “Lest we forget’ is the phrase we use in memory of those who died during both world wars so we may have a future. Lest we forget that animals also contributed to our welfare, and pigeons won the most medals for their bravery in saving thousands of lives.

Once respected, they are now viewed simply as vermin, ‘rats with wings’. But the principle here is not personal. It is about lessening suffering, be that of human or animal.

I wish to thank Eva for standing up for the welfare of the pigeon in pointing out that publishing such an article that disregarded the welfare of the pigeon is a slur on what is a great educational institution.

Rosemarie Felice (BA ’02)


In the article “Oh, the pain, the pain” (SAM October 2013), the correct title of the ASA is Australian Society of Anaesthetists. The full name of the ASA collections used in the exhibition are The Richard Bailey Library and Harry Daly Museum. The exhibition was jointly curated by Yvonne Cossart, Peter Stanbury, Anna Gebels and Sara Hilder.

The article about building works on campus (“Campus buzzes with building activity”, SAM October 2013) included some information that was based on out-of-date documents. An updated version of the story is available on the SAM website.